Wilson Sporting Goods Gets Partial Victory in Lawsuit Involving Warranty on Baseball Bat

Dec 8, 2017

A federal judge from the Northern District of Illinois has granted, in part, Wilson Sporting Goods’ motion to dismiss the claim of a consumer, who alleged that the company marketed, sold, and refused to honor its warranty on a defective baseball bat in violation of state law and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), 15 U.S.C. § 2301 et seq.
While denying plaintiff George Alea’s implied warranty claims, for a lack of privity, the court did let stand the express warranty claims. Privity is https://thelawdictionary.org/privity/
In March 2015, Wilson purchased the rights to the Louisville Slugger brand. Approximately a year later, after reviewing Wilson’s online marketing materials, Alea bought a 2016 Louisville Slugger Prime 916 BBP9163 BBCOR baseball bat (Prime 916) for his son. The marketing materials did not mention that the Prime 916’s handle would rotate independently of the barrel, and Alea said that he would not have purchased the bat had he known that the bat would behave in that particular way. Shortly after Alea purchased the Prime 916, his son noticed that the barrel and the handle moved independently when he hit a ball. Alea tried the Prime 916 and noticed the same thing. The movement appeared to weaken the bat’s power, and Alea’s son stopped using the bat because it felt “dead.” Alea contacted Wilson, but was allegedly told that the movement was normal and that the warranty would not cover a replacement.
Shortly thereafter, a written promotional statement about the Prime 916 said that the 3-Piece bat construction “allows for slight movement between the barrel and handle to further maximize barrel trampoline effect and eliminate negative vibration.” Further, the passage reads that the Prime 916 “is backed by a Full Twelve (12) Month Manufacturer’s Warranty.”
Alea alleged that the change in the marketing language “was a ploy by Wilson to pass off a defect as an intentional design element.”
He subsequently sued, alleging individual claims under state consumer protection law (Count I), state warranty law (Count II), state unjust enrichment law (Count III), and the MMWA (Count IV). Alea also sought to represent two classes. The “State Class” seeks relief under state law in Counts I-III, while the “National Class” seeks relief under the MMWA in Count IV. The “essence of all claims is the same – Wilson warranted the Prime 916 bats as free of defects but the bats were in fact defective, and, when pressed, Wilson did not honor the warranty but instead attempted to pass off the defect as an intended element of the bat’s design,” wrote the court.
The court held that Florida law should govern Alea’s individual claims.
Wilson sought dismissal of Alea’s state law warranty claims on the grounds that he has failed to allege privity between himself and Wilson. The court agreed with the manufacturer on the implied warranty, finding that because Alea “does not allege that he purchased the bat directly from Wilson,” that he has failed to allege the requisite privity. However, the court found that Alea had a better argument on the express warranty claim, which does not require privity.
“These allegations yield the reasonable inference that Alea viewed Wilson’s express warranty and then purchased the bat,” wrote the court. “The express warranty claim thus survives dismissal.”
The court also allowed the plaintiff’s state class allegations to continue. Wilson had argued that Alea lacked “standing” to bring non-Florida law claims and that given the differences among state consumer protection, warranty, and unjust enrichment law, class treatment is facially inappropriate. The court was unmoved, siding with the plaintiff.
As for the plaintiff’s bid to invoke, the court held that for the same reason that Alea’s Florida law implied warranty claim failed for a lack of privity, so the MMWA implied warranty claim “fails on the same ground.”
George Alea, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated v. Wilson Sporting Goods Company; N.D. Ill.; 17 C 498, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 184083; 11/7/17
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Michael J Flannery, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca LLP, St. Louis, MO; William Harold Anderson, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca, LLP-DC, Washington, DC; Jon Michael Herskowitz, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, baron & herskowitz, miami, FL; Ismael Tariq Salam, Katrina Carroll, Kyle Alan Shamberg, Lite DePalma Greenberg LLC, Chicago, IL. (for defendant) Jeffery A Key, LEAD ATTORNEY, Key & Associates, Chicago, IL; Michael D Hayes, Husch Blackwell LLP, Chicago, IL.


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