Court Dismisses Baby-Bottle Cooler Class Action Complaint

A federal judge has dismissed a proposed class action that alleged that Playtex Products Inc. sold  insulated baby-bottle coolers with excessive levels of lead. Ramos v. Playtex Products Inc. et al., No. 1:08-cv-02703 (N.D. Ill. 2009).

At MassTortDefense we love talking about defense wins, and especially love posting about early wins.  Here, Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow dismissed all counts in the consolidated complaint without prejudice. The court relied first on the federal pleading requirements as described in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1953 (2009) (stating that “Twombly expounded the pleading standard for all civil actions”). We have posted on that before.
 

Plaintiffs alleged that the vinyl fabric from which these coolers are constructed contains dangerous levels of lead and that Playtex marketed these products as being safe, despite its awareness of regulations prohibiting the use of lead in children’s products and knowing that children who ingest lead suffer long-term injuries. Plaintiffs asserted claims for violation of the consumer fraud statutes of forty-three jurisdictions (Count I), common law negligence (Count II), and unjust enrichment (Count III). In the motion papers, the negligence claim became a medical monitoring claim.

The judge said the plaintiffs’ complaint was unable to meet pleading standards for the
claims alleged. The plaintiffs had failed to articulate many important points, including the basis for  their claims under any consumer protection statutes other than in New York and California. Named plaintiffs, Suarez and Stanford, were residents of New York and California, respectively, and neither alleged injury in, or contact with, any jurisdiction other than New York or California.

Additionally, the plaintiffs' claims failed to meet pleading standards of Rule 9(b) because of the absence of numerous crucial details, including where and from whom they purchased the coolers, specifics regarding the presence of lead in the products, such as where and how accessible it was, and whether they relied on statements from Playtex about the coolers’ safety before making their purchases. Averments of consumer fraud generally must be pleaded with the same particularity as common law fraud. See, e.g., Kearns v. Ford Motor Co., 567 F.3d 1120, 1125 (9th Cir. 2009). Even where, as here, plaintiffs assert that fraud is not a necessary element of a claim, any claim with a basis that nonetheless sounds in fraud is subject to the heightened pleading standard of Rule 9(b).  Plaintiffs quoted statements on Playtex’s website assuring customers that its products “surpass the most stringent domestic and international regulatory guidelines on . . . safety matters,” Am. Compl. ¶ 33, but failed to allege whether or when they relied on, or even saw, these statements prior to purchasing the coolers.

Additionally, plaintiffs wanted Playtex to pay for the cost of lead testing for their children, presumably a medical monitoring claim, yet at no point did they make any allegation that their children were exposed to lead.  Indeed, Suarez and Stanford fail to allege that they even have children. Playtex pointed out that the plaintiffs had not described any physical or economic injury associated with the product.  Plaintiffs expressly disclaimed personal injuries in this case at oral argument. What is required to support a claim for medical monitoring is that plaintiffs plead and prove that medical monitoring is probably, reasonably, not just possibly, necessary. The plaintiffs had asserted no allegation that any child came into contact with one of the coolers.  Thus, no allegation of the exposure element of a medical monitoring claim either.

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