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Coe v. Philips Oral Healthcare Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

February 24, 2014

AMY COE, et. al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PHILIPS ORAL HEALTHCARE INC., Defendant.

ORDER ON MOTIONS TO DISMISS (DKT. NOS. 35, 43)

MARSHA J. PECHMAN, Chief District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the motions of Defendant Philips Oral Health Care Inc., to dismiss. (Dkt. Nos. 35, 43). The Court has considered the motions, the responses, the replies, all related papers, and heard oral argument on January 28, 2014. Fully informed, the Court DENIES Philips' motion to dismiss for lack of Article III standing. (Dkt. No. 35.) The Court GRANTS Philips' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in part and DENIES it in part. (Dkt. No. 43.)

Background

Plaintiffs bring this suit as a putative class action against the Philips Oral Health Care, the maker of Sonicare electronic toothbrushes (referred to hereafter as "Sonicare Toothbrushes"). Plaintiffs allege the metal shaft of the toothbrush, which controls the brush speed, becomes loose, thereby reducing the number of brushstrokes and quality of the cleaning. (Dkt. No. 20 at 1-2.) Plaintiffs characterize this as a "common and inherent defect" in all Sonicare Toothbrushes. (Id. at 3.) Yet, Plaintiffs allege the product packaging and product specification posted on the website indicate the vibrating shaft of the toothbrush, will produce 31, 000 "brushstrokes" per minute and "provide superior cleaning as compared to a manual toothbrush." (Id. at 2.) Philips provides a two-year warranty for all Sonicare Toothbrushes. (Id.) After two-years, Philips offers a 30% discount on the purchase of a new toothbrush. (Id.)

Plaintiffs allege Philips is aware of the defect. (Id. at 4.) They claim consumers in the United Kingdom are told a loose handle requires replacement of the toothbrush. (Id. at 77.) Consumers in the United Kingdom are then sent a new toothbrush. (Id. at 4.) In the United States, in contrast, consumers are not told to seek a replacement if the speed of the brushstrokes slows, but to replace the toothbrush heads.

The Complaint is brought by four named Plaintiffs. New York resident Lance Ng purchased a Sonicare model HX6972 in 2010 or 2011 from an online seller. (Id. at 11.) He alleges that within a few months, he "noticed the vibrations were no longer effectively being transmitted to the brush head and the toothbrush was no longer providing the superior cleaning advertised or properly cleaning his teeth." (Id.) Mr. Ng exercised Philips' warranty and was sent a new toothbrush. (Id.) He claims the replacement suffered from the defect, with the shaft on the replacement toothbrush becoming loose-resulting in a slower brush head speed-within a year and a half after receiving it from Philips. He again exercised his warranty and was given a replacement toothbrush. (Id.) When the second replacement toothbrush experienced the same purported defect outside the warranty period, Mr. Ng paid a third party to repair it.

The second Plaintiff, Robert Bueso, is a Florida resident. (Id. at 12.) He purchased a Sonicare Healthy White in 2010 at a Costco in Florida. He claims the toothbrush manifested "the defect" within two years of use. In April 2013, more than two years after he purchased the toothbrush, Mr. Bueso called Philips and demanded a full refund based on his belief "Philips could not provide him with a defect free toothbrush." (Id.)

Plaintiff Amy Coe purchased a Sonicare for Kids toothbrush in 2011. (Id. at 13) She claims the toothbrush failed "long before the end of the expected useful life" as a "result of the Defect." She never sought to exercise her warranty rights. (Id.)

Finally, Connecticut resident Sam Chawla purchased a Flexcare model approximately three years before this lawsuit commenced. (Id.) Mr. Chawla claims his toothbrush's vibrations became less powerful and the toothbrush was not providing the superior cleaning as advertised. (Id. at 14.) He bought new brush heads in an attempt to fix the problem. He never exercised his warranty. (Id.)

Plaintiffs' Complaint includes seven claims for relief. Plaintiffs' first claim, brought on behalf of the four named Plaintiffs and the entire putative class, alleges a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. §2301 et. seq. The second and third claims are brought on behalf of the four named Plaintiffs and the Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York putative subclasses and assert claims for breach of express and implied warranties. The fourth claim is on behalf of all four named Plaintiffs and the proposed national class for violations of the Washington Consumer Protection Act, RCW § 19.86.010 et seq. The fifth claim is brought on behalf of Plaintiff Chawla and the Connecticut subclass for violations of Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, Conn. Gen. stat. §§42-110a et. seq. The sixth claim is brought on behalf of Plaintiff Ng and the New York subclass for violations of New York General Business Law, §§349, 350. The seventh, and final claim, is brought on behalf Plaintiff Coe and the New Jersey subclass and alleges violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S. §58:8-1, et. seq.

Philips moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims on a number of grounds. First, it argues Plaintiffs cannot meet Article III standing requirements. (Dkt. No. 35.) Second, Philips asserts that Plaintiffs' consumer protection claims, which sound in fraud, do not meet the heightened pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). (Dkt. No. 43 at 13.) Third, Philips contends Plaintiffs' allegations fail to plead the elements of relevant Connecticut, Florida, New York, New Jersey express/implied warranty laws and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. (Id. at 19-21.)

Discussion

A. Article III Standing To establish standing under the "case or controversy" requirement of Article III of the

United States Constitution, a plaintiff must demonstrate a sufficient personal stake in the outcome to justify the invocation of judicial process. Baker v. Carr , 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962). To have standing under Article III, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) he has suffered an actual or threatened injury in fact; (2) the injury is causally connected to the conduct complained of; and (3) it is likely, and not merely speculative, that his injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife , 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). The requisite injury-in-fact pursuant to Article III must be actual or threatened, and not merely speculative. Id.

Plaintiffs have the burden of establishing these elements to invoke federal jurisdiction. Id . However, in ruling on a motion to dismiss for want of standing, the "court[ ] must accept as true all material allegations of the complaint, and must construe the complaint in favor of the complaining party." Warth v. Seldin , 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975). Thus, "[a]t the pleading stage, " as in this case, "general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may suffice...." Cardenas v. Anzai , 311 F.3d 929, 933 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Lujan , 504 U.S. at 561); see also Lucas v. S.C. Coastal Council , 505 U.S. 1003, 1014 n. 3(1992) ("Lujan, since it involved the establishment of injury in fact at the summary judgment stage, required specific facts to be adduced by sworn testimony; had the same challenge to a generalized allegation of injury in fact been made at the pleading stage, it would have been unsuccessful."). The court cannot, however, interpret the complaint so liberally as to extend its jurisdiction beyond constitutional limits. Western Mining Council v. Watt , 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981).

In this putative class action, "if none of the named plaintiffs purporting to represent a class establishes the requisite of a case or controversy with defendants, none may seek relief on behalf of himself or any other member of the class." Id . (quoting Lierboe v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. , 350 F.3d 1018, 1022 (9th Cir. 2003)). Finally, "Petitioners must allege and show that they personally have been injured, not that injury has been suffered by other, unidentified members of the class to which they belong and which they purport to represent." Warth v. Selding , 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975).

Philips argues Plaintiffs lack standing because they have not suffered any injury, there is no causal connection, and a favorable decision would not provide any redress because Philips already offer a full warranty. (Dkt. No. 35 at 6-7.) The Court addresses each required element of standing.

The main element disputed is the first, injury in fact. Philips argues Plaintiffs have not suffered a concrete and particularized injury when (1) Plaintiffs do not claim worse dental hygiene from the alleged defect; and (2) Plaintiffs failed to exercise their warranty or request Philips cure the defect. (Dkt. No. 35 at 6.) In essence, because Plaintiffs received the benefit of the bargain-in the form of a full warranty-they cannot prove an injury. (Id. at 8.)

Plaintiffs assert a benefit of the bargain theory sufficient to find an injury in fact. Under established Ninth Circuit precedent, allegations a plaintiff overpaid for a product because it did not work as advertised, is legally cognizable loss for standing. Mazza v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc. , 666 F.3d 581, 594-95 (9th Cir. 2012), accord In re Toyota Motor Corp. Unintended Acceleration Mktgs., Sales Practices, and Prods. Liab. Litig. , 754 F.Supp.2d 1145, 1164 (C.D.Cal. 2010). In Mazza, the Ninth Circuit found a consumer's allegations he would not have purchased certain products had their labels been accurate and that he paid a premium due to the labeling were sufficient to plead injury in fact, even if the product contained a warranty. The court concluded that the plaintiffs alleged an injury in fact because they "were relieved of their money by Honda's deceptive conduct." Id . at 595. Like in Mazza, Plaintiffs allege they were "relieved of their money" and paid too much for their Sonicare Toothbrushes by Philips' failure to disclose a known defect. (Dkt. No. 20, at 11.) Plaintiffs Ng and Chawla allege additional injury, in the form of expenses incurred in attempts to repair or correct the alleged defect. (Id.)

The injury Plaintiffs allege is not hypothetical, which distinguishes it from Birdsong v. Apple, Inc. , 590 F.3d 955 (9th Cir. 2009), the chief case relied on by Philips. In Birdsong, the plaintiffs claimed "that the iPod's inherent risk of hearing loss has reduced the value of their iPods and deprived them of the full benefit of their bargain because they cannot 2017safely' listen to music." Thus, the injury claimed in Birdsong flowed from the potential for injury, not already incurred financial losses. Id . at 960. Nor is this case like Thiedemann v. Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC , 183 N.J. 234 (2005). In Thiedmann, the court found Mercedes-Benz actually fixed the defect in the vehicles. In contrast, Plaintiff Ng alleges Philips merely replaced one defective product with another. On the issue of standing, Thiedmann is neither authoritative nor applicable.

Plaintiffs also plead causation for Article III standing. Causation requires there be a "fairly... trace[able]" connection between the alleged injury in fact and the alleged conduct of the defendant. Lujan, 504 U.S. at 506-61. Here, there is no real dispute that plaintiffs plead but for the alleged omissions, they would not have purchased the toothbrushes or taken steps to correct the defect. Philips takes issue with the lack of proof, but at the pleading stage, the bar is low for standing. Anzai , 311 F.3d 929. The Court finds it met.

Finally, Plaintiffs demonstrate redressability. Redressability means it is "likely" and not "merely speculative" that the plaintiff's injury will be remedied by the relief plaintiff seeks in bringing suit. Lujan, 504 U.S. at 506-61. Plaintiffs allege they paid too much for a defective product. Without question, the relief sought-compensation for the overpayment-remedies the alleged injury. ...


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