Fiat Chrysler and Bosch are trying to convince a federal judge in California to throw out RICO claims brought by drivers in multidistrict litigation centering on claims that the companies cheated on vehicle emissions testing. The companies argue that only regulators, and not the consumers bringing the current lawsuit, are entitled to relief under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, as the consumers who purchased affected vehicles were not direct victims of the alleged misconduct. U.S. District Court Judge Edward M. Chen seemed to disagree with the companies’ argument, noting that, “At the end of the day, they [the consumers] paid for a car that they didn’t get.”

As reported by Law360, Judge Chen told the attorneys for Fiat Chrysler and Bosch that “just because the car companies offer certain kinds of relief in the form of buyback programs and the like, it doesn’t mean the consumers are ‘made whole.’”

The RICO claims allege that Fiat Chrysler and Bosch fraudulently obtained certificates of conformity from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and executive orders from the California Air Resources Board, in spite of the vehicles emitting illegal pollutants and containing “defeat devices” that vary emissions performance between testing and actual road use.

“It seems to me when the claim is some claim of defrauding a government agency in a regulatory role, … proximity should turn on who was the primary beneficiary of the regulatory scheme,” the judge said. “To say that ‘well, you can’t have proximate cause, because they’re one step removed’ seems to be inconsistent with […] the purpose of that regulatory scheme.”

The plaintiffs view is that because the consumers relied on false misrepresentations about the vehicles’ fuel economy and emissions through brochures, TV ads, and on websites when making their purchase decisions, they are entitled to seek relief under RICO.

The case is In re: Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep EcoDiesel Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, case number 3:17-md-02777, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

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