Senators Want Synthetic Turf Maker Investigated

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – A New Jersey city and a school district have filed a class action accusing a leading turf manufacturer of selling them faulty and potentially dangerous synthetic grass, and state lawmakers have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

In a federal class action Wednesday, the borough of Carteret, a town of 23,000 in central New Jersey, says FieldTurf USA sold it six Duraspine-brand synthetic grass fields from 2006 to 2010, claiming it had a lifespan of at least 10 years. But the turf deteriorated much more quickly due to defective fiber and posed safety concerns, Carteret says.

It calls the Duraspine sales a “massive scheme” and says, “New Jersey was a major target of the fraud.” FieldTurf “ignored all the red flags to earn more than $570 million through the sale of nearly 1,500 defective fields,” according to the complaint.

Duraspine was discontinued in 2012.

The Newark school district filed a similar class action on Dec. 7 in Essex County Superior Court, claiming FieldTurf defrauded more than 100 New Jersey schools by selling the defective turf through an aggressive advertising campaign.

New Jersey Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez have asked the state attorney general and the FTC to investigate, as have state lawmakers. The uproar came after the New Jersey Star-Ledger published a report this month revealing the alleged cover-up of the failing synthetic grass fields.

In an internal e-mail of 2007 FieldTurf executive Kenny Gilman called the marketing campaign “ridiculous” and said it could subject the company “to tons of exposure from a legal standpoint,” according to Carteret’s complaint.

“On the marketing side the claims made regarding the Duraspine and Hard/Soft fiber are ridiculous,” Gilman wrote in the November 2007 e-mail, the borough says. “Every day we are putting stuff out there that can’t and won’t live up to the marketing spin. We have to control this somehow!!!”

Gilman, the son of the company’s co-founder, was fired in 2008, after which he worked as a vice president at competitor AstroTurf. FieldTurf has said it is “unaware of the precise reason that he was let go,” suggesting it was due to a new CEO rebuilding the company’s executive team.

Carteret said it installed the synthetic grass on a soccer field in 2006 and more synthetic fields in 2010 for areas used by children. Within six years, the turf at both areas began to show “excessive degradation,” which the borough worried could lead to injury.

Carteret contacted FieldTurf in 2013 about the degradation. FieldTurf inspected the degraded field but delayed answering follow-up questions about the warranty for the next three years, the borough says. Finally, this year, FieldTurf e-mailed the borough with remediation proposals that would cost thousands of dollars, the town says.

“FieldTurf’s stonewalling appears to have been an effort to allow the warranty period to expire,” Carteret says. The defective fields have not been repaired or replaced.

The synthetic turf often appears striped, as fibers fall flat on some areas while remaining upright on others, the town says. The turf also split, the fibers would thin and color would degrade over large areas, Carteret says.

The borough says FieldTurf has received “a significant amount of complaints” about the problems by 2009, two years after Gilman’s embarrassing emails.

In fact, FieldTurf sued its suppliers Mattex Leisure Industries and TenCate in 2011, alleging fraudulent inducement, Carteret says in the complaint. It says FieldTurf claimed TenCate, which eventually acquired Mattes, had altered the fiber formula by using cheaper ingredients that made it less durable. The companies settled in 2014.

FieldTurf advertised its product, one of the most expensive on the market, as a way for towns and athletic departments to save millions of dollars and boasted that its turf systems had been used in two Super Bowls, the World Series, and college football bowl games.

The company also claimed in advertising that its extended warranty would likely never be used due to the “unmatched durability” of the turf.

FieldTurf has defended its reaction to the Duraspine defects. The company said in a statement that it disputes the “representation of the situation and events” in the Carteret complaint.

In a Dec. 2 letter, CEO Eric Daliere called the Star-Ledger story “inaccurate” and said that Gilman’s emails were “taken out of context” and “misleading.” It has said that 13 of 114 Duraspine fields in New Jersey have been replaced in recent years using FieldTurf products.

“Facts matter,” Daliere wrote. “In this case, we believe that once all of the facts are heard and understood, it will be clear that we have been committed to doing right by our customers.”

Carteret seeks class certification, restitution, an injunction and treble damages for unjust enrichment. It is represented by Michael DiCicco with Bathgate, Wegener & Wolf, of Lakewood.

The Newark schools seek similar relief in their complaint in Essex County Court. They are represented by Lance Kalik with Riker Danzig Schiller Hyland & Perretti in Morristown.