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Alea v. Wilson Sporting Goods Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 7, 2017

GEORGE ALEA, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
WILSON SPORTING GOODS COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GARY FEINERMAN JUDGE

         George Alea, on behalf of himself and a putative class, alleges that Wilson Sporting Goods 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. Doc. 20. Wilson moves under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss some of Alea's individual claims and under Rule 12(f) to strike his class allegations. Doc. 22. The motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         In resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes the truth of the operative complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions. See Zahn v. N. Am. Power & Gas, LLC, 815 F.3d 1082, 1087 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must also consider “documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice, ” along with additional facts set forth in Alea's brief opposing dismissal, so long as those additional facts “are consistent with the pleadings.” Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714 F.3d 1017, 1020 (7th Cir. 2013). The facts are set forth as favorably to Alea as those materials allow. See Pierce v. Zoetis, Inc., 818 F.3d 274, 277 (7th Cir. 2016). In setting forth those facts at this stage, the court does not vouch for their accuracy. See Jay E. Hayden Found. v. First Neighbor Bank, N.A., 610 F.3d 382, 384 (7th Cir. 2010).

         In March 2015, Wilson purchased the rights to the Louisville Slugger brand, with certain exceptions not relevant here. Doc. 20 at ¶ 10. Approximately a year later, after reviewing Wilson's online marketing materials, Alea bought a 2016 Louisville Slugger Prime 916 BBP9163 BBCOR baseball bat (the “Prime 916”) for his son. Id. at ¶ 9. The marketing materials did not mention that the Prime 916's handle would rotate independently of the barrel, and Alea would not have purchased the bat had he known that the bat would behave in that particular way. Ibid. Shortly after Alea purchased the Prime 916, his son noticed that the barrel and the handle moved independently when he hit a ball. Ibid. Alea tried the Prime 916 and noticed the same thing. Ibid. The movement appeared to weaken the bat's power, and Alea's son stopped using the bat because it felt “dead.” Ibid. Alea contacted Wilson, but was told that the movement was normal and that the warranty would not cover a replacement. Ibid.

         From June 2015 to April 2016, Wilson distributed the following promotional statement about the Prime 916:

Maximum SPEED - Extreme POWER - Ultimate BALANCE: The Louisville Slugger Prime 916 BBCOR Baseball Bat: BBP9163 is here! With the introduction of their 2016 bat line, players around the nation are finding out why more Top 25 teams in NCAA baseball step into the box with a Louisville Slugger in their hands. Slugger made waves in the market with a never-before-seen 3-Piece bat construction, but the TRU3 Explosive Power Transfer Technology in the Prime 916 amplifies those performance characteristics even further by drastically eliminating sting while allowing for maximum trampoline effect and a true feel on contact. Combine that with the newly created FCS (Fused Carbon Structure) Composite and Flex Band Technology, the Prime 916 showcases the lightest swing weight and largest sweet spot in the 2016 Slugger lineup. This BBCOR certified model features the Flex Band Technology in its barrel. By inserting a 1" composite disc right below the sweet spot, the team in Louisville is able to meet BBCOR standards while keeping the barrel walls as thin as possible. Thinner barrel walls results in a lighter feel, larger sweet spot, and maximum trampoline effect on contact. Doesn't sound too bad, right? Louisville Slugger is more than confident that they've created the best bat in baseball and they're backing it up with the 30-Day Performance Promise. If you're not more confident in your swing in 30 days, send it back! Rounded out by a slick new graphic design and premium Lizard Skins grip tape, the Prime 916 combines comfort and style and is sure to help each hitter “Own The Plate”! The Louisville Slugger Prime 916 is backed by a Full Twelve (12) Month Manufacturer's Warranty. Free Shipping!

Id. at ¶ 11. This statement does not mention the Prime 916's barrel and handle rotating independently. Id. at ¶ 12. Numerous consumers complained about the barrel and handle coming apart. Id. at ¶ 13.

         The Prime 916's one-year express warranty, which Wilson referenced in its marketing materials, id. at ¶ 11, warranted that the bat was free from “manufacturer's defects.” Id. at ¶ 14. Set forth on the manufacturer's website, id. at ¶ 14 n.2, the warranty read in pertinent part: “Louisville Slugger is proud to continue offering an industry-best one year limited bat warranty (may vary outside the U.S.).” “Bat Warranty, ” http://www.slugger.com/en-us/warranty-bat (visited July 31, 2017). The warranty then provided a form for customers to complete if they wished to return a defective non-wood bat; the form included a field entitled, “Where Did You Buy the Product?” Ibid.

         About one year after the Prime 916 was first offered for sale, and without any alteration in the bat's construction, Wilson changed the above-referenced marketing language to this:

Maximum SPEED - Extreme POWER - Ultimate BALANCE: The Louisville Slugger Prime 916 BBCOR Baseball Bat: BBP9163 is here! With the introduction of their 2016 bat line, players around the nation are finding out why more Top 25 teams in NCAA baseball step into the box with a Louisville Slugger in their hands. Slugger made waves in the market with a never-before-seen 3-Piece bat construction, but the TRU3 Dynamic Socket Connection allows for slight movement between the barrel and handle to further maximize barrel trampoline effect and eliminate negative vibration. Combine that with the newly created FCS (Fused Carbon Structure) Composite and Flex Band Technology, the Prime 916 showcases the lightest swing weight and largest sweet spot in the 2016 Slugger lineup. This BBCOR certified model features the Flex Band Technology in its barrel. By inserting a 1" composite disc right below the sweet spot, the team in Louisville is able to meet BBCOR standards while keeping the barrel walls as thin as possible. Thinner barrel walls results in a lighter feel, larger sweet spot, and maximum trampoline effect on contact. Doesn't sound too bad, right? Louisville Slugger is more than confident that they've created the best bat in baseball and they're backing it up with the 30-Day Performance Promise. If you're not more confident in your swing in 30 days, send it back! Rounded out by a slick new graphic design and premium Lizard Skins grip tape, the Prime 916 combines comfort and style and is sure to help each hitter "Own The Plate"! The Louisville Slugger Prime 916 is backed by a Full Twelve (12) Month Manufacturer's Warranty. Free Shipping!

Doc. 20 at ¶ 16 (emphasis added). Alea contends that the change in the marketing language- adding “the TRU3 Dynamic Socket Connection allows for slight movement between the barrel and handle to further maximize barrel trampoline effect and eliminate negative vibration”-was a ploy by Wilson to pass off a defect as an intentional design element. Id. at ¶ 18.

         In his amended complaint, Alea brings 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). Id. at ¶¶ 29-59. Alea also seeks to represent two classes. The “State Class, ” which seeks relief under state law in Counts I-III, consists of “[a]ll persons residing in the states of Florida, California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri and Washington, who purchased a Bat from April 1, 2015 through the present.” Id. at ¶ 19. The “National Class, ” which seeks relief under the MMWA in Count IV, consists of “[a]ll persons residing in the United States who have purchased a Bat from April 1, 2015, through the present.” Ibid. The essence of all claims is the same: Wilson ...


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