Class Action Complaint Dismissed In Alleged Moldy Bed Litigation

A federal court has dismissed the class action claim made against a number of manufacturers and sellers of the “Sleep Number” bed products. Molly Stearns, et al.,  v. Select Comfort Retail Corporation, No. 08-2746 JF, (N.D. Calif. June 5, 2009).

Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that she had found mold on her Sleep Number® bed purchased in 2000. The complaint alleged various causes of action, including for strict product liability, intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, concealment, breach of express warranty, and breach of implied warranty. Stearns also sought to bring a class action on behalf of other  purchasers and users of Sleep Number® beds. An amended complaint added claims for alleged violation of the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act, the California Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 et seq.; the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. § 1962c; the  Consumer Product Safety Act;  in total, plaintiffs presently assert seventeen claims for relief.

Plaintiffs defined the purported class as all original purchasers of a Select Comfort® bed between January 1, 1987 and the present date, whose beds contained mold. At oral argument, and in response to defendants’ valid contention that a nationwide class would be overly ambitious in light of the differences in applicable state laws and the individualized circumstances of each bed purchaser, plaintiffs' counsel represented that they would be willing to limit the class to California residents. This concession, however, would have eliminated several of the putative class representatives. The court found that this alone would require denial of class certification based on the present state of the pleadings.

More importantly, the elements of proof with respect to the property damage alleged in the complaint likely will vary significantly among class members, depending on when the bed was purchased; whether any anti-fungal measures were included in the product; and the
surrounding environmental conditions. The amount of damage incurred also will vary among class members. Some class members might only require a new bed or a refund, while others conceivably might have suffered additional property damage from the spread of mold in their homes. Plaintiffs failed to show how these potentially diverging interests would be addressed in the single broadly defined class.

In addition, the court noted that Article III requires that the representative or named plaintiff must share the same injury or threat of injury.  DuPree v. U.S., 559 F.2d 1151, 1153 (9th Cir. 1977). See also Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 403 (1975) (“A litigant must be a member of the class which he or she seeks to represent at the time the class action is certified”).  In the instant case, it was not yet clear whether any of the named plaintiffs had or could set forth a cognizable claim under any of their numerous legal theories. The court had done a claim by claim analysis leading to a dismissal with prejudice of several of the claims, including breach of implied warranty of fitness, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, fraud, intentional misrepresentation, racketeering, conspiracy, and violations of the Sherman Act and California's Cartwright Act. 

While the named plaintiffs, all of whom claim their Sleep Number beds are defective products, were given leave to amend their claims for negligence, strict product liability, breach of express warranty, and violations of the Magnusson-Moss Warranty Act, the current complaint failed to state a claim. For example, the generalized allegations of harm were insufficient for the court to know whether tort claims were barred by the economic loss doctrine. Accordingly the motion to strike was granted, without prejudice to plaintiffs filing an amended pleading consistent with the ruling.