By Melanie Dammel
The Superior Court of New Jersey’s Civil Division is reviewing a claim against a company accused of knowingly selling defective turf to more than 1,500 institutions in the State of New Jersey.
The plaintiffs (State-operated School District of the City of Newark, representing more than 100 institutions) have filed a class action lawsuit against the defendants, FieldTurf USA Inc., regarding synthetic turf fields sold between 2005 and 2016. Most of the turf fields were purchased by public institutions, such as schools, using taxpayer funds. The average price of a field ranged from $300,000 to $500,000, estimating sales of more than $570 million worth of defective turf fields.
The plaintiffs purchased turf fields that were marketed and sold by the defendants as products that would last for at least 10 years and would be accompanied by a warranty to repair or replace any damaged fields within that time span. As early as one year after some fields were purchased, the plaintiffs claim they began to deteriorate, break apart, fade, shred, tear and shed. According to the plaintiffs, the turf fields did not mimic real grass nor stand up to their claim to be the most durable and longest-lasting synthetic turf field in the industry. The plaintiffs also claim that the defendants were aware of these issues as they had received multiple customer complaints as well as filed a case of their own against the provider of the material used for the field, TenCate. Though the defendants knew of the defects in the materials, they did not notify the plaintiffs. Internal email communications of the defendants regarding the marketing strategies of the sales team were also presented as evidence, citing that they were exaggerated.
The plaintiffs are charging the defendants with nine counts related to fraud. The first count is in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (NJCFA) which protects consumers against any commercial practice by the producer with intent to sell or advertise merchandise using information that is deceptive, fraudulent, suppressed or omitted. The plaintiffs claim that they would have not purchased the fields or would have purchased the fields for a lesser price had they been informed of the defects or not been told the turf fields were of higher superior quality than they actually were. The second count was filed as a violation of the Truth-in-Consumer Warranty and Notice Act (TCCWNA). The plaintiffs claim the defendants violated their contract by providing them with a contract that counters the NJCFA. The third (Breach of Express Warranty) and fourth (Breach of Implied Warranties) counts were brought onto the defendants for their failure to deliver after warranting that their high-quality turf would not suffer from premature deterioration though they did not last for the warranted 10 years nor did they meet the minimal standard for turf fields.
The fifth count is in regards to breach of contract as the plaintiffs allege that the defendants have not replaced damaged fields. The sixth count, Breach of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, was brought onto the defendants for providing what the plaintiffs say are false marketing materials that misrepresent the defendants’ product. The seventh, eighth and ninth counts are related to fraud, negligence and unjust enrichment, respectively. They allege that the defendants made statements to the plaintiffs that they knew were not true regarding the quality of the turf fields, knowing that the plaintiffs would rely on that information to make their decision to purchase.
The plaintiffs are requesting an order that the defendants stop using false information to sell their fields, repay all funds that were fraudulently obtained, pay for damages to current fields, pay for treble damages and cover the costs of the attorneys’ fees (including interest) and costs incurred by the plaintiffs.
A judgement has yet to be issued in the case.
Melanie Dammel is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Sport Management at Florida State University.