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Drunk Drivers Class Action Against Breathalyzer Maker Dismissed By Third Circuit

An appeals court has ruled that the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit which was filed against Draeger Safety Diagnostics Inc. didn’t succeed to adequately plead a plausible claim.

According to an opinion filed on 9th of December in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the appeal was argued on 20th of November. The panel gave the decision that they support the district court’s decision to dismiss the class action complaint due to causes that differ in part from those of the district court.

Circuit judges D. Brooks Smith, Thomas M. Hardiman and Maryanne Trump Barry voted in the majority, with Barry authoring the opinion.

It was stated in the opinion, “Plaintiffs contend that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not preclude their claims because they were not parties to the Chun case and are not seeking to overturn it or their DWI convictions. We agree with the District Court that Rooker-Feldman precludes the exercise of jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ design defect claim, but conclude that their fraud claim does not fall within its scope”.

In the year 2013, the plaintiffs, Bobby Johnson and Edwin Aguaiza, filed their class action lawsuit in April in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

The plaintiffs were taken into custody as they were suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, Johnson in February 2010 and Aguaiza in June 2011. Both had given breath samples for intoxication tests using Draeger’s Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C device, which showed a BAC about 0.08%.

The men pleaded guilty to DWI due to which their driving privileges were suspended and they had to pay fines.

Draeger moved to dismiss the class action based on Rooker-Feldman and argued as well that the plaintiffs had not succeeded in providing requisite elements of both their product liability and fraud claims.

The district court granted the motion.

The court ruled that the source of the injury targeted by the plaintiffs’ New Jersey Product Liability Act claim is the state courts’ evidentiary rulings in their Driving While Intoxication cases, not Draeger.

According to the opinion, “Plaintiffs have alleged that they were tested using a device that could not be fully calibrated, and that based on the (allegedly erroneous) Alcotest results, they faced ‘certain conviction, suffered physical and emotional injuries, and, in Johnson’s case, had to decide whether to resign or be terminated from his job”.

The court ruled that these injuries can be traced directly to the state court’s decision in each plaintiff’s case that his Alcotest reading was valid.

It was not Draeger’s design; it was the state court’s acceptance of the Alcotest as scientifically trustworthy, according to the opinion.

The fraud claim is not the same.

It was stated in the opinion, “In essence, the claim was that the plaintiff was forced to litigate in a rigged system. Applying the four-part Rooker-Feldman test, the court concluded that it was undisputed that the first and third requirements were met – plaintiffs had lost in state court and their DWI convictions were rendered before they filed their federal suit. With respect to the remaining requirements – that plaintiffs were complaining of injuries caused by the state-court judgments and that they invited review and rejection of those judgments – the court concluded that it was the legal framework established in Chun, not the purportedly erroneous test results or Ryser’s statements, that caused plaintiffs’ alleged injuries. Plaintiffs come close to adequately alleging the falsity of the scientific-reliability statements when they aver that it is ‘impossible’ to conclude that the Alcotest is scientifically reliable because that would require it to yield the same results upon multiple tests and no tests are available for the ‘volume, blowing time, and flow rate”.

But, the panel decided even taking as true that Hansueli Ryser, the vice president of Draeger, is a “highly trained scientist” who grasps the concept of scientific reliability; plaintiffs’ allegations are simply not adequate to allow an inference Ryser’s statement that he believed the overall instrument to be scientifically trustworthy was not true due to the reason certain sub-parameters could not be routinely tested, or to infer further that he believed his statements to be false.

Ashton E. Thomas of Ashton E. Thomas Attorney at Law in Elizabeth, N.J, represented the plaintiffs.

News Source: www.LegalNewsLine.com



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