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Andrews v. Autoliv Japan, Ltd.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

July 28, 2017

JAMIE LEE ANDREWS, as surviving spouse of Micah Lee Andrews, Deceased, and JAMIE LEE ANDREWS, as Administrator of the Estate of Micah Lee Andrews, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
AUTOLIV JAPAN, LTD, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR". UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Autoliv Japan, Ltd.'s ("Autoliv") Motion for Attorney's Fees and Expenses of Litigation [276] ("Motion for Attorneys' Fees"). Also before the Court is Plaintiff Jamie Lee Andrews' ("Plaintiff) Motion for Leave to File a Surreply in Opposition to Autoliv's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Expenses of Litigation [295] ("Motion to File Surreply").

         I. BACKGROUND

         This product liability action arises from the April 12, 2013, death of Micah Lee Andrews. Mr. Andrews died when his 2005 Mazda3 veered off Interstate 575 and collided with three trees. Plaintiff contends Autoliv's driver's seatbelt assembly (“Seatbelt Assembly”) design should have incorporated one of two alternate designs: (1) a torsion bar with a higher deployment threshold, or (2) a “stop” feature. Plaintiff contends Autoliv's failure to incorporate these designs into the Seatbelt Assembly render the Restraint System defective.

         On October 24, 2014, Defendants Mazda Motor Corporation, Mazda Motor of America, Inc. (together, the “Mazda Defendants”), Autoliv, Inc., Autoliv ASP, Inc., Autoliv AB, Autoliv Japan, Ltd., Autoliv Safety Technology, Inc., Autoliv LLC, Autoliv North America, Inc. (collectively, the “Autoliv Defendants”), Robert Bosch LLC, Robert Bosch North America Corporation, Robert Bosch Motor Systems Corporation, and Bosch Corporation (collectively, the “Bosch Defendants”) removed the case to this Court [1].

         On April 22, 2015, the Court granted Bosch Corporation's Motion to Dismiss [106], and on August 25, 2015, the remaining Bosch Defendants were dismissed from this action pursuant to a consent motion filed by Plaintiff and the Bosch Defendants [130], [131]. On May 5, 2015, Plaintiff and the Autoliv Defendants filed a consent motion to dismiss all Autoliv Defendants except for Autoliv Japan, Ltd. [108]. On August 27, 2015, the Court granted the motion [137].

         On March 30, 2016, Autoliv and the Mazda Defendants submitted motions for summary judgment [221], [224]. On April 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed her response to the summary judgment motions [246], [247]. On May 12, 2016, Autoliv and the Mazda Defendants filed reply briefs in support of their motions [259], [262].

         On May 25, 2016, Autoliv served Plaintiff an offer of settlement in the amount of $200, 000 [276.2]. The offer stated:

Autoliv is offering $200, 000 to settle this litigation in an attempt to avoid further litigation expenses - not because it doubts the viability of its defenses. Autoliv believes that [the Court] will enter summary judgment in its favor because “strict” liability does not apply to design defect cases and because Plaintiff has offered no evidence that Autoliv was “actively involved in the design, specifications, or formulation . . . of a defective component part which failed during use of a product and caused injury.” Davenport v. Cummins Alabama, Inc., 284 Ga.App. 666, 671 (2007).

([276.2] at 3-4). In addition to sending the offer by certified mail, Autoliv emailed a courtesy copy of the offer letter at 9:43 a.m. the same day. Three minutes later, Plaintiff's counsel sent a response email, stating: “Be advised there will be no discussion of settlement with Autoliv unless and until said letter is withdrawn.” ([276.3] at 2).

         On June 8, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Settlement with the Mazda Defendants [268]. On July 7, 2016, the Court granted Plaintiff and the Mazda Defendants' consent motion to dismiss the Mazda Defendants [271], [272]. Autoliv was then the only remaining defendant in this action.

         On January 10, 2017, the Court issued its order granting Autoliv's Motion for Summary Judgment, and dismissed this action. In its order, the Court stated that the Georgia Court of Appeals' decision in Davenport was “instructive, ” and relied on it in finding that summary judgment was warranted on Plaintiff's design defect claim under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-11. (See [274] at 9-16).

         On January 16, 2017, Autoliv filed its Motion for Attorneys' Fees, arguing that, because Plaintiff rejected Autoliv's May 25, 2016, offer of settlement, Autoliv is entitled to attorneys' fees under O.C.G.A. §91-11-68. Autoliv seeks $29, 961.23 in attorneys' fees for the period May 25, 2016, through January 10, 2017. ([279] at 5).

         Plaintiff contends that Autoliv's offer was not made in good faith, including because (1) Autoliv told Plaintiff it had no risk of losing, but its attorneys were preparing for trial on the merits, and (2) Autoliv's offer was dramatically lower than the damages in this case. Plaintiff also argues that, even if the Court finds Autoliv's offer was made in good faith, Plaintiff's response to Autoliv's email was not a rejection. Plaintiff argues that, under O.C.G.A. § 91-11-68, the offer was deemed rejected thirty (30) days after it was made, and Autoliv cannot recover fees incurred before June 24, 2016. Plaintiff thus argues that, even if the offer was made in good faith, Autoliv's fees should be reduced by $13, 065.35 for fees incurred between May 25, 2016, and June 24, 2016, for a total recovery of $16, 895.88.

         On March 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Motion for Leave to File a Surreply [295]. Plaintiff contends a surreply is needed to respond to several new arguments “and blatant distortions of law in Autoliv's reply brief.” ([295] at ...


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