7th Circuit reinstates smelly washer class actions

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Two class actions claiming Kenmore washing machines sold at Sears stores were defective were reinstated by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday after certification of the suits was vacated in June by the U.S. Supreme Court.

An Indiana man is the lead plaintiff in the both classes, Larry Butler et al. v. Sears, Roebuck and Co., 11-8029, 12-8030. The suits separately claim that design defects in front-loading washers sold between 2001-2004 create odor-causing mold or cause the machines to stop at inopportune times.

The SCOTUS ruling vacating class certification in the cases remanded the suits to the 7th Circuit on the basis of its holding in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, 133 S. Ct. 1426 (2013). There, justices determined that a suit may not be certified as a class action unless damages sought are the result of a class-wide injury.

In reinstating class certification in both cases in accordance with its November 2012 ruling, Circuit Judge Richard Posner wrote, “It would drive a stake through the heart of the class action device, in cases in which damages were sought rather than an injunction or a declaratory judgment, to require that every member of the class have identical damages. … (T)he fact that damages are not identical across all class members should not preclude class certification.

“There is a single, central, common issue of liability: whether the Sears washing machine was defective,” the 7th Circuit ruled.

Posner noted that the opinion harmonizes a Sixth Circuit ruling in light of Comcast in a similar mold class action regarding washers made by Whirlpool, which also manufactured the Kenmore machines. “The concordance in reasoning and result of our decision and the Sixth Circuit’s decision averts an intercircuit conflict,” Posner wrote for the panel.


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