Supreme Court Shuts Door on Moldy Washer Litigations

After much anticipation, on February 24, 2014, the Supreme Court rejected, without comment, Whirlpool Corp.’s and Sears Roebuck & Co.’s bids to challenge class certification in litigations involving allegedly defective washer machines. For a discussion of the history of the “moldy washer” cases, click here and here.

In denying the writs of certiorari, the Supreme Court declined to disturb the Sixth and Seventh Circuits’ post-remand orders, concluding that Comcast Corp. v. Behrend had “limited application” to decisions where determinations on liability and damages were bifurcated. As previously reported, the Circuit Courts found Comcast distinguishable because Comcast involved the certification of “a liability and damages class,” whereas the moldy washer cases involved the certification of a liability class only and left the individual damages calculations for another day. Taken together, the Circuit Courts’ decisions suggest that Comcast broke no new ground on the standard for certifying a class and, therefore, when determinations on liability and damages have been bifurcated, nothing in Comcast precludes a district court from certifying a class for liability purposes only.

Unfortunately, nothing more can be gleaned from the Supreme Court’s inaction—notwithstanding speculation from litigators on both sides of the “v.”—except that these specific litigations, on remand, will proceed united as a class. And while there has been much chatter about the potential impact of these decisions—including theories that consumer product companies will be more vulnerable to class certification, particularly in instances where consumers allege diminished value of products or warranty claims—this is all, of course, speculation. Stay tuned to this blog for more on the impact of the denial of certiorari in months to come.

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