GM seeks new U.S. judge in ongoing legal fight with FCA

DETROIT — General Motors on Friday asked a U.S. appeals court to allow it to continue pursuing its civil racketeering suit against rival Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, rejecting a lower court judge’s belittling of the complaint.

The automaker’s filing with the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals comes less than a week after U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman called GM’s suit against Fiat Chrysler a “waste of time and resources” at a time when both automakers should be focused on surviving the coronavirus pandemic.

Borman ordered GM CEO Mary Barra and Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley to meet by July 1 to negotiate a resolution.

In an amended order issued Saturday by the U.S. District Court in Detroit, Borman said Barra and Manley would be permitted to bring legal counsel to the “private in-person” meeting. In his original order, he told the CEOs to meet in person without legal counsel.

GM’s petition argued Borman  did not have the power “to order the CEOs of two major companies personally, immediately, and without the aid of counsel to meet and report to the court on their efforts to resolve complex litigation…”

GM asked the appeals court to throw out Borman’s order and reassign the case to a different district court judge. GM called Borman’s order “unprecedented” and “a profound abuse” of judicial power.

“Since Judge Borman has already deemed GM’s entire lawsuit a ‘distraction’ and ‘waste of time and resources,’ there is no feasible way to preserve the appearance of impartiality as this case proceeds,” GM argued in the petition to the appeals court.

FCA responded in a statement on Friday: “As we have said from the date this lawsuit was filed, it is meritless.”

“FCA will continue to defend itself vigorously and pursue all available remedies in response to GM’s groundless lawsuit. We stand ready to comply with Judge Borman’s order,” it added.

GM sued Fiat Chrysler last year, accusing the company’s executives of bribing UAW leaders to secure labor agreements that put GM at a disadvantage. FCA is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department as part of a wide-ranging probe of UAW corruption.

GM’s accusations came as FCA and French automaker Peugeot SA were in the early stages of preparing for a merger. Fiat Chrysler has said the suit was aimed at disrupting that deal. GM has said the suit has nothing to do with the merger.

In a statement, GM rejected Borman’s characterization of the suit as a “distraction” and defended its decision to press the case.

“We filed a lawsuit against FCA for the same reason the U.S. Department of Justice continues to investigate the company: former FCA executives admitted they conspired to use bribes to gain labor benefits, concessions and advantages. Based on the direct harm to GM these actions caused, we believe FCA must be held accountable.”

Philip Nussel of Automotive News contributed to this report.

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