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Washing-Machine Claims Need Work, Judge Says

(CN) - Consumers may amend nationwide class allegations that General Electric's front-loading washers accumulate mold, mildew and foul odors, a federal judge ruled.

Lead plaintiffs Stanley Fishman, Suzanne Bowser and Vicki Plunkett filed suit in New Jersey, hoping to represent a class whose GE front-loading washer machines built up mold, mildew, so-called biofilm and foul odors that permeate clothing because of an alleged defect in the drums, doors, and door seals of the products.

They claimed that GE knew about the defects but hid them from consumers in its advertisements, product specifications, and washing machine manuals.

Because the machines were Energy Star-certified, Fishman, Bowser and Plunkett said they overpaid from about $600 to more than $2,000. The machines allegedly began to mold within months.

After dismissing the unjust enrichment claims last year, U.S. District Judge William Martini dismissed the plaintiffs' second amended complaint last week.

The fraud claims fail because they "failed to provide essential dates, such as the dates on which plaintiffs contacted GE," the ruling states. "Accordingly, the second amended complaint does not sufficiently allege facts showing that GE was aware of the alleged defects prior to the sales at issue in this litigation. Plaintiffs have also failed to identify when certain allegedly false representations were made. For instance, while plaintiffs allege that the washing machines do not 'self-clean.' they cite to no representation from GE claiming that the washing machines self-clean. Thus, the allegations in the amended complaint are not sufficient 'to place the defendant [or the court] on notice of the precise misconduct ... charged.'"

Though the plaintiffs alleged that GE dishonored an express one-year factory warranty to replace any parts that fail because of a defect in materials or workmanship, Martini found it unclear whether the plaintiffs contacted GE within one year.

Fishman said GE ultimately gave him a $75 check for the inconvenience.

Martini said the owner's manual disclaimer - "your sole and exclusive remedy is product repair as provided in this limited warranty" - sufficiently warned consumers.

"Here, each disclaimer is in bold, italicized, and set off from the surrounding text," Martini wrote. "Accordingly, the court finds that the disclaimers, which limit any implied warranties to a one-year period, are clear and conspicuous and, therefore, enforceable."

The judge also noted that the plaintiffs have not shown "either out-of-pocket loss or a demonstration of loss in value."

They have 30 days to amend their complaint a third time, according to the ruling.

In the earlier version, Bowser and Fishman said GE recommended that they keep their machine doors open to prevent molding, and even gave Bowser a box of Tide washing machine cleaner to remedy the problem.

In addition to proving unsuccessful, the GE owner's manual specifically warns that leaving the washer door open creates a risk of injury to pets or children who might be enticed to hang on the door or crawl inside the washer, the complaint states.

The plaintiffs had sought to certify a nationwide class and a subclass of "all persons in Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania who own a washing machine for personal, family, or household purposes."

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