Apple Headphones Class Action Will Proceed

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Apple will remain on the hook for a class action lawsuit claiming its Powerbeats headphones stop working when they come into contact with sweat or water, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg green-lighted fraud-based claims related to the headphones’ battery life while dismissing fraud-based claims related to water resistance with leave to amend. He tossed a negligence claim.

Seeborg further ruled the plaintiffs have standing to seek a court order blocking Apple from marketing the headphones as water-resistant and capable of lasting six to 12 hours on one charge.

“Not only have plaintiffs established an inability to rely on Powerbeats’ advertising, but several have actually averred that they replaced and/or purchased the product multiple times, believing that the defects would be fixed,” Seeborg wrote in his 18-page order. “It is difficult to imagine what more Apple expects plaintiffs to allege in order to establish that they have lost faith in their ability to rely on Powerbeats marketing. For these reasons, plaintiffs may seek injunctive relief.”

Seven plaintiffs sued Apple in September 2017 on behalf of nationwide and state classes in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana and Texas. They claim Apple’s wireless Powerbeats 2 and 3 headphones malfunction and fail to hold a charge when used while sweating during exercise.

Apple acquired headphone-makers Beats Music and Beats Electronics in May 2014, and released the Powerbeats 2 headphones the following month. Powerbeats 3 followed two years later. Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player LeBron James co-created the headphones, according to the summary of the case in Seeborg’s order.

In its product advertising, Apple states that the Powerbeats 2 headphones have a “6 hour rechargeable battery,” and the Powerbeats 3 headphones “Up to 12 hr battery life.” According to the complaint, the company implies the headphones are suitable for exercising with the phrase, “Sweat and water resistance provides the necessary durability for strenuous workouts and weather.” Apple’s television commercials feature both LeBron James and tennis star Serena Williams wearing Powerbeats while surfing, spraying themselves with water or “drenched in sweat” while working out, the complaint says.

Christopher Bizzelle, one of the plaintiffs, says he bought the Powerbeats 2 headphones for $139 because the packaging promised a six-hour battery life and sweat resistance, featuring images of Lebron James “glistening with sweat.” He claims the headphones stopped charging five months after he bought them and eventually stopped switching on, according to Seeborg’s order.

Apple sent Bizzelle five replacement pairs, but each pair broke, according to Bizelle. He says a pair of Powerbeats 3 and two replacement pairs likewise stopped working.

Another plaintiff, Deonn Morgan, claims she also bought a pair of Powerbeats 2 headphones for $139 after seeing commercials featuring LeBron James using the headphones while exercising and reading statements on the box guaranteeing they were sweat and water-resistant. Within six months, the headphones malfunctioned, as did a replacement pair, according to the order

“Had Ms. Morgan known Powerbeats were not ‘sweat & water resistant,’ did not have a battery that would last 6 hours, and/or were not ‘built to endure,’ she would not have purchased them or would have paid significantly less for them,” the complaint states.

Apple did not respond Thursday to an email seeking comment.

In his ruling, Seeborg found that the battery-life fraud claims had been pleaded sufficiently, but that the sweat and water-resistance fraud claims had not been because the plaintiffs had failed to specify whether they had “even sweated during exercise,” Seeborg said.

He went on to call the plaintiffs’ negligence claim “fatally deficient.” The plaintiffs attempted to establish a “special relationship” between consumers and Apple permitting monetary recovery, but Seeborg found such a relationship only exists when a manufacturer markets a product to a specific customer, not to the general public.

But Seeborg advanced the plaintiffs’ state Consumer Legal Remedies Act claim, finding that their allegations that Apple knew or should have known about the defective headphones due to customer complaints and a “constant stream of returned Powerbeats” were sufficient to warrant discovery into what Apple really knew.

Express warranty claims based on Apple’s one-year warranty were dismissed with leave to amend, but water-resistance and battery-life express warranty claims will proceed, as will implied warranty claims.

Hassan Zavareei with Tycko & Zavareei in Washington represents the plaintiffs, and Michelle Doolin with Cooley in San Diego represents Apple.

Neither could be reached for comment Thursday.

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