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From Products Liability Law Daily, February 14, 2014

Class certification denied in action over deceptive marketing of Sears clothes dryer

By Linda O’Brien, J.D., LL.M.

Class certification was denied to a putative class of consumers who alleged damages caused by clothes dryers purchased from Sears, Roebuck and Company (Sears) in a decision by a federal district court in California. The consumers alleged deceptive marketing in Sears’ promotion of the stainless steel drum of its clothes dryer in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) (Murray v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., February 12, 2014, Wilken, C.). The court ruled that the proposed class failed to satisfy the prerequisites of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and (b).

Background. In 2001, Martin Murray purchased a clothes dryer from Sears that was manufactured by Electrolux Home Products, Inc. After using the dryer for several years, Murray noticed that stains and tears began appearing on his clothing. In 2007, he removed the dryer’s door to inspect the inside of the machine and observed that rust had developed on the exterior of the dryer’s drum—the cylindrical part of the dryer that holds and rotates the clothes. Murray filed suit against Sears and Electrolux, asserting claims of unjust enrichment, breach of contract, and violations of the UCL and CLRA. Murray alleged that the companies marketed the dryer to consumers by promoting its stainless steel drum as more durable than other models without disclosing that a portion of the drum in actuality was made of mild steel which was more susceptible to corrosion and chipping. The consumer claimed that the stains and tears in his clothing were the result of the clothes coming into contact with the rust during the drying process. Subsequently, Murray moved for class certification.

Commonality. The court found that the commonality requirement for class certification was lacking because Murray failed to present evidence that the defendants represented on a class-wide basis that the dryer’s drum was made of stainless steel and this feature would prevent the user’s clothes from developing rust stains or tears. Each class member would have to testify as to his or her individual understanding of the meaning of an advertisement identifying a clothes dryer having a stainless steel drum. Moreover, Murray’s failure to identify any other class members whose clothes were stained by rust reaffirmed that his claimed injury was unique, according to the court.

Typicality. The court determined that Murray also failed to meet the typicality requirement that every class representative must possess the same interest and suffer the same injury as all the other class members because he presented no evidence of a class-wide misrepresentation or injury. Murray presented no evidence that either: (1) the defendant made the same representations to other consumers other than his own isolated experience at a Sears retail store, or (2) other consumers had the same issues with their dryers as he had with his.

Adequacy. In addition, the court found that Murray failed to show that he would fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class as class representative. The court noted that Murray was not an adequate class representative because his claims were not typical of those he sought to represent.

Rule 23(b). Finally, the court held that Murray did not clearly define the scope of injunctive relief sought or explain why he was seeking injunctive relief. Under Rule 23(b)(2), class certification may be granted if class members complain of a pattern or practice that is generally applicable to the class as a whole. Murray failed to establish that the alleged conduct—deceptive representations of the ability of stainless steel dryer drums to prevent rust stains on clothing—applied to the class as a whole. The only deceptive representation he identified was an isolated statement of a single salesperson he met more than 10 years ago and this was not sufficient to establish a need for class-wide injunctive relief, the court concluded.

The case number is C 09-5744

Attorneys:  Mark A. Boling (Mark A. Boling Attorney at Law) for Martin Murray. Bruce Alan Khula (Squire Sanders LLP) for Sears, Roebuck and Co. Shahab Asghar (Latham and Watkins LLP) for Electrolux Home Products, Inc.

Companies:  Sears, Roebuck and Co.; Electrolux Home Products, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory ClassActLitigationNews HouseholdProductsNews CaliforniaNews

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