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From Products Liability Law Daily, December 19, 2014

Graco’s recall of defective car seats does not save it from federal class action

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

A manufacturer of children’s car seats could not escape federal jurisdiction over a putative class action for deceptive practices and other consumer claims arising out of the sale and distribution of car seats with defective harness buckles, a federal court in California ruled. The manufacturer had argued that two refund events prevented the plaintiff from alleging a redressable injury. The court also refused to grant the manufacturer’s move to strike the class allegations at this stage in the proceedings (Long v. Graco Children’s Products Inc., December 17, 2014, Donato, J.).

Background. A purchaser of a Graco car seat filed a putative class action against the company alleging that the harness buckles were unduly difficult and, at times, impossible to unlatch. According to the complaint, Graco concealed the problem with the buckles and affirmatively advertised the car seats as having a harness that “helps you get baby in and out.” The underlying complaint included claims under the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law, and for breach of implied warranty under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. The putative class consists of California residents who from January 1, 2009, to the present purchased a Graco car seat in California equipped with a QT or QT3 harness buckle.

Graco recall. Following an investigation into the buckles used by Graco on its car seats, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a recall Request Letter to the company asking that it recall all model year 2009-2013 car seats equipped with the defective buckles at issue in this case. Graco agreed to recall approximately 3.8 million seats, but declined to recall another 1.8 million rear-facing seats equipped with defective buckles. These additional seats had been included in NHTSA’s request. Graco eventually expanded the recall to include an additional 403,222 seats, including models going back to 2006. NHTSA recently renewed its investigation into this matter, this time looking into the timeliness of Graco’s reporting of a safety defect in these child seats (see Products Liability Law Daily’s December 2, 2014 analysis).

Subject matter jurisdiction. Graco argued that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the putative class representative had been offered full monetary compensation for his claims on two separate occasions. The first time occurred prior to the filing of the lawsuit when Graco offered the class representative’s wife a full refund for their car seat. The second event occurred after the lawsuit was filed when Graco’s recall offered all claimants the option of obtaining a full refund.

The court found that the facts proffered by Graco regarding these refunds were very weak. In support of the pre-lawsuit refund, Graco offered a scant one-page form of cursory notes regarding a phone call between one of the company’s customer service representatives and the class representative’s wife. The form contained no solid evidence that a full refund offer had been made. In contrast, the wife stated under oath in her interrogatory that Graco offered her partial, not complete reimbursement.

With regard to the refund offered as part of the recall campaign, none of the recall documents contained any information about a refund of any sort, let alone a full refund. The remedy offered was a replacement of the harness buckle without charge, nothing more.

In light of this evidence, the court concluded that Graco failed to prove that the named class representative did not suffer any injury in fact; thus, Graco’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction was denied.

Class certification. The court deferred Graco’s challenges to class certification pending hearings on the certification motion so as to give the parties time to conduct discovery.

The case is No. 13-cv-1257-JD.

Attorneys: Jordan L. Lurie (Capstone Law APC) for Seth Long. Rocky N. Unruh (Schiff Hardin LLP) for Graco Children's Products Inc., and Newell Rubbermaid, Inc.

Companies: Graco Children's Products Inc.; Newell Rubbermaid, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory ClassActLitigationNews JurisdictionNews MotorEquipmentNews ProductRecallsNews ChildrensProductsNews CaliforniaNews

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