Monday, February 21, 2022

advertising claim of capacities unavailable to consumers was plausibly deceptive

Barclay v. Icon Health & Fitness, Inc., No. 19-cv-2970, 2022 WL 486999 (ECT/DTS) (D. Minn. Feb. 17, 2022)

NordicTrack allegedly can’t achieve or maintain the continuous horsepower defendants represented the treadmills were capable of.  

Because the Minnesota Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act provides only for injunctive relief, plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to bring claims—they weren’t going to interact with defendants again. However, plaintiffs did allege injury and damages: they paid a higher price in reliance on representations that the treadmill could achieve a particular continuous horsepower rating during normal use and that the treadmills’ capacity to achieve the continuous horsepower rating held benefits compared to less expensive treadmills.

The court rejected defendants’ argument that plaintiffs failed to allege that their motors weren’t rated to the listed ratings, meaning they were tested and achieved the represented ratings in a lab environment. But that didn’t matter given plaintiffs’ pleading that the treadmills can’t achieve the represented continuous horsepower rating in a typical residential or similar setting where defendants allegedly knew the treadmills would be used. “Plaintiffs do not—and need not—allege that each of them experienced some noticeable impairment during use to plausibly plead this theory.” 

Their Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act claim was dismissed for failure to plead a sufficient written warranty. But they plausibly pled state-law breach-of-warranty claims. They plausibly alleged, with examples, lots of horsepower claims, and plausibly alleged that an ordinary person would understand these representations to mean that a treadmill’s in-home continuous horsepower matched the “CHP” value advertised. Not only did plaintiffs alleged that they understood the representations that way, several retailers and industry bloggers allegedly shared their understanding. For example, Dick’s Sporting Goods and a “Treadmill Reviews” website explained that “CHP measures how much power the motor maintains throughout the workout” and “shows that the motor can maintain the power it is rated for without lagging or slowing down under strain.”  They also plausibly alleged facts showing a breach of this warranty.

Defendants argued that they never “affirm[ed] that the treadmills would ‘achieve’ the stated CHP, or any horsepower output, during household use”; they “simply affirmed that a [certain] motor would be incorporated” into their treadmills. Defendants argued that plaintiffs “tacitly admit that, with sufficient electrical power, the motors do reach the stated horsepower.” But even if defendants’ interpretations were reasonable, and other sources shared defendants’ view, that didn’t make plaintiffs’ understandings implausible. For example, a 2020 buying guide, after plaintiffs filed suit, inserted a disclaimer that “CHP motor ratings refer to the motor power achieved in a testing facility. You are not going to achieve this same amount of power when using the treadmill in your home due to the smaller wattage limitations of [a] residential home or apartment.” Without speculating about why this addition would have been made, this didn’t eshow that an ordinary person couldn’t plausibly have shared plaintiffs’ understanding at the time they saw the ads. They needed to file an amended complaint specifying when they gave pre-suit notice, though. And the choice-of-law clause in their contracts required them to use Utah law, not Minnesota law, even though the arbitration provision in the contract didn’t cover their claims by decision of the arbitrators.

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