Statement of Consumers Union -CU- President Jim Guest On 9th Circuit Opinion in Suzuki V. CU
NEW YORK--June 25, 2002--"Nothing in this opinion challenges Consumers Union's belief that its testing of and reporting on the Suzuki Samurai in 1988 was valid, truthful, unbiased, and in the best interest of consumers.
Rather, the two-to-one opinion wrongly holds that, despite CU's belief, the case should go to a jury trial for resolution. We strongly disagree with the legal analysis of the two judges in this majority opinion. It fails to give the appropriate legal protection established by the First Amendment and upheld by the Supreme Court in previous defamation cases. We believe that the District Court Judge, Alicemarie Stotler, and the dissenting Circuit Court Judge Warren Ferguson properly analyzed the facts and legal issues in determining that Suzuki's claims do not warrant a jury trial.
We are reviewing the decision and considering our legal options now. Those options include a request for a re-hearing by the entire 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals or a request that the U.S. Supreme Court review the 9th Circuit decision by granting a writ of certiorari."
Background about Suzuki v. CU
In Suzuki of Japan v. Consumers Union of U.S., Inc., CU has based its defense on the extensive factual record of its testing and publication. We believe the evidence demonstrates that our tests were conducted conscientiously, impartially, and fairly, and published our results in the spirit of the free press and free speech values of the U.S. and state constitutions.
In May 2000, A U.S. District Court Judge told the Suzuki Motor Corporation of Japan that it did not have the evidence necessary to warrant putting Consumers Union of U.S. (CU), the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, on trial over its 1988 test report on the Suzuki Samurai. In those tests more than a decade ago, Consumer Reports found that the sport-utility vehicle (SUV) had a "Not Acceptable" tendency to tip up and roll over during CU's emergency avoidance maneuver tests. Subsequent references to that testing were also at issue in the case.
Federal Judge Alicemarie Stotler in the Central District of California (Orange County), the home county of Suzuki of America, granted CU's motion for summary judgment and dismissed all of Suzuki's claims. In her ruling, Judge Stotler held that CU's differences with the government over rollover testing were not evidence of wrongdoing because "...part of the First Amendment's protection has to do with disagreeing with the government." Judge Stotler concluded that "...a jury could not reasonably find that plaintiff proved its case by the quality and quantity of evidence required by governing law."
"This legal battle is important," said CU President Jim Guest, "not only for Consumers Union and Consumer Reports, but for every American concerned about the rights of an unbiased organization to test products independently and to speak out in the interest of safer products. The First Amendment guarantees the right to report our independent findings, even when our judgment differs from that of the government or the company in question. The record of our testing of and publication about the Samurai demonstrates our high testing standards and the consistent concern in Consumer Reports for accuracy, fairness, and impartiality. Our product ratings are based on our test and survey results, and we make our judgments solely for the benefit of consumers."
In April 2000, a federal court jury in Los Angeles ruled in favor of CU in a similar suit filed by the Isuzu Motors Limited over a report that the 1995-96 Trooper was prone to roll over.
Because of the important First Amendment concerns implicated, these cases have attracted significant media attention, including editorials in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
(Additional background available at www.consumersunion.org - click on Product Safety, then SUV Rollover.) Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information-gathering organization, serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers. For online access to Consumer Reports, visit www.ConsumerReports.org.