A federal district court has rejected a proposed nationwide class action in the litigation alleging that Hewlett Packard engaged in unfair and deceptive conduct in connection with the “smart chip” technology in its ink cartridges. In re HP Inkjet Printer Litigation, 2008 WL 2949265 (N.D.Cal. July 25, 2008). According to Plaintiffs, the “smart chips” are programmed to indicate prematurely that replacement is needed, when in fact “hundreds of additional pages” of ink remain. The “smart chip” technology allegedly also renders cartridges unusable on a concealed, built-in “expiration date,” which is the earlier of thirty months after installation or thirty months after a factory-set “install-by” date, regardless of the amount of usable ink remaining. Plaintiffs claim that HP’s “SureSupply” marketing campaign falsely promised consumers an easy way to maintain adequate printer supplies that saves time and money while failing to disclose the premature ink warnings and built-in expiration dates. HP makes some of the best printers in the world and stands behind its technology.

Plaintiffs asserted several claims for relief including: (1) breach of express warranty; (2) breach of implied warranty; (3) unjust enrichment; (4) violations of several California consumer fraud statutes. The court addressed competing motions – defendant’s for summary judgment and plaintiffs’ for class certification.

Defendant moved for summary judgment, contending that named plaintiffs did not have standing because they cannot prove that they ever received a “low on ink” warning. However, the court found an issue of fact based on their deposition testimony, despite the fact they could not remember the precise wording of the low ink message received and did not recognize the actual message when shown it by opposing counsel at the deposition. “While the evidence is weak,” a reasonable jury could find that each named plaintiff has suffered a cognizable injury, said the court.

Specifically regarding the warranty claim, while neither plaintiff identified the precise language of the statements upon which he allegedly relied, the court found that recitation of the precise language is not an element of an express warranty claim. Again, while Plaintiffs’ evidence is weak, it was sufficient to survive summary judgment.

No Class

Importantly for readers of MassTortDefense, the court rejected the proposed class. First, plaintiffs were seeking to represent the claims of a nationwide class without addressing any of the complexities involved in doing so. Plaintiffs appeared to simply presume that California law should apply to all putative class members nationwide; they made no attempt to satisfy their burden of establishing that the application of California law to the entire proposed class would be appropriate under Rule 23(b)(3). Plaintiffs did not adequately address any of the potential jurisdictional and due process limitations upon the application of California law to the claims of non-resident class members. Second, the plaintiffs did not address the potential choice of law problems that would arise should the court certify a nationwide class, noting each class member’s home state has an interest in protecting its consumers from in-state injuries caused by foreign corporations and in delineating the scope of recovery for its citizens under its own laws.

In contrast to plaintiffs’ dropping the ball, HP submitted a detailed analysis of the variations in state consumer protection and deceptive trade practice laws. This analysis demonstrates the many differences among states with respect to, for example, statutes of limitations, scienter requirements, and calculation of damages. See, e.g., In re Bridgestone/Firestone, 288 F.3d 1012, 1017-18 (7th Cir.2002) (“State consumer-protection laws vary considerably, and courts must respect these differences rather than apply one state’s laws to sales in other states with different rules.”).

Based on the record before it, the court concluded that the proposed nationwide class would be unmanageable.