A class action fraud complaint against Wilson Sporting Goods over youth baseball bats has been given the green light, for now - though the case may now have some holes in the swing, after a judge’s ruling on the company’s attempt to send the lawsuit to the showers.
In an opinion issued Nov. 17 in Chicago, federal Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman considered Wilson’s motion to dismiss a complaint brought by plaintiffs Theodore Sheeley and Timothy Walker regarding the company’s DeMarini bats, a product largely sold to young athletes who compete in games subject to regulations of the United States Specialty Sports Association.
According to the opinion, Wilson labels and markets the DeMarini bats as USSSA compliant, though not all of them met standards and were unable to be used in certain games or tournaments. Coleman said the company offered to replace the bats, but has not offered refunds.
Sheeley and Walker, who each bought DeMarini CF Zen (-8) bats, alleged violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, breach of express and implied warranty and unjust enrichment.
Wilson, however, argued the men failed to state a claim, and asked the judge to strike the nationwide consumer fraud and breach of warranty plaintiffs’ classes.
Sheeley purchased his bat in suburban Lansing; the decision did not state where Walker made his purchase.
Although Wilson is headquartered in Chicago, Coleman said that fact “is an insufficient basis for standing under ICFA.” As such, neither Walker nor any class member who didn’t buy a bat in Illinois can state a claim under the Illinois fraud statute. Beyond that, the judge explained, Sheeley didn’t adequately allege his own claim because he didn’t state which store sold him the bat or specifically when he made the purchase.
Wilson tried to argue the warranty claims should be dismissed because Illinois law only allows claims between a user and the immediate seller. However, Coleman agreed with the plaintiffs’ invocation of the direct marketing exception to the privity rule. She said the labels Wilson put on its bats are sufficient to negate that protection at this stage. Likewise, she sided with the plaintiffs when they said Wilson was aware of bat buyers’ reliance on labels implying USSSA compliance.
Coleman also explained Walker’s warranty claims are analyzed under Texas law, which has different requirements for express and implied warranty claims. His express warranty claim failed because he did not buy the bat directly from Wilson, but a retailer.
Wilson further said the plaintiffs shouldn’t be able to claim unjust enrichment because they have asserted other claims seeking the same remedy. While Coleman said Wilson mounted this argument on cases that inconsistently treat the issue, she also said she doesn’t need to resolve those issues because the plaintiffs offered an alternative pleading of this claim that survived.
With respect to the nationwide class’ fraud and warranty claims, Coleman said it’s too early in the proceedings to consider whether the class has satisfied requirements of court rules, despite Wilson’s concerns about variances in laws among different states.
“Although it may well be appropriate, after further briefing, to deny a motion for class certification based on the concerns that Wilson now presents, the fact that different state laws will need to be applied does not automatically render the plaintiffs’ claims facially and inherently deficient,” the judge said.
Coleman granted the motion to dismiss and strike the Illinois fraud and Walker’s express warranty claim without prejudice, but allowed the remainder of the complaint to stand.
The plaintiffs are represented in the action by the Morgan Law Firm, of Chicago, and McGuire Law P.C., of Chicago.
Wilson is defended by the firms of Key & Associates and Seyfarth Shaw, each of Chicago.