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Retailers Must Beware Non-Specific Claims on Displays

12 Mar, 2013 By: John Waller, Blank Rome LLP, Jeffrey Richter

Although Best Buy may only have been attempting to inform its customers that the battery life of a Toshiba Satellite laptop computer that it was selling might not be as long as what the tests performed on that computer indicated, a District Court in California held that its statement on its point of sale display tags for those computers that their battery life was “up to 3.32 hours,” without any explanation about the parameters of the testing that such battery life was based on, could materially mislead reasonable consumers regarding the battery life that they would likely experience in normal use of those computers. (Chad Herron v. Best Buy Co. Inc.) Based on that finding, the court denied most of Best Buy’s motion to dismiss the claims against it under California’s Unfair Competition Law and its Consumers Legal Remedies Act and allowed the case against Best Buy to proceed.

Best Buy is alleged to have materially misrepresented the actual battery life of the laptop computers by failing to identify the parameters of the testing that it relied upon to support those claims regarding battery life. Best Buy had merely identified the name of the test upon which its representation regarding battery life was based. According to the plaintiff, notwithstanding Best Buy’s representation that the battery life of the laptop computers was “up to 3.32 hours,” such battery life could never be achieved when the computer was used in normal, practical and realistic circumstances and that Best Buy concealed or failed to disclose that the battery life testing parameters that it relied upon to support that claim bear no rational or reasonable relationship to an average consumer’s expected use of the laptop.

In ruling on Best Buy’s motion to dismiss, the court applied the reasonable consumer standard applicable to analyzing alleged misleading or deceptive claims under California’s Unfair Competition Law and its Consumers Legal Remedies Act. The court concluded that because Best Buy did not establish that the plaintiff’s allegation that Best Buy’s battery life claim was misleading or deceptive was either “unreasonable as a matter of law” or “predicated upon a strained and unjustified interpretation” of Best Buy’s representation regarding the computer’s battery life, that Best Buy had not demonstrated that the allegations against Best Buy fail to state a plausible claim for relief. As a consequence, the Court denied Best Buy’s motion to dismiss these claims.

The case is only in its early stages, and Best Buy may ultimately establish that its battery life claim was neither misleading nor deceptive. Nevertheless, the decision is a good reminder that merely including non-specific qualifying language in an advertisement or representation about a product is not always sufficient to insulate an advertiser from claims that such representations are misleading or deceptive. When qualifications are based on tests or criteria that are not readily known to average consumers and may not be applicable to the typical consumer of the product, advertisers should sufficiently identify the testing parameters or criteria upon which their claim is based so that consumers can reasonably understand the basis for the representation.

Jeffrey Richter and John Waller are partners at Los Angeles-based Finestone & Richter. They can be reached at (310) 575-0800, or at [email protected] and [email protected].

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