Volkswagen diesel civil suits to be heard in California

A Volkswagen company logo adorns the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Carl Recine

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 500 civil lawsuits filed against Volkswagen AG over the use of software to evade emissions limits will be heard by a federal judge in California, a U.S. judicial panel responsible for consolidating related lawsuits said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation said the cases will be heard by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in the Northern District of California.

Volkswagen and the U.S. Department of Justice had both urged the panel to send the cases to Detroit, while plaintiffs’ lawyers from across the country suggested a range of venues, from Illinois and Ohio to New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Ultimately, the panel decided to assign them to the Northern District of California in San Francisco, where the first Volkswagen case in the country was filed.

The panel noted that while the Volkswagen litigation is “international in scope,” nearly a fifth of the cases filed so far were brought in California, while the California Air Resources Board played a key role in uncovering VW’s emissions fraud in 482,000 2.0-liter VW cars.

The order will apply to more than 500 lawsuits that accuse Volkswagen of equipping certain “clean diesel” models with software that enabled them to cheat on emissions tests. The panel deferred on deciding whether the consolidated litigation should include several securities lawsuits against Volkswagen, as well as a case in Montana that says owners of VW vehicles should not be required to make payments on current loans.

Breyer, brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and a member of the panel that made the decision, did not participate in the deliberations.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro said he was pleased with the panel’s selection, noting that Breyer is experienced at handling complex consolidated litigation “and will get the case moving quickly as it should.”

VW spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said the German automaker had received the order. “We will vigorously defend the company in these cases,” she said.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington D.C. and Jessica Dye in New York; Editing by David Gregorio