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Padilla v. Hunter Douglas Window Coverings

January 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge

Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Plaintiff, Jose M. Padilla ("Plaintiff") filed a five-count amended complaint [34] on July 17, 2009, alleging violations of state contract and tort law by Defendants Hunter Douglas Window Coverings, Inc. ("Hunter Douglas"), Window Covering Manufacturers Association ("WCMA"), Window Covering Safety Council ("WCSC"), and American Blind and Wallpaper Factory, Inc. ("American Blind"). The Court has jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Before the Court is a motion to dismiss [37] Count IV of the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) filed by the WCMA and the WCSC.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied.

I. Background*fn2

On April 22, 2008, Plaintiff's three-year old son died from strangulation after he became entangled in the metal beaded chain cord on the miniblinds at his home. Cmplt. ¶ 2. The miniblinds at issue were manufactured by Hunter Douglas, a Delaware corporation in the business of manufacturing and selling window coverings, including vertical miniblinds with cords and metal bead chains exceeding 71/4 inches in length. Id. ¶¶ 2, 4. Plaintiff purchased the Hunter Douglas miniblinds over the internet from American Blind, a Michigan Corporation doing business in Illinois. Id. ¶ 10.

Hunter Douglas is a member of the WCMA, an industry trade group that represents and promotes the interests of manufacturers, fabricators and assemblers of window coverings. Id. ¶ 6. The WCMA is responsible for developing and implementing standards for the manufacture of window coverings, including vertical miniblinds and cords. Id.

In 1994, the Consumer Product Safety Commission threatened to take action against the window coverings industry to address the hazard of strangulation posed by some window coverings. Id. ¶ 59. In order to avoid a mandatory recall by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the WCMA committed to undertaking corrective action to make window coverings already in American homes safer, as well as to set standards to make new window coverings safer. Id. ¶ 60. The WCMA established the WCSC -- a coalition of major U.S. manufacturers, importers and retailers of window coverings (including Hunter Douglas) -- to spearhead the voluntary corrective action plan. Id. ¶¶ 8, 57, 61. The WCMA and the WCSC initiated a retrofit and recall program designed to reduce the likelihood of pull-cord strangulations by advising consumers to eliminate the loop in two corded horizontal and vertical blinds by cutting the cord above the tassel, removing the equalizer buckle, and adding safety tassel at the end of each cord. Id. ¶ 62. As part of the retrofit and recall program, the WCSC was to provide retrofit kits to individuals who had purchased miniblinds, including vertical miniblinds with cords and metal bead chains greater than 71/4 inches in length. Id. ¶¶ 56, 57. The WCSC also sought to warn consumers of the strangulation danger that such cords and chains posed to infants and young children. Id. ¶ 57.

II. Legal Standard on a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level," assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Detailed factual allegations" are not required, but the plaintiff must allege facts that, when "accepted as true, * * * 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."

Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563. The Court accepts as true all of the well-pleaded facts alleged by the plaintiff and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Barnes v. Briley, 420 F.3d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 2005).

III. Analysis

Count IV of the first amended complaint asserts claims against the WCMA and the WCSC on a theory of negligent undertaking. Plaintiff alleges that, by initiating the retrofit and recall program, the WCMA and the WCSC undertook a duty to warn about the risk of strangulation posed by window coverings and to carryout a corrective action plan adequately designed to eliminate the identified strangulation hazard. To state a claim for negligence, Plaintiff must allege that Defendants owed a duty of care to Plaintiff, Defendants breached that duty, and that breach proximately caused the Plaintiff damage. See Iseberg v. Gross, 879 N.E.2d 278, 284 (Ill. 2007). The WCMA and the WCSC contend that Plaintiff cannot, as a matter of law, establish the first element of a negligence claim -- that that they owed Plaintiff a duty. Thus, the crux of the motion before the Court is whether any undertaking by the WCMA and the WCSC resulted in the imposition of a legal duty to Plaintiff.

Whether a defendant has voluntarily undertaken a legal duty to a plaintiff is a question of law. Kennedy v. Medtronic, Inc., 851 N.E.2d 778, 786 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 2006). Illinois courts look to Section 324A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts in evaluating voluntary undertaking claims. Bailey v. Edward Hines Lumber Co., 719 N.E.2d 178, 184 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1999). Section 324A provides:

One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability to the third person for physical harm resulting from his ...

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