Supreme Court Won’t Stop Class-Action Lawsuits Over Front-Loading Washing Machines

After several years of shutting down class-action lawsuits or affirming businesses’ ability to preempt such suits with forced arbitration, the U.S. Supreme Court today chose not to hear challenges to a trio of class actions about supposedly defective washing machines from three leading manufacturers.

Whirlpool, Sears, and Bosch are each currently involved in class-action lawsuits over alleged defects in various front-loading washing machines that may have allowed for mold to build up.

In petitioning the Supremes, the manufacturers each contended that there were too many variables involved to classify a specific class of damaged consumers.

“[T]here are 21 different products with different designs that affect the odor issue,” wrote Whirlpool in its Oct. 2013 petition to the court. “Injury and causation cannot be determined on a common basis because most Washer owners never experienced moldy odors and there are many potential causes of odors apart from the alleged defect.”

All three manufacturers were hanging their hopes on a recent Supreme Court decision in which the court ruled against a massive class-action against Comcast. In that case, the court determined there were too few common factors among the plaintiffs to properly certify them as a class.

But this morning, court denied without explanation all three petitions to hear the washing machine lawsuits, thus allowing lower-court decisions on these cases to stand.

Today’s denials come as a big surprise in light of the court’s recent history.

In addition to the Comcast case, the court came down against consumers’ right to a class action in 2011, ruling that AT&T could not only force customers into binding arbitration with a few sentences buried deep in a contract, but that they could also use these arbitration clauses to deny access to class complaints.

Then last year, the Supremes ruled in the American Express v Italian Colors Restaurant case that a harmed customer can not claim an “effective vindication” exception to get around a class-action ban.

In that case, a merchant wanted to prove that some of Amex’s business practices were anticompetitive and violated federal law. However, proving that case would have cost the plaintiff more than it could have received through arbitration. It contended that it needed to be able to combine its complaint with those of other affected parties in order to defray the cost of presenting its case. However, a split Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act “does not permit courts to invalidate a contractual waiver of class arbitration on the ground that the plaintiff’s cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery.”

The three petitions denied today were Whirlpool Corp. v Glazer; Sears, Roebuck and Company v. Butler; and BSH Home Appliances Corp. v Cobb.