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Pershouse v. L.L. Bean, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 26, 2019

BENJAMIN T. PERSHOUSE, Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
v.
L.L. BEAN, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          NATHANIEL M. GORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Benjamin Pershouse (“Pershouse” or “plaintiff”) brings this putative class action against L.L. Bean, Inc. (“L.L. Bean” or “defendant”). Pershouse alleges that L.L. Bean rescinded its well-known “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” (“Satisfaction Guarantee” or “the Guarantee”) by inserting new conditions for its return policy and then applying them retroactively to purchases made under the original policy. Pershouse claims, among other things, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and unfair or deceptive practices in violation of M.G.L. c. 93A. He also seeks to certify a nationwide class of similarly situated individuals, as well as a subclass of individuals in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

         Pending before this Court are defendant's 1) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and 2) motion to strike the nationwide class claims from the class action complaint.

         I. Background

         A. Facts

         Pershouse is a resident of Woburn, Massachusetts. L.L. Bean is a Maine corporation headquartered in Freeport, Maine. The company was founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean and specializes in the manufacture and sale of clothing, footwear and outdoor recreation equipment. For decades, L.L. Bean has publicized and been renowned for its Satisfaction Guarantee, which promised that

if something's not working or fitting or standing up to its task or lasting as long as you think it should, we'll take it back.

         This return and exchange policy contained no explicit time limits or other conditions, and plaintiff asserts that it formed

part of the benefit of the bargain for purchasers of L.L. Bean products . . . [and] has become almost entirely intertwined with the L.L. Bean brand.

         Plaintiff alleges that L.L. Bean marketed its Satisfaction Guarantee for years, including in signs displayed prominently in L.L. Bean stores and outlets, on its website and in its catalogs.

         In November, 2012, Pershouse bought a pair of women's indoor slippers through L.L. Bean's website. He alleges that “[a]fter a few years of indoor use, the rubber soles of the slippers began to flake off in large chunks”. He does not explicitly allege that the slippers were defective or that he was actually dissatisfied with the quality of the slippers. Nor does he indicate precisely when the soles of the slippers began to break off in pieces.

         In February, 2018, the Executive Chairman of L.L. Bean posted a letter to the L.L. Bean Facebook page announcing that it was updating its Satisfaction Guarantee in response to perceived abuse by certain customers. The letter explained that:

[A] small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent. Some view it as a lifetime product replacement program, expecting refunds for heavily worn products used over many years. Others seek refunds for products that have been purchased through third parties, such as at yard sales. Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy. Customers will have one year after purchasing an item to return it, accompanied by proof of purchase. After one year, we will work with our customers to reach a fair solution if a product is defective in any way.

         The letter included a link to the full return policy. The full policy contained “Special Conditions” in which L.L. Bean would not accept returns or exchanges in certain situations, including: 1) “[p]roducts damaged by misuse, abuse, improper care or negligence, or accidents (including pet damage)”; 2) “[p]roducts showing excessive wear and tear”; 3) “[p]roducts lost or damaged due to fire, flood, or natural disaster”; 4) “[p]roducts with a missing label or label that has been defaced”; 5) “[p]roducts returned for personal reasons unrelated to product performance or satisfaction”; and 6) “[o]n rare occasions, past habitual abuse of our Return Policy”. That letter was also emailed to some former L.L. Bean customers, including plaintiff.

         In March, 2018, more than five years after Pershouse purchased the slippers from L.L. Bean's website, he attempted to return them to an L.L. Bean store in Burlington, Massachusetts. Although plaintiff presented a proof of purchase to the manager of the store, she refused to accept the return of the slippers because she found they were not defective. Plaintiff alleges that her determination was “erroneous” but does not otherwise explain 1) how the slippers were defective, 2) why he waited so long to return them or 3) that he was actually dissatisfied with the quality of the slippers. Rather, plaintiff submits ...


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