Class Certification Denied in Moldy Baby Seat Lawsuit

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A California federal judge recently denied a motion to certify a nationwide class of consumers who acquired Fisher-Price Rock ‘N Play Sleeper infant recliner seats, finding that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the questions of law and fact common to all class members predominate over individual questions relating to the seats’ alleged “dangerous propensity” to grow mold.  Butler v. Mattel, Inc., et al., No. 89 Case No. 2:13-cv-00306 (C.D. Cal. Feb 24, 2014).

In Butler, the plaintiffs, a proposed class of consumers who had acquired the Sleepers, alleged that they did not allow for adequate ventilation in and around the seat.  Because of that flaw, the seat had a “dangerous propensity” to grow mold, which has been linked with serious respiratory illnesses and inflammatory problems in infants, the plaintiffs argued.

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer denied the plaintiffs’ motion to certify the class action lawsuit because the plaintiffs “fail[ed] to establish that any actual defect was common to the entire class.”  In his decision, Judge Fischer pointed out that there was ample evidence in the record that the vast majority of the proposed class did not experience enough mold growth on the Sleeper to be compelled to complain to either the defendants or to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  Judge Fischer further stated that, “[w]hile it appears that the Sleeper may develop mold under certain circumstances, there is no evidence that those circumstances were common across the class or even frequently experienced among the class.”  The judge recognized that the only apparent attempts to grow mold on the Sleeper “[did] not suggest that mold growth would occur under normal circumstances.”  Assessing the record before the court, the judge went on to state that “[t]here is no evidence that every Sleeper developed notable levels of mold and ample evidence that most of them did not.”

As Judge Fischer put it, the real problem for the plaintiffs was the dispositive issue of standing, which must be addressed on an individual basis.  The judge recognized that only the class members who actually experienced mold or who could demonstrate that their particular circumstances made it likely that they would experience mold would likely have standing.  However, the judge also recognized that “there is no evidence that the mold growth is ‘actual or imminent’ in all cases, a majority of cases, or even in a significant percentage of cases.”  The judge ultimately held that the overarching importance of the question of standing predominates over any common questions that may exist.

Judge Fischer’s decision demonstrates that the certification process is not a rubber stamp and reaffirms that district courts will undertake a rigorous analysis in deciding whether a case warrants class certification, including probing into matters that overlap with the underlying merits of the case.

Topics:  Class Certification, Manufacturing Defects, Predominance Requirement, Standing

Published In: Civil Procedure Updates, Constitutional Law Updates, Products Liability Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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