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Rice v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 28, 2015

ELAINE RICE, Individually and on behalf of others similarly situated Plaintiff,
v.
ELECTROLUX HOME PRODUCTS, INC. Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

MATTHEW W. BRANN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Defendant Electrolux Home Products, Inc. (“Electrolux”) has filed a Partial Motion to dismiss Plaintiff Elaine Rice’s Complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, (ECF No. 10), as well as a Motion to strike the putative “other states” subclass from the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(f). (ECF No. 8).

This Court retains jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332; consequently, Pennsylvania substantive law applies to Ms. Rice’s state law claims. E.g., Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 91-92 (1938). For the reasons discussed below, Electrolux’s Motion to strike will be granted, while the Motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

For nearly one-hundred years, Electrolux has designed, manufactured, assembled, and sold a wide range of home appliances. (ECF No. 1, ¶ 18). During that time, Electrolux has become a global leader in home appliances, selling more than fifty million products in over one-hundred fifty counties every year. Id. Among the home appliances that Electrolux manufactures and sells are microwave ovens which Electrolux sells on its website and through third party retailers, including Lowe’s Home Improvement (“Lowe’s”). Id. at ¶ 22.

Among the microwave ovens sold by Electrolux are various versions of a stainless steel, over-the-range microwave (the “Microwaves”). Id. at ¶ 23. These Microwaves are designed to be installed on a vertical wall directly above the cooking surface of a stovetop. Id. at ¶ 2. Ms. Rice purchased one version of the Microwave, model number FGMV174KFC. Id. at ¶ 10. Each Microwave features a stainless steel handle, which as of December 4, 2014, featured part number 5304471830. Id. at ¶ 3.

These Microwaves contain a serious defect due to the stainless steel handle; when installed at the recommended height, the Microwave handle absorbs heat and can reach temperatures exceeding 168 degrees Fahrenheit. Id. When tests were conducted on Ms. Rice’s Microwave, the handle temperature exceeded 168 degrees Fahrenheit in the time it took to bring water to a boil. Id. at ¶ 4. Skin contact with metallic surfaces which exceed temperatures of 154 degrees Fahrenheit causes burns resulting in irreversible injury. Id. at ¶ 28. Such injuries are preventable through the use of proper insulation or other protective measures. Id. at ¶ 29.

Ms. Rice purchased her Microwave from Lowe’s on October 13, 2013 for $269.10, and paid an additional $180 to have the Microwave professionally installed in her home in accordance with the Installation Instructions provided by Electrolux.[2] Id. at ¶¶ 31-32. At some point thereafter, Ms. Rice was cooking on her stovetop and reached for the Microwave handle to open the door. Id. at ¶ 35. The temperature of the handle had reached an “exceedingly high” temperature, resulting in burns to Ms. Rice’s hand. Id. at ¶ 36.

Ms. Rice contacted Electrolux’s customer service regarding the injury. Id. at ¶ 37. In response, Electrolux arranged for a service representative from Baker Appliance Repair, LLC (“Baker Appliance”) to inspect Ms. Rice’s Microwave. Id. at ¶ 38. After inspecting the Microwave, the Baker Appliance worker informed Ms. Rice that her Microwave had been installed too close to the surface of her stovetop. Id. at ¶ 39. Despite the Installation Instructions calling for the Microwave top to be installed thirty inches from the stovetop surface, as Ms. Rice has done, the Baker Appliance worker asserted that the Microwave base must be thirty inches from the stovetop surface. Id. at ¶ 39-40.

On January 21, 2014, Ms. Rice sent an e-mail to a customer service Supervisor at Electrolux’s corporate office, informing them of the alleged defect and requesting a refund or replacement of the Microwave. Id. at ¶ 41. On January 22, 2014, Ms. Rice was informed that Electrolux would not offer her a refund or replacement. Id. at ¶ 42. Electrolux further informed Ms. Rice that the Baker Appliance worker “was correct concerning the dimensions necessary for proper installation” of the Microwave. Id. On February 28, 2014, Electrolux mailed a letter to Ms. Rice denying her claim. Id. at ¶ 43.

On February 18, 2015, Ms. Rice filed a complaint with this Court, alleging eight counts: (1) declaratory relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201, et seq.; (2) strict liability for a design defect and failure to warn; (3) negligent failure to warn; (4) violation of the Magnuson-Moss Consumer Products Warranties Act (“Warranties Act”); (5) breach of implied warranty of merchantability; (6) breach of express warranty; (7) unjust enrichment; and (8) strict liability for a design defect and failure to warn, resulting in personal injuries. (ECF No. 1). In addition to bringing personal claims, Ms. Rice asserts a class action for three putative classes. Id. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 23(b)(2) and (3), Ms. Rice asserts two putative State Sub-Classes, defined as:

Pennsylvania: All persons in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who own a Microwave with a stainless steel handle (Part # 5304471830) purchased during the four (4) years preceding the filing of this action; and/or, Other States: All persons in the States of Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming who own a Microwave with a stainless steel handle (Part # 5304471830) purchased during the four (4) years preceding the filing of this action.
Excluded from the State Sub-Classes are officers, representatives, or agents of Defendant, as well as the judge presiding over this case and his or her immediate family members. In addition, notwithstanding the foregoing, all claims for personal injury and wrongful death are excluded from the Class.

Id.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must view all allegations stated in the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support its allegations. Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000).

A complaint should only be dismissed if, accepting as true all of the allegations in the amended complaint, the plaintiff has not pled enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-64.

Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “requires only a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ’ in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds on which it rests[.]’” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, even under this lower notice pleading standard, a plaintiff must make a factual showing of entitlement to relief by alleging sufficient facts that, when taken as true, suggest the required elements of a particular legal theory. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not “shown” – “that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). A court may dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where there is a “dispositive issue of law.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989).

1. Strict Liability and Negligent Failure to Warn

Electrolux argues that Counts Two and Three of Ms. Rice’s Complaint, alleging strict liability and negligent failure to warn, respectively, are barred by the economic loss doctrine. (ECF No. 11). Alternatively, Electrolux contends that, even if Ms. Rice had stated a claim for non-economic damages, any claim for purely economic damages should be dismissed. Id.

In Pennsylvania, the economic loss doctrine “bar[s] a plaintiff from recovering purely economic losses suffered as a result of a defendant's negligent or otherwise tortious behavior, absent proof that the defendant's conduct caused actual physical harm to a plaintiff or his property.” Ellenbogen v. PNC Bank, 731 A.2d 175, 188 n. 26 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1999). “Tort product liability theories impose responsibility on the supplier of a defective product whenever it causes personal injury or damage to other property because this is deemed to be the best way to allocate the risk of unsafe products and to encourage safer manufacture and design.” REM Coal Co. v. Clark Equip. Co., 563 A.2d 128, 129 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1989). Thus, “while tort recovery is barred for ...


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