A New Jersey district judge has certified a nationwide class to pursue claims under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (NJCFA) (pdf), in conflict with the decisions of other courts that have refused to permit nationwide classes to proceed under the law of a single state. The plaintiffs in Kalow & Springut, LLP v. Commence Corp.2012 WL 6093876 (D.N.J. Dec. 7, 2012), contend that Commence, a New Jersey software company, intentionally inserted a “time bomb” that caused its software to stop working in 2006 in order to force users to buy a software fix or upgrade.

Most of the plaintiffs bought the software and were allegedly injured in states other than New Jersey, and it was in those states that they would have received and relied on any misrepresentations by omission. And the district court recognized that the consumer laws of the 51 jurisdictions differed in material respects. Nonetheless, based on its application of New Jersey choice-of-law principles (which follow the Restatement’s most-significant-relationship test), the court concluded that New Jersey’s interests in preserving the reputations of its local merchants outweighed the interests of other states in regulating business transactions that occurred within their borders and were claimed to injure their citizens. Because the NJCFA is one of the strictest consumer laws in the nation, the court found that other states’ interests in applying their own laws to in-state transactions would not be impaired. In effect, the court held (as I see it) that the most plaintiff-friendly rule is always acceptable everywhere else.
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The plaintiffs’ bar often uses adventuresome choice-of-law arguments to attempt to grease the skids towards certification of nationwide classes.  Earlier this year, in a blockbuster decision, the Ninth Circuit rejected one of plaintiffs’ key arguments in Mazza v. American Honda Motor Co. (pdf), 666 F.3d 581 (9th Cir. 2012).  In that case, the plaintiffs had argued that California consumer-protection law should apply to the claims of all putative class members nationwide because the alleged wrongdoing supposedly emanated from that state.  The Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs’ approach would contravene fundamental principles of federalism by ignoring the materially different consumer protection laws of the other states where the challenged transactions actually occurred.  (Mayer Brown represented defendant Honda; here is our report on the decision.)

Since then, plaintiffs in consumer false advertising cases have scrambled to find ways to answer Mazza. One tactic—used frequently against food companies—is to bring nationwide class claims under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301 et seq. Plaintiffs assumed that the existence of a federal claim—allowing the entire nationwide class’s claims to be evaluated under federal law—would do the trick. Plaintiffs thus often allege that statements on a product label, such as “All-Natural Ingredients,” constitute a written warranty by the manufacturer under the MMWA and that a breach of that warranty occurred when consumers did not realize the advertised benefits.


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