Judge stomps action vs LL Bean over boot warranty; LL Bean: Not meant to be lifetime replacement plan

By Scott Holland | Jul 2, 2018

Wallstreethotrod [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

A federal judge stomped out a class action complaint accusing LL Bean of misrepresenting the expected lifespan of its iconic boots.

U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman issued an opinion June 28 in Chicago dismissing plaintiff Victor Bondi’s five-count class action complaint accusing the Freeport, Maine-based retailer for allegedly violating state and federal warranty and consumer protection laws.

The complaint would have included customers who bought boots prior to Feb. 9, 2018, which is the date LL Bean issued a statement altering its warranty terms to one year after purchase and requiring proof of purchase. Bondi said he only bought his boots because of the company’s prior “100 percent satisfaction guarantee” and that Bean’s century-old terms were inherent to the value of the products and his relationship with the company.

“Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent,” the company wrote in announcing the new policy. “Some view it as a lifetime product replacement program, expecting refunds for heavily worn products used over many years. Others seek refunds for products that have been purchased through third parties, such as at yard sales. Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy. Customers will have one year after purchasing an item to return it, accompanied by proof of purchase. After one year, we will work with our customers to reach a fair solution if a product is defective in any way.”

Meegan Brooks   Steptoe & Johnson

In arguing for dismissal, Bean said Bondi lacked standing because he failed to allege trying to return a product he bought before the Feb. 9 warranty shift announcement, let alone any complications with such an attempt.

Bondi couched his position in a 2013 case in the same federal district, Muri v. Playtex Products LLC, but Gettleman said the plaintiff in that action based a claim on allegedly fraudulent statements that precipitated a purchase. But Bondi did not suggest “he would not have purchased his boots had they come with a different warranty,” Gettleman wrote, only that ending the “old warranty deprived him of a chance at a future benefit.”

Likewise, Gettleman explained, Bondi didn’t say his boots have a diminished value or that the warranty change rendered them unusable, adding that “any injury that he may suffer, if at some point in the future he becomes dissatisfied with his boots, is purely speculative, conjectural, and hypothetical, and insufficient to establish” the right to bring the complaint.

Further, Bondi’s complaint didn’t actually cite Bean’s statement, but rather presupposed the company would refuse to honor its old marketing pledge. Gettleman included the full statement in his opinion, noting it “contains no definite, unequivocal manifestation of an intent to no longer honor the old warranty for items purchased before February 9, 2018. Indeed, a more reasonable interpretation is that defendant has created a new policy for items purchased after February 9, 2018. And, even if it could be interpreted to mean that defendant was applying the ‘new’ policy retroactively, this statement is at most ambiguous on this point. Ambiguity, however, does not amount to anticipatory repudiation. An unequivocal manifestation is required, and this statement does not meet that standard.”

Bondi’s Illinois Consumer Fraud and Protection Act, unjust enrichment and declaratory relief claims also failed on similar grounds, the judge said, because all of those allegations hinged on whether the Feb. 9 announcement effectively nullified the warranty terms in place when Bondi bought his boots in 2017.

The decision does not indicate if the dismissal was with prejudice.

Bondi is represented in the action by attorneys Erich P. Schork and Anthony L. Parkhill, of the firm of Barnow and Associates PC, of Chicago.

LL Bean is defended by attorneys Anthony J. Anscombe, Meegan Bay Brooks, Darlene Kay Alt and Mary E. Buckley, of the firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Anthony J. Anscombe Barnow and Associates, P.C. Ll Bean Steptoe and Johnson LLP U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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