Ohio appeals court tosses $2B judgment against Ford

Michael P. Tremoglie May 8, 2012, 3:28pm

CLEVELAND (Legal Newsline) - The Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals has reversed a judgment of $1,984,590,150 against Ford Motor Company.

The case was appealed from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, and the opinion, which remanded the case back for a new trial, was issued Thursday.

Ford had been ordered to pay its commercial truck dealerships for a breach of contract. The county court said that Ford overcharged for commercial trucks during an 11-year period. The issue concerned vehicle discounts made available to some dealers.

Judge Kenneth Rocco, in writing the court's opinion said, "This court holds that the contract in issue is ambiguous. Further, even if a fact finder resolves the ambiguity in favor of Westgate, we hold that there are significant, additional questions of fact as to whether the parties' subsequent course of conduct modified the contract.

"Finally, we hold that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding Ford's mitigating evidence at the damages trial. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's decision and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

The dealers, numbering about 3,100, first sued in 2002. The lead plaintiff, Westgate, said that the contract required Ford to publish, for all of its dealers, the "Competitive Price Assistance" discounts it provided to individual dealers and that Ford's failure to do so was a breach of contract. The trial court granted Westgate's motion for class certification and certified as a class.

According to court records, "The trial court granted summary judgment to Westgate on its breach-of-contract claim and denied all of Ford's motions. The court determined that the proper measure of damages was for a jury to decide. The jury awarded Westgate $4.5 million... The trial court entered judgment for Westgate on the jury's verdict and awarded Westgate prejudgment interest in the amount of $6,654,157.00."

The trial court subsequently entered judgment in the amount of $780,616,018.00 for all members of the class represented by Westgate. The trial court also awarded class-wide prejudgment interest in the amount of $1,192,819,975.00. The total award amount came to $1,984,590,150.00.

The appeals court found that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Westgate on the issue of liability. It also said that the trial court improperly excluded evidence and abused its discretion by doing so.

But the appeals court did say that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing Westgate's experts to introduce this methodology to the jury.

Jack Coor, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, declined to comment. But Ford was willing to do so.

"We believe the Ohio Court Appeals reached the right result," Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said.

"We think that the case should be dismissed but we look forward to trying the case before a jury that will hear all the evidence that was improperly excluded during the first trial."

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