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Gold v. Lumber Liquidators, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 22, 2017

DANA GOLD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
LUMBER LIQUIDATORS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT

          THELTON E. HENDERSON, United States District Judge

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend their class action complaint. ECF No. 154 (“Mot.”). Defendant Lumber Liquidators timely opposed the motion, ECF No. 165 (“Opp'n.”), and Plaintiffs timely replied, ECF No. 166 (“Reply”). The Court heard oral arguments on Plaintiffs' motion on June 19, 2017. ECF No. 169. After carefully considering the parties' written and oral arguments, the Court hereby GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiffs' motion.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Dana Gold, John Triana, Edwin Mendez, Laura Norris, Donald Fursman, and Tammy Emery are residents of California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, respectively. ECF No. 63 (Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”)) ¶¶ 8- 10, 12-14. All six Plaintiffs purchased and installed Lumber Liquidator's Morning Star bamboo flooring in their homes, and shortly thereafter began experiencing alleged product defects. Id. ¶¶ 27, 39, 52, 74, 93, 98, 110. Plaintiffs' TAC alleges that Lumber Liquidators' Morning Star Bamboo Flooring “is defectively designed, tested, and manufactured, and will warp, buckle, splinter, and unreasonably scratch and dent when used in its intended manner. Id. ¶¶ 1, 128. “These failures are common in the product regardless of when, where, or how it is installed.” Id. at ¶ 128. Additionally, Plaintiffs allege Lumber Liquidators “communicate[d] representations about the durability and quality of the Product and about its warranty to the general public and contractors, ” yet Lumber Liquidators “concealed from and/or failed to disclose to Plaintiffs and Class Members the defective nature of the Product.” Id. ¶ 115. As a result of this alleged misconduct, Plaintiffs and class members have suffered actual damages. Id. ¶ 129.

         Plaintiffs' TAC outlines a nationwide class and eight sub-classes. Id. ¶ 149. The nationwide class is defined in relevant part as “[a]ll individuals in the United States who purchased Morning Star Bamboo Flooring, manufactured and sold by Lumber Liquidators, Inc.” Id. The eight sub-classes are currently defined, in relevant part, as “[a]ll individuals in the [respective state] who purchased, for personal, family, or household use, Morning Star Bamboo Flooring, manufactured and sold by Lumber Liquidators, Inc.” Id. The TAC also sets forth nine causes of action: first cause of action for violation of California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”) (id. ¶¶ 163-68); second cause of action for violation of California Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) through unlawful business practices (id. ¶¶ 169-76); third cause of action for violation of UCL through unfair business practices (id. ¶¶ 177-81); fourth cause of action for violation of New York General Business Law § 349 (id. ¶¶ 182-96); fifth cause of action for violation of Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (id. ¶¶ 197-206); sixth cause of action for violation of Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices & Consumer Protection Law (id. ¶¶ 207-13); seventh cause of action for violation of Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act (id. ¶¶ 214-21); eighth cause of action for violation of West Virginia's Consumer Credit and Protection Act (id. ¶¶ 222-28); ninth cause of action for violation of Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (id. ¶¶ 228-39).

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In February 2017, Plaintiffs filed a motion for class certification pursuant to rules 23(a) and 23(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, challenging Lumber Liquidators' business practices with respect to the sale and marketing of Morning Star Bamboo Flooring. See generally ECF No. 111. In this motion, Plaintiffs specifically “request[ed] certification of six classes consisting of individuals in the following states who purchased, for personal, family, or household use, Morning Star bamboo flooring manufactured and sold by [Lumber Liquidators] from January 1, 2008 to present: California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.” ECF No. 111 at 11:8-13.[1] Lumber Liquidators opposed Plaintiffs' motion by arguing, among many other things, that Plaintiffs had failed to show there were any issues common to the class because “Morning Star Bamboo is not a single product, ” and the brand encompasses 243 different styles of flooring. ECF No. 133-3 at 6. In reply to this argument, Plaintiffs altered their proposed class definitions to the following:

(1) classes of individuals in Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia who purchased, for personal, family, or household use, Morning Star Strand Bamboo flooring manufactured and sold by Lumber Liquidators from January 1, 2008 to the present; and (2) a class of persons and entities in California who purchased Morning Star Strand Bamboo flooring manufactured and sold by Lumber Liquidators from January 1, 2008 to the present. This definition excludes certain recently introduced Morning Star products, including engineered bamboo and “Ultra.”

ECF No. 142-3 at 2:15-23. Subsequently, Lumber Liquidators sought leave to file a surreply on the grounds that Plaintiffs' reply substantially revised the proposed class definitions set forth in Plaintiffs' TAC and motion for class certification, which allegedly raised new issues. See ECF No. 150. The Court granted Lumber Liquidators' leave to file a surreply, ECF No. 151, which it did, ECF No. 152. In its surreply, Lumber Liquidators claimed the amended class definitions were impermissible because Plaintiffs “not only narrow[ed] the product definition for all classes, but also broaden[ed] - without any explanation - the scope of class members in the California class.” ECF No. 152 at 1: 18- 25. Lumber Liquidators also cited several cases to suggest that Plaintiffs cannot alter their class definition at the motion for class certification stage without seeking leave to amend. Id. at 3-4. In response to the surreply, Plaintiffs filed the present motion for leave to amend their class action.[2]

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         After a party has amended a pleading once as a matter of course, it may only amend further after obtaining leave of the court, or by consent of the adverse party. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). Rule 15 advises the Court that “leave shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Fed R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). “[T]his policy is to be applied with extreme liberality.” Owens v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc., 244 F.3d 708, 712 (9th Cir. 2001). However, a court may decline to grant leave to amend “if there is strong evidence of ‘undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment, etc.'” Sonoma Cty. Ass'n of Retired Emps. v. Sonoma Cty., 708 F.3d 1109, 1117 (9th Cir. 2013) (alteration in original) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). Of these so-called Foman factors, prejudice to the opposing party is the most important and carries the greatest weight. Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003). “Absent prejudice, or a strong showing of any of the remaining Foman factors, there exists a presumption under Rule 15(a) in favor of granting leave to amend.” Id. (emphasis in original).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         a. The Court May Consider Plaintiffs' Newly-Proposed Class Definitions at this Class Certification Stage

         Lumber Liquidators contests Plaintiffs' motion on several grounds. First, Lumber Liquidators argues that the Court cannot consider Plaintiffs' newly-defined class definitions because they are different than those stated in Plaintiffs' TAC. Opp'n at 1-2. In support of this argument, Plaintiffs rely on cases where district courts have refused to consider class definitions that are different from those contained in a plaintiff's complaint. Id. (citing Costelo v. Chertoff, 258 F.R.D. 600, 604-05 (C.D. Cal. 2009); Richie v. Blue Shield of Cal., No. C-13-2693 EMC, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170446, at *41 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 9, 2014); Berlowitz v. Nob Hill Masonic Mgmt., Inc., No. C-96-01241 MHP, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22599, at *5-6 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 6, 1996)). Notably, however, in each of these cases the court refused to consider ...


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