New Jersey Federal Court Denies Class Certification in Cracked Screen Case

April 11, 2012

Last month, New Jersey federal Judge Anne Thompson denied class certification in a proposed class action lawsuit involving cracked screens in hand-held electronic devices.  Only about one percent of users reported cracked screens, and many of the cracks were reportedly caused by accidents, yet a New Jersey consumer sued claiming a common design defect.  The court denied class certification because individual questions of what caused any particular screen to crack would predominate at trial.  Maloney v. Microsoft Corporation, No. 09-2047 (D.N.J. Mar. 5, 2012).  Montgomery McCracken represented Microsoft.

The case involved a model of Microsoft’s Zune portable music and video player sold between 2006 and about 2008.  A New Jersey consumer asked the court to certify a nationwide class of claims under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the implied warranty of merchantability and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act Act  on behalf of consumers whose LCD screen cracked but whose outer cover screen did not.

In December, the court denied certification of a nationwide class because the consumer protection and implied warranty laws of the fifty states are too different for a jury to apply in a single trial.  But Judge Thompson asked for additional briefing on whether a New Jersey-only class under a single state’s law could be certified.

The court’s recent decision denied certification of a New Jersey-only class under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.  Focusing on “practical considerations underlying the presentation of a case at trial,” Judge Thompson found plaintiffs “cannot establish causation on a class-wide basis” because of the “muddled mix of causes and effects” involved in any given LCD crack.  “Even where the alleged defect has manifested itself, individual issues of actual cause must be adjudicated.”  Moreover, because Microsoft “would have to be given the opportunity to cross-examine each Zune owner to assure that there was no damage . . . that resulted from misuse or abuse, [t]his would result in hundreds of ‘mini-trials.'”  She noted the small one-percent rate of reported cracks and observed: “Numerous courts have rejected class certification based on failure rates similarly as small” (citing Payne v. FujiFilm U.S.A., Inc., 2010 WL 2342388 (D.N.J. May 28, 2010)).

Judge Thompson joined other federal and state judges who have denied class certification in recent years when only a small percentage of a product has a reported problem and the evidence shows other possible causes for the alleged problem.