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Sponchiado v. Apple Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 18, 2019

CHRISTIAN SPONCHIADO, et al., Plaintiffs,
APPLE INC., Defendant.


          Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint (“FAC”). Dkt. No. 27 (“Mot.”). For the reasons articulated below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendant's motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Christian Sponchiado and Courtney Davis bring this putative consumer class action against Defendant Apple, Inc., alleging that Apple misrepresented the pixel resolutions and display sizes for the iPhone X, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max products (the “iPhone Products”). See generally Dkt. No. 26 (“FAC”). The FAC alleges the following facts, which are taken as true for the purpose of deciding the motion to dismiss.[1]

         A. Screen Pixels

         A pixel is a “tiny unit” on a mobile screen that combines with other pixels to create color images. Id. ¶ 33. Pixels are made from subpixels, and each subpixel outputs exactly one color. Id. ¶ 34. A “true screen pixel” purportedly will have at least one red subpixel, one green subpixel, and one blue subpixel. Id. ¶ 38. By changing the brightness and intensity of each subpixel, the pixel can change the shade of its color. Id. ¶¶ 34-35. The subpixels are typically lined up on the screen in a red, green, and blue order (“RGB”). Id. ¶ 36.

         Apple advertises the iPhone Products as having a higher number of pixels than their previous models. Id. ¶¶ 4-7. For example, Apple advertises its iPhone X and XS as having a “2436-by-1125 pixel resolution at 458 ppi, ” whereas the iPhone 8 has a “1920-by-1080 pixel resolution at 401 ppi.” Id. ¶¶ 5-6. The pixel resolution is displayed on Apple's website and in stores. Id. ¶¶ 4-8. The display phones in the retail stores have a built-in application (“Compare iPhone”) which compares the specifications of the different iPhone models, including the pixel resolution. Id.

         Plaintiffs allege that the pixel resolution is misleading because Apple includes “false pixels, ” which are pixels that share fractions of subpixels with adjacent pixels. Id. ¶¶ 40-41. This purportedly means that the pixels in the iPhone Products “cannot all freely make any color, ” because each false pixel is unable to “freely use” the subpixels that it shares with the adjacent pixels. Id. ¶ 43. Further, the shared subpixels allegedly cannot “simultaneously be the appropriate brightness for all of the false pixels” between which they are shared. Id. ¶ 50. According to Plaintiffs, the iPhone Products only have “half of the advertised number of pixels and two thirds of the advertised number of subpixels.” Id. ¶ 44. Apple is purportedly misleading “reasonable consumers to believe that its Product screens provide the same clarity as would RGB screens of the advertised resolution.” Id. ¶ 51.

         B. Screen Size

         The FAC alleges that Apple also misrepresented the screen area of the iPhone Products, because the advertised dimensions (for example, 5.8 inches diagonally for the iPhone X and XS) include the rounded corners of the iPhone. Id. ¶ 10. The rounded corners purportedly “cut[ ] the diagonal size by about 1/16 of an inch, ” meaning that the viewable screen size without the rounded corners is less than advertised (for example, “5.6875 inches” for the iPhone X and XS). Id. According to Plaintiffs, Apple's screen size representation is deceiving because “[r]easonble consumers … would reasonably assume that these diagonal measurements referenced a rectangle, ” instead of a “hypothetical rectangle whose hypothetical corners sit outside the device's actual screen area.” Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiffs also allege that Apple intentionally tried to “obscure” the fact that the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max have “notches” at the top of the screen. Id. ¶ 13. Apple allegedly used a “color image of a planet” against a black background in its advertising to camouflage the notch. Id.

         Apple advertised the screen sizes on its website and in retail stores. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. Apple's webpages for the iPhone XS and XS Max include a disclaimer in a footnote at the bottom of the page, disclosing that the “actual screen area is less than indicated by the diagonal measurements.” Id. ¶ 67. The corresponding footnote is placed immediately after the last word in the statement concerning the screen size dimension. Id. ¶¶ 14, 67 (“5.8 [inch] Super Retina custom OLED display [FN1]”). Another online advertisement includes a disclaimer that the iPhone X “display has rounded corners that follow a beautiful curved design, and these corners are within a standard rectangle. When measured as a standard rectangular shape, the screen is 5.85 inches diagonally (actual viewable area is less).” Id. ¶ 39. And in stores, the “Compare iPhone” application for the iPhone X includes an asterisk after the following text: “Super Retina HD display 5.8 [inch] (diagonal) all-screen OLED*.” Id. ¶ 8. However, the FAC does not make clear whether there is corresponding text explaining what the asterisk means, and if so, where that text is located.

         C. Plaintiffs' Allegations

         Plaintiff Sponchiado is a citizen of California. Id. ¶ 25. In December 2017, he purchased an iPhone X at a store in San Francisco. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. He purportedly was “exposed to Defendant's false pixel claims and false diagonal length claims at the iPhone X display, as well as through a screen comparison app.” Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiff Davis is a citizen of New York. Id. ¶ 29. She claims that in September 2018, she was “exposed to Defendant's screen claims regarding the iPhone XS Max in advertisements and online as part of Defendant's continuous marketing program.” Id. In reliance on these representations, Plaintiff Davis pre-ordered the iPhone XS online. Id. ¶ 30. Each Plaintiff purchased an iPhone Product “believing it would provide both the advertised screen size and the advertised screen quality.” See id. ¶ 27; see also id. ¶ 30. But because the phones purportedly “did not provide the advertised screen size or screen quality/resolution, ” Plaintiffs suffered “injury in fact and lost money.” See id. ¶ 27; see also id. ¶ 30.

         Based on these facts, Plaintiffs assert the following six causes of action against Apple: (1) California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1750 et seq.; (2) California Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”), Cal. Bus. & Profs. Code §§ 17200 et seq.; (3) California False Advertising Law (“FAL”), Cal. Bus. & Profs. Code §§ 17500 et seq.; (4) New York Deceptive Acts and Practices Act, N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349; (5) New York False Advertising Law, N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 350; and (6) common law fraud. Id. ¶¶ 91-152. Plaintiff also appears to assert claims under the laws of each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Id. ¶ 17.

         II. ...

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