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Jones v. BRG Sports, Inc.

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

August 1, 2019

JEFFREY JONES, BRIAN MILNE, PATRICK JOHNSON, RANDALL SCOTT, EDWARD WILKINS III, JOHN HARRIS II, ARIES MONROE, RHONDELL SAWYER, RODNEY GALLON, JOSEPH MANNING, JAVAR GHOLSON, PASQUALE DESTRO, SHEDRICK MCCALL, JOSEPH MLEZIVA, STEPHEN HARRIS, and HENRY MILTON, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
BRG SPORTS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge.

         The plaintiffs in this putative class action sued BRG Sports, Inc., the maker of sports equipment bearing the Riddell brand, alleging that it manufactured football helmets that were defective as designed, was negligent with respect to the design, and failed to adequately warn users of its products' shortcomings. BRG has moved to strike the plaintiffs' class allegations. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants that motion.

         Background

         As discussed further below, the Court takes the allegations in the complaint as true for the purposes of this motion. BRG, through its brand Riddell, [1] is the largest football helmet manufacturer in the world. It has occupied its role as a market leader since at least the 1970s, forming business relationships and player education and safety partnerships with organizations like the National Football League and National Collegiate Athletic Association. But Riddell is not just a market leader; it, in no small part, created the market. Riddell's innovations during the mid-twentieth century led to what we think of today as a standard football helmet. Before Riddell's efforts, most football players wore only leather padding on their heads.

         According to the plaintiffs, however, Riddell eventually started cutting corners. As scientific awareness of the consequences of repeated football-related head injuries emerged, Riddell allegedly dragged its feet in implementing changes pivotal to player safety. Although Riddell helmets continued to evolve in the latter part of the twentieth century, they purportedly did not keep up with the state of the art. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that certain changes to the materials, configuration, and dimensions of Riddell's products would have been both cost-effective and readily technologically achievable and would have led to categorically safer helmets. See First Am. Compl., dkt. no. 36, ¶¶ 80-123 (describing the changes that Riddell could allegedly have made to its helmets to increase their effectiveness). But, the plaintiffs say, Riddell failed to make these changes, even though it was aware of their viability and even as some of its competitors implemented the very same safety innovations. As a result, the plaintiffs contend, Riddell is liable under both negligence and design defect tort theories.

         The named plaintiffs are former high school and college football players who used Riddell helmets. They allege that they were injured as a result of Riddell's defective designs. Each individually alleges that he would have played differently, used a different brand of helmet, and/or avoided playing football altogether if he had known of the Riddell helmets' shortcomings. In addition to their negligence and design-defect claims, the plaintiffs also allege that Riddell provided inadequate warnings of the foreseeable risks of wearing an allegedly subpar Riddell helmet. Each named plaintiff alleges he suffers from some combination of headaches, dizziness, dementia, emotional instability, memory loss, depression, motor impairment, impulsiveness, unusual aggressiveness, attentional problems, or other cognitive impairments attributable to head injuries sustained as a result of wearing Riddell's allegedly defective helmets.

         In their first amended complaint, the named plaintiffs seek to represent eighteen separate putative classes, each including players who played football in a particular state. They propose the following class definitions: "All individuals who wore a Riddell helmet while participating in a high school and/or college-level football program based in [each named plaintiff's state of football participation] between 1975 and the present." Id. ¶ 272. The states for which the plaintiffs propose classes-and the corresponding named plaintiff(s)-are:

• Michigan - Jeffrey Jones
• Pennsylvania - Brian Milne
• Kentucky - Patrick Johnson
• Texas - Randall Scott and John Harris II
• Georgia - Edward Wilkins III and Shedrick McCall
• Mississippi - Edward Wilkins III
• Tennessee - Shedrick McCall
• Alabama - Aries Monroe
• Massachusetts - Rhondell Sawyer
• Connecticut - Rhondell Sawyer
• Florida - Rodney Gallon and Joseph Manning
• Louisiana - Joseph Manning
• Virginia - Javar Gholson
• Maryland - Javar Gholson
• New Jersey - Pasquale ...

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