Humphrey v. Electrolux Home Products Inc
ORDER mostly denying, but granting on unjust enrichment, the 16 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. on 8/9/12. (kpr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
TAMMIE HUMPHREY, on Behalf of
Herself and All Others Similarly Situated
ELECTROLUX HOME PRODUCTS INC.
Electrolux Home Products makes Electrolux, Frigidaire, and Kenmore
clothes dryers. Tammie Humphrey owns one. She alleges that her dryer is
defective because too much lint accumulates in inaccessible parts of it,
causing the dryer to stop working properly and creating a fire hazard. She
sues, asserting a passel of claims. Humphrey seeks relief for herself and many
others: She asks the Court to certify a nation-wide class and a state-wide
subclass of folks who purchased the allegedly defective dryers. Electrolux
moves to dismiss across the board.
The parties' briefs are too long. Rare is the motion that needs 131 pages
of briefing. This one does not. The Court would appreciate brevity and
concision in future papers. Larger type would be helpful too.
Electrolux asks the Court to consider a Use & Care Guide.
Document No. 17-1. The company says the warranty provisions Humphrey
quotes in her complaint came from this Guide; and therefore the Guide can
be considered now. Document No. 17, at 15 n.1. Humphrey disagrees, and
asks the Court to exclude the Guide.
Whether the warranties at issue came from the Guide, or from this
particular version of it, is disputed. And Humphrey does not cite the Guide
in her complaint, raising the possibility that these warranty provisions may
come from somewhere else too. In light of this dispute- which must be
resolved in Humphrey's favor at this early stage- the Court cannot be sure
that the Guide is "necessarily embraced by the pleadings." Porous Media Corp.
v. Pall Corp., 186 F.3d 1077, 1079 (8th Cir. 1999) (quotation omitted). The
Court will not consider it in deciding the motion. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(d).
2. The parties devote many pages to whether the alleged defect has
manifested itself. Compare In re Zurn Pex Plumbing Products Liab. Litig., 644
F.3d 604 (8th Cir. 2011), with Wallis v. Ford Motor Co., 362 Ark. 317,208 S.W.3d
153 (2005). Electrolux argues that Humphrey is a no-injury plaintiff. But
Humphrey alleges that, because of the lint build-up, her dryer failed to
operate normally and had to be serviced beyond the norm. Document No. 1,
25. This is sufficient. While manifestation will likely be an important
fighting issue at later stages in the case, it is a non-issue as to Humphrey
3. Electrolux next seeks dismissal of Humphrey's claims for breach of
implied warranties, breach of express warranty, violation of the MagnusonMoss Warranty Act, and violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices
Act. Contrary to Electro lux's argument, Humphrey has alleged damage. And
the Court concludes that her pleadings about pre-suit notice pass muster.
Document No. 1,
On the implied warranties, Electrolux is correct that Humphrey did not
plead that her dryer will no longer dry clothes. But the complaint alleges that
the excess-lint defect makes using the dryer a fire hazard, rendering it unfit.
In other words, although the dryer will dry clothes, it poses (Humphrey says)
too great a risk to make it fit to do so. Taken as true, these facts make out a
plausible claim for breach of implied warranties. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009); Great Dane Trailer Sales, Inc. v. Malvern Pulpwood, Inc., 301 Ark.
436, 442-43, 785 S.W.2d 13, 17 (1990).
The Court has some hesitation about the viability of the expresswarranty claim, particularly in light of the timing issues and factual disputes
about what version of the warranty Humphrey received. But Humphrey's
allegations must be taken as true at this point. At the least, she has plausibly
pleaded that Electrolux guaranteed that the dryer would be" free of material
defects or component malfunctions[,]" that this warranty was "part of the
bargain[,]" and that her dryer has a material defect. Document No.1,~~ 74 &
77. While this claim may prove empty, it is sufficient at this point. Taken as
true, these same facts state a plausible, though thin, claim under the Arkansas
Deceptive Trade Practices Act. ARK. CODE ANN. §§ 4-88-107(a)(1) & 4-88113(£).
In light of the Court's ruling on the implied- and express-warranty
claims, Electrolux's argument about the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act is
moot. The motion to dismiss the warranty, ADTPA, and Magnuson-Moss
claims is denied.
4. Next, fraudulent concealment. Humphrey's complaint" must plead
the who, what, where, when, and how of the alleged fraud." Drobnak v.
Andersen Corp., 561 F.3d 778, 783 (8th Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted); FED. R.
CIV. P. 9(b). Where the allegedly false representation is the result of silence,
the silence "must relate to a material matter known to the party and which it
is his legal duty to communicate to the other contracting party[.]" Farm
Bureau Policy Holders and Members v. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. ofArkansas, Inc.,
335 Ark. 285,302,984 S.W.2d 6,14 (1998) (quotation omitted). This duty can
arise because of "inequality of condition and knowledge[.]" 335 Ark. at 302,
984 S.W.2d at 14-15.
Humphrey's complaint alleges that Electrolux knew its dryers
contained the alleged defect and that Electrolux stood silent when Humphrey
bought her dryer, despite Electrolux's" superior position to know the truth[.]"
Document No. 1, ,-r 128. Humphrey further alleges that she would not have
bought the product if she had known about the defect. These allegations
satisfy the heightened pleading requirement of Rule 9(b).
5. The motion to dismiss Humphrey's strict-liability claim is denied.
Humphrey says that Electrolux makes and sells dryers; that Electrolux
supplied her dryer with a defective condition- the lint-build-up problem; that
the defect created a fire hazard and rendered the dryer unreasonably
dangerous; and that the lint defect caused her harm because her dryer did not
operate normally and had to be serviced. Taken as true, these allegations
state a plausible claim. ARK. CODE ANN.§ 4-86-102(a).
She has also well pleaded the familiar elements of negligence-duty,
breach, proximate cause, and damage. E.g., Branscumb v. Freeman, 360 Ark.
171, 179, 200 S.W.3d 411, 416 (2004). Humphrey says Electrolux had a duty
to use reasonable care in designing and manufacturing its dryers; that
Electrolux violated that duty when it designed, manufactured, and
distributed the defective dryers; and that the lint-build-up defect proximately
caused her dryer to stop working normally. The motion to dismiss the
negligence claim is denied.
6. Humphrey's unjust-enrichment claim fails as a matter of law. While
the terms of Humphrey's particular warranties are unclear at this point, the
parties agree that she received a warranty. Indeed, Humphrey seeks to
recover on it. None of the exceptions apply; so the parties' contract covering
the subject matter undermines any claim for unjust enrichment.
Contracting Corp. v. Entergy Services, Inc., 309 F.3d 468,475-76 (8th Cir. 2002);
Glenn Mechanical, Inc. v. South Arkansas Regional Health Center, Inc., 101 Ark.
App. 440, 445, 278 S.W.3d 583, 587 (2008).
7. Last, Electrolux attacks some of the relief Humphrey requests. The
Court sees no reason to rule out injunctive relief yet because the adequacy of
any particular remedy is far from clear at this early point. The Court's
conclusion that Humphrey has adequately alleged injury addresses
Electrolux's no-standing argument. The motion to dismiss as to relief is
* * *
Electrolux's motion highlights the weak points in Humphrey's case.
Whether a class should be certified and whether Humphrey has trial-worthy
claims are important and imminent questions.
But for now- taking
Humphrey's allegations as true and disregarding the collateral materials- the
complaint is sufficiently plausible to survive. Motion to dismiss, Document
No. 16, mostly denied, but granted on unjust enrichment.
D.P. Marshall Jr.
United States District Judge
9 August 2012
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