SACRAMENTO (CN) – A federal judge certified a class of California consumers who claim in a lawsuit they purchased Whirlpool refrigerators falsely labeled as Energy Star compliant.
In a complaint filed in January 2012, lead plaintiffs Kyle Dei Rossi and Mark Linthicum claimed they bought Whirlpool refrigerators that had the Energy Star logos on them, but the model numbers on the appliances showed they were not in compliance with Energy Star requirements and were, therefore, disqualified from the Energy Star program.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley dismissed claims for breach of implied warranty of merchantability and violation of the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, but sustained claims for breach of express warranty and California consumer protection laws.
On Tuesday, Nunley granted certification for a subclass of members who purchased the refrigerators in California, but denied certification of a 32-state and District of Columbia class because the laws of the 33 jurisdictions have material differences.
Whirlpool opposed class certification on the argument that the consumers lacked standing based on lack of evidence they bought a “mislabeled” refrigerator.
However, as admitted by Whirlpool, the Department of Energy tested the exact refrigerators Dei Rossi and Linthicum purchased and found that they did not comply with the Energy Star requirements.
Nunley also rejected Whirlpool’s contention that it would be impossible to determine whether any refrigerator was Energy Star-compliant when sold and, thus, whether it was mislabeled.
“The proposed class members all purchased the same models of refrigerators that were built to the same specification. To accept defendant’s assertion that this court would need to test each refrigerator would be unreasonable and would support a finding that class certification is not appropriate for litigation involving consumer products. The court declines defendant’s invitation to do so,” Nunley said.
Whirlpool attempted to argue that consumers did not suffer any injury by purchasing the refrigerators because the Energy Star program disqualification was for technical non-compliance and their refrigerators consumed energy consistent with Department of Energy testing requirements when used at the factory preset temperature.
Nunley said that Whirlpool’s argument is relevant to the amount of damages the consumers suffered and can be presented at trial, but is irrelevant for the purpose of determining class certification.
The judge found that common facts predominate the case and make certification appropriate because the class members’ claims all arise from the same misrepresentation made by Whirlpool that the refrigerators were Energy Star certified.
“[A]s to defendant’s argument concerning whether the Energy Star mark was material to a given class members’ buying decision, plaintiffs have presented sufficient evidence, including consumer surveys and defendant’s own public statements, demonstrating that the Energy Star mark is material,” Nunley said.
However, a multi-state class is not appropriate for the consumers’ breach of warranty claims in light of the differences and nuances in the laws governing the 33 jurisdictions involved in the action.
“Under the facts and circumstances of this case, the court finds that each class member’s breach of express warranty claims should be governed by the laws of the jurisdiction in which the transaction took place,” Nunley said.
Therefore, the judge certified a class consisting of consumers who purchased their refrigerators within the state of California, but denied the proposed class consisting of 32 states and the District of Columbia.
“The court made the right decision when it refused to certify a class that would have included consumers residing in 32 states and the District of Columbia,” Whirlpool attorney Galen Bellamy told Courthouse News. “As the court rightly concluded, a class action is not an appropriate mechanism to resolve state law claims across multiple jurisdictions.”
He continued: “Whirlpool is disappointed, however, with the decision to certify a California-only class, and believes the order misapprehends the record and the EPA’s guidance on Energy Star disqualification. Whirlpool will continue to defend itself in the litigation and is considering all available options.”
Attorneys for the class did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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