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United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
June 18, 2012, Filed
[*1209] GORSUCH, Circuit Judge.
Mootness has many moods. Always the doctrine describes a situation where events in the world have so overtaken a lawsuit that deciding it involves more energy than effect, a waste of effort on questions now more pedantic than practical. In some cases mootness bears a constitutional countenance, acting as a jurisdictional bar against even entertaining a case. Other times mootness carries a more prudential complexion, permitting us to withhold relief we have the authority to grant. Other times still, a case finds itself mooted by a tangle of constitutional and prudential considerations. [**2] This case involves mootness in at least its prudential sense. This because our plaintiff seeks equitable relief already being provided by coordinate branches of government and she offers no reason why the courts should duplicate those efforts.
At the beginning, this case had life enough. Arrienne Mae Winzler brought state law claims against Toyota on behalf of a proposed nationwide class of 2006 Toyota Corolla and Toyota Corolla Matrix owners and lessees. She alleged that the cars harbored defective "Engine Control Modules" ("ECMs"), making them prone to stall without warning. As relief, she asked for an order requiring Toyota to notify all relevant owners of the defect and then to create and coordinate an equitable fund to pay for repairs.
But soon things began to turn. Before addressing whether Ms. Winzler's class should be certified, the district court held her complaint failed to state a claim and dismissed it under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). And then, just as Ms. Winzler began her appeal, Toyota announced a nationwide recall of 2005-2008 Toyota Corolla and Corolla Matrix cars to fix their ECMs. The ongoing recall is taking place under the auspices of the National Traffic and Motor [**3] Vehicle Safety Act ("Safety Act" or "Act"). ] That statute obliges Toyota to notify owners of the defect and repair or replace any faulty parts at no cost. 49 U.S.C. §§ 30118(c), 30120. And the whole process is overseen by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration ("NHTSA"), an agency of the Department of Transportation that can issue stiff fines if the company fails to carry out the recall to its satisfaction. Arguing that these statutory and regulatory processes promise Ms. Winzler exactly the relief sought in her complaint, Toyota has asked this court to find that events have overtaken her suit and rendered it moot.
Whether, when, and to what degree mootness can boast of being a constitutional command, a true jurisdictional limit on the federal courts, has taxed great minds. Compare Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 329-32, 108 S. Ct. 592, 98 L. Ed. 2d 686 [*1210] (1988) (Rehnquist, J., concurring) (arguing mootness is exclusively prudential), with id. at 339-42 (Scalia, J., dissenting) (arguing mootness has a constitutional component); see also Evan Tsen Lee, Deconstitutionalizing Justiciability: The Example of Mootness, 105 Harv. L. Rev. 603 (1992). But of at least this much we can be sure: ] claims for equitable [**4] relief, like the injunction Ms. Winzler seeks in this lawsuit, appeal to the "remedial discretion" of the courts. S. Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Smith, 110 F.3d 724, 727 (10th Cir. 1997). This remedial discretion necessarily includes the power to "mould each decree to the necessities of the particular case." Hecht Co. v. Bowles, 321 U.S. 321, 329, 64 S. Ct. 587, 88 L. Ed. 754 (1944). And inhering in that power is the concomitant power to deny relief altogether unless "the moving party [can] satisfy the court that relief is needed." United States v. W.T. Grant Co., 345 U.S. 629, 633, 73 S. Ct. 894, 97 L. Ed. 1303 (1953). After all, if events so overtake a lawsuit that the anticipated benefits of a remedial decree no longer justify the trouble of deciding the case on the merits, equity may demand not decision but dismissal. When it does, we will hold the case "prudentially moot." Even though a flicker of life may be left in it, even though it may still qualify as an Article III "case or controversy," a case can reach the point where prolonging the litigation any longer would itself be inequitable. See 13B Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3533.1 at 725 (3d ed. 2008); S-1 v. Spangler, 832 F.2d 294, 297 (4th Cir. 1987) [**5] (case prudentially moot because the relief sought "no longer has sufficient utility to justify decision . . . on the merits").
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681 F.3d 1208 *; 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 12297 **; 2012 WL 2236624
ARRIENNE MAE WINZLER, On Behalf Of Herself And All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. TOYOTA MOTOR SALES U.S.A., INC., Defendant - Appellee.
Prior History: [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Utah. (D.C. No. 1:10-CV-00003-TC).
Winzler v. Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78428 (D. Utah, Aug. 3, 2010)
moot, prudential, co ordinate branch, promise, cognizable, equitable, judicial notice, district court, decree, notice, notify, repair, duplicate, worries, courts, offers, merits
Transportation Law, Private Vehicles, Recalls, Civil Procedure, Justiciability, Mootness, General Overview, Preliminary Considerations, Equity, Relief, Evidence, Judicial Notice