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Bronson v. Samsung Electronics America, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 1, 2019

ALEXIS BRONSON and CRYSTAL HARDIN, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS AMERICA, INC. et al., Defendants.

          ORDER RE (1) MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION; AND (2) MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY APPROVAL OF CLASS SETTLEMENT

          WILLIAM ALSUP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         In this putative class action under the Song-Beverly Act and Section 17200 of the California Business and Professions Code, plaintiff Crystal Hardin moves for conditional certification of a settlement class and for preliminary approval of a class settlement. To the extent below stated, both motions are Granted.

         STATEMENT

         A prior order detailed the lengthy history of this action (Dkt. No. 209). In brief, plaintiffs Crystal Hardin and Alexis Bronson each bought Samsung plasma televisions in 2013. Both television sets had been manufactured in 2013 and later developed colored-lines on the screen. In 2018, each plaintiff was separately told by two different Samsung-authorized service and repair facilities that a spare part was not available to fix their televisions. Defendants Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. and Samsung Electronics America, Inc. manufactured plaintiffs' plasma televisions.

         Plaintiff Bronson (but not plaintiff Hardin) had commenced this putative class action in April 2018. He then twice amended his complaint. By January 2019, the operative complaint contained only two surviving claims: a claim under Section 1793.03(b) of the California Civil Code and a derivative claim under Section 17200 of the California Business and Professions Code. More specifically, Section 1793.03(b) required “[e]very manufacturer making an express warranty with respect to an electronic or appliance product” to “make available to service and repair facilities sufficient service literature and functional parts to effect the repair of a product for at least seven years after the date a product model or type was manufactured, regardless of whether the seven-year period exceeds the warranty period for the product.” An order also then permitted plaintiff Hardin to intervene.

         In April 2019, Samsung moved for summary judgment. In May 2019, plaintiff Bronson (but not plaintiff Hardin) moved for partial summary judgment. An order denied Samsung's summary judgment motion. An order granted plaintiff Bronson's partial summary judgment motion. Samsung had not made functional parts available to service and repair facilities for plaintiff Bronson's television as required by Section 1793.03(b).

         An order also permitted the scope of discovery to extend to television models other than those owned by the plaintiffs. More specifically, the order permitted discovery for “plasma television models purchased in 2013 and 2014 which contain[ed] the identical [faulty] part as plaintiffs' specific plasma televisions” (Dkt. No. 155 at 3) (emphasis in original). Thus, as relevant for the instant motion, since the television model plaintiff Hardin owned contained the identical faulty part (part number BN96-25240A), as two other models of television (models PN51F5300 and PN51F5350) - discovery extended as to those models as well. Plaintiff Hardin's model was numbered PN51F5500.

         Since May 2019, the parties have engaged in multiple settlement discussions. In June 2019, plaintiff Hardin (but not plaintiff Bronson) moved for class certification. In August 2019, after the motion was fully briefed, the parties struck an agreement on a settlement “injunctive” class. An order held the motion for class certification in abeyance.

         In September 2019, plaintiff moved for certification of the settlement class and for preliminary approval of class settlement (Dkt. No. 203). Samsung did not oppose.

         In brief, the details of this September proposed settlement agreement are as follows. Counsel abandon certification of a damages class under Rule 23(b)(3), in favor of an injunctive-only class under Rule 23(b)(2). That is, although the operative complaint sought class damages, the class would receive zero dollars under the deal. In contrast, plaintiff Bronson and plaintiff Hardin would each receive $6, 000 - and plaintiffs' counsel would seek $487, 000 in fees, subject to Court approval.

         The September settlement also drastically narrows the scope of the class. The class for settlement purposes became (Dkt. No. 204 ¶ I.A.):

Any person in the State of California who owned as of July 1, 2019, a Samsung plasma television model PN51F5500, PN51F5300, or PN51F5350 manufactured since January 1, 2013 (“Affected Models”), that exhibits a “line” issue that requires a replacement plasma display panel assembly (“PDP”) as confirmed through diagnostic testing by [a Samsung]-authorized service center (“ASC”).

         In other words, compared to the class alleged in the amended complaint, this new class definition excludes both putative class members who owned televisions from 2009 until 2013 and putative class members who no longer own televisions as of July 2019. In addition, the new class limits the type of television to three models (the prior class had included every plasma television model). The new class definition also imposes a brand new requirement: all televisions must have undergone diagnostic testing by an authorized repair center.

         The September settlement, moreover, did not expressly release absent class members' claims for damages, but those damages claims were not expressly reserved. Instead, the agreement merely noted that it was an injunctive-only class and “requires no release of any monetary remedies by any member of the [s]ettlement [c]lass” (id. ¶ IV.A.).

         Significantly, the September agreement explicitly prohibits any form of notice to the class. That is, “Samsung considers the absence of notice to the [s]ettlement [c]lass a non-severable material term” (id. ¶ IV.B).

         After a hearing, an order denied the September settlement as unfair, unreasonable, and inadequate (Dkt. No. 209). Primarily, the studied refusal to give notice killed the settlement. Even though damages claims would theoretically survive, absent class members would not be advised notice that they needed to bring their own claims for damages (either on an individual basis or a new class basis). During the pendency of the litigation, all statute of limitations were tolled. But the tolling would only be of value if the class members learned that class counsel had left them to fend for themselves.

         Another deal-breaker was the procedure imposed on objectors. The procedure was unreasonable, an unreasonableness compounded by the lack of notice to the objectors to even notify them of the onerous requirements.

         The parties try again with a new settlement, referred to herein as the October settlement. It purports to have fixed the ...


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