Court Tosses Challenge to L.L. Bean’s Guarantee Change

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Leaving the plaintiff even more unsatisfied, a California federal court judge granted L.L. Bean’s motion to dismiss a challenge to the company’s change in guarantee.

Beginning in 1912, L.L. Bean offered a “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” that allowed customers to exchange or replace items if the product was not “completely satisfactory.” But in February, the company modified the guarantee, requiring proof of purchase for all returns and excluding products damaged by “misuse,” “improper care” and “excessive wear and tear.”

Claiming that the change violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and other laws, California resident William A. Shirley filed suit. He alleged that “L.L. Bean’s Guarantee has become almost entirely intertwined with the L.L. Bean brand,” pointing to a “tremendous amount of marketing material” promoting the promise over the years, on its website, in-store and in catalogs.

Shirley told the court that he and other consumers relied on statements that the guarantee was “rock-solid” and had “No Conditions” and “No End Date.” Seeking to certify both a statewide and nationwide class, the plaintiff requested declaratory and injunctive relief as well as monetary damages.

L.L. Bean moved to dismiss, and U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, after hearing oral argument, expressed skepticism about the plaintiff’s claims. According to Law360, Judge Rogers said she found it hard to believe consumers suffered any harm as a result of the new policy, particularly since it is “unreasonable” for consumers to believe they could return a product after years of use.

“That’s why I’m struggling with your complaint, because it suggests to me … that people can use these products to the end of their life [and return them], which doesn’t make logical or plausible sense to me,” Judge Rogers said.

Although Shirley’s attorney argued that consumers paid a premium for L.L. Bean’s products because of the guarantee, the court was not persuaded, and asked how a customer could be dissatisfied by a product they had misused or abused. She also wondered about standing for the lawsuit—not just for Shirley, who never tried to return his L.L. Bean products after the guarantee change—and whether individualized inquiries would be required for all class members to evaluate whether they suffered harm.

“In my view it is hugely hypothetical and theoretical,” Judge Rogers said.

The court followed up the hearing with a written order granting the national retailer’s motion to dismiss, albeit with leave to amend.

To read the order in Shirley v. L.L. Bean, Inc., click here.

Why it matters: The California class action is one of four lawsuits filed by consumers in the wake of L.L. Bean’s guarantee change. In June, an Illinois court dismissed a case; actions remain pending in Massachusetts and New York.


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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