Judge boots class action suit decrying L.L. Bean's new warranty for its footwear

By Scott Holland | Mar 25, 2019

CHICAGO — A federal judge again dismissed a complaint accusing L.L. Bean Inc. of misrepresenting the expected lifespan of its iconic boots.

In an opinion issued March 20, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman echoed his June 28 dismissal of plaintiff Victor Bondi’s five-count class-action complaint accusing the Freeport, Maine-based retailer of 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 L.L. 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 L.L. Bean’s century-old terms were inherent to the value of the products and his relationship with the company.

Last year, and again, 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.

“Nothing much has changed,” Gettleman wrote this month about Bondi’s amended complaint. “The instant complaint has added nothing to establish that plaintiff has suffered an injury in fact. His claims remain based on the remote possibility that at some unknown time in the future he might become dissatisfied with a purchase, and that defendant might deny him a refund. In particular, he still fails to allege that defendant will not honor his guarantee should he become dissatisfied with a purchase. He does not allege that he is dissatisfied, and has alleged no facts to suggest that he is likely to become dissatisfied in the future.”

Gettleman said the only difference in Bondi’s amended complaint is an allegation that L.L. Bean’s new return policy is “dramatically different and less valuable” than what was in place at the time he bought boots in 2011 and 2017, and that it’s only designed so L.L. Bean can save money.

“Of course,” Gettleman wrote, “(L.L. Bean’s) motive in adopting a new guarantee or return policy is irrelevant to whether (Bondi) has suffered an injury.”

Bondi claimed L.L. Bean’s new policy is to accept as returns only products it can resell, and said the legal injury arises from a policy that doesn’t weigh his satisfaction, but only profitability.

“The documents he cites to, however, do not support this strained construction of defendant’s ‘new’ return policy,” Gettleman wrote. “The documents indicate only that employees should reject a return within one year of purchase for excessive wear and tear if the product is returned beyond its useful life — meaning in a condition that ‘is not sellable through any liquidation channel (i.e. outlets), otherwise known as destroy/trash.’ Nothing in the documents indicates that a return based on dissatisfaction is assessed only on whether defendant can resell the product.”

Bondi cited a 2018 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, Dubuisson v. Stonebridge Life Insurance Co., saying that plaintiff’s injury was having her policy diminished after purchase. But Gettleman explained the issue in Dubuisson was policies were voided because they weren’t filed properly with the state.

“Paying premiums for illegal policies was sufficient to show a concrete injury,” Gettleman wrote, but Bondi got exactly what he paid for: Boots he has never said are unsatisfactory and hasn’t tried to return.

Saying every other court faced with claims like Bondi’s were dismissed for lack of standing, Gettleman rendered the same fate, granting L.L. Bean’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint.

Bondi has been represented by Erich Schork and Anthony Parkhill of Barnow and Associates of Chicago.

L.L. Bean has been defended by Anthony Anscombe, Meegan Bay Brooks, Darlene Kay Alt and Mary Buckley of Steptoe & Johnson LLP of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Barnow & Associates PC Ll Bean Steptoe & Johnson PLLC U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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