A fed up federal judge has yanked the plug on a New England vacuum cleaner company’s effort to force test results from a rival Chicago vacuum maker, warning the company it is flirting with sanctions if it keeps trying to inflate an alleged false advertising case beyond its parameters.
U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall rendered the ruling April 7 in Chicago federal court against SharkNinja, of Newton, Mass.
Dyson Inc., a Chicago vacuum cleaner company, filed suit in November 2014 against SharkNinja, alleging SharkNinja violated the federal Lanham Act, which prohibits false advertising. Dyson is seeking an injunction to bar SharkNinja from presenting its vacuum as better than Dyson’s model and to disseminate new advertising that corrects that alleged wrong impression. Dyson further wants SharkNinja to pay Dyson the profits generated by its alleged false advertising.
Dyson contended SharkNinja made bogus claims that tests, done according to accepted industry standards, showed SharkNinja’s cheaper-to-buy Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away series of vacuum cleaners were superior to what SharkNinja termed Dyson’s “best model,” the DC65.
In September 2015, Dyson amended its suit to say a new version of the DC65, the “re-engineered Ball Multi Floor” vacuum – put on the market the previous June – was now the company’s best product. However, Dyson alleged SharkNinja continued to promote its vacuum as better than Dyson’s previous version of the DC65. Dyson said this advertising is “literally false.”
SharkNinja countered that in two letters from a Dyson attorney to a SharkNinja attorney, the Dyson attorney allegedly wrote Dyson’s best vacuum was the Cinetic Big Ball. SharkNinja further claimed Dyson boasts on its website the Cinetic is top-of-the-line.
In line with this, SharkNinja filed a motion to compel Dyson to turn over copies of test documents related to the Cinetic, so SharkNinja could determine which of Dyson’s vacuums is the best. SharkNinja explained this distinction is important, because if Dyson’s tests of the Cinetic show it was indeed its best product, and if SharkNinja’s vacuum tested better, then Dyson should lose its case.
Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan denied the motion. SharkNinja objected, and the matter went before Judge Gottschall, who upheld Finnegan’s finding with the words, “SharkNinja’s position suffers from a fatal flaw.”
Gottschall said SharkNinja is trying to roll another vacuum into the case, pointing out that in earlier proceedings the court stressed to SharkNinja the case was solely concerned with Dyson’s and SharkNinja’s claims about the abilities of the DC65 (and its new version) and the Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away. However, the court’s admonition “obviously fell on deaf ears,” Gottschall concluded, adding SharkNinja has acknowledged this same point – its advertising claim only concerns the DC65, not the Cinetic.
In addition, Gottschall drew attention to the irony of SharkNinja’s repeated assertions that Dyson’s outside testing laboratory is unreliable, yet SharkNinja says it wants test results from the same laboratory for the Cinetic vacuum.
“It wastes the court’s time and is extremely annoying,” Gottschall said.
Gottschall’s impatience with SharkNinja was also evident when she noted SharkNinja’s reasoning is not backed by any meat.
“The court will neither develop and research arguments for SharkNinja (which at last count was represented by a team of ten attorneys) nor accept its unsupported legal contentions,” Gottschalk said. “Enough is enough.”
Gottschalk threw in a warning to SharkNinja, saying if the company persists in trying to expand the case beyond the complaint at hand, SharkNinja may find itself facing sanctions.
Dyson is represented by Kirkland & Ellis, of Chicago. SharkNinja is defended by Venable LLP, of Washington, D.C. and Sidley Austin, of Chicago.