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Warranty Woes: Judge Dismisses Class Action Involving Changes to L.L. Bean’s Return Policy

Sep 27, 2018 | Topics: Warranty, Class Actions

A California District Court granted a motion to dismiss a putative class action that alleged L.L. Bean—a company long-known for its 100% Satisfaction Guarantee and corresponding lifetime warranty—violated various statutes, including the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, when the retailer changed its return policy in February 2018.  Specifically, the retailer changed its lifetime warranty to a one-year return policy that requires proof of purchase.  The new return policy also excludes from coverage products that have been misused, improperly cared for, or that exhibited “excessive wear and tear.” 

The plaintiff alleged that since its inception in 1912, L.L. Bean “sought and earned the trust and respect of its customers” by providing a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee and lifetime warranty.  The plaintiff further alleged that L.L. Bean’s “highly publicized and widely known” warranty “has, for decades, been part of the benefit of the bargain for purchasers of L.L. Bean products.”  Because L.L. Bean customers are accustomed to the 100% Satisfaction Guarantee, they are willing to and have paid a premium for the retailer’s products.

As for the purported harm caused by the change of L.L. Bean’s return policy, the plaintiff asserts that he and other customers were harmed by the retailer’s “deceptive and unfair repudiation” of its warranty because customers who purchased L.L. Bean products before the warranty change in February 2018 did not receive what they bargained for.  L.L. Bean’s repudiation of its warranty, the plaintiff alleged, resulted in L.L. Bean retaining benefits conferred by its customers “against fundamental principles of justice, equity, and good conscience.”  

The retailer moved to dismiss the complaint on the basis that the plaintiff—who had not attempted to return any L.L. Bean products since the February 2018 changes to the warranty terms—lacked standing, as he had not sustained any injury in fact.  L.L. Bean further challenged the complaint on the grounds that it failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

During the motion to dismiss hearing, the Court characterized the plaintiff’s allegations as “hugely hypothetical” and making “no sense,” according to Law360.  In addition, the Court noted that L.L. Bean had always been able to decline a return under certain circumstances, and it was unreasonable for consumers to believe that they could purchase an L.L. Bean product and return it after months or even years of use simply because they claim they are no longer satisfied.  As for the exceptions to the new return policy, the Court questioned how a customer that misused or excessively used a product could claim that they were not satisfied with its performance.  Finally, the Court questioned the plaintiff’s standing to sue given that he had never tried to return any of his L.L. Bean products. 

The Court ultimately granted L.L. Bean’s motion to dismiss, but gave the plaintiff leave to amend after the plaintiff’s counsel argued that they were acquiring more information through discovery that would lend itself to an amended complaint.  Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on September 13, 2018, and L.L. Bean has not yet responded.  Given the Court’s statements during the hearing on the motion to dismiss, we suspect that L.L. Bean will once again challenge whether the plaintiff has standing to pursue his claims based on the allegations (or the lack thereof) in the amended complaint.