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Maniscalco v. Brother International Corp.

June 19, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Freda L. Wolfson United States District Judge


WOLFSON, United States District Judge

Plaintiffs Mark Maniscalco ("Maniscalco") and Walter Huryk ("Huryk") ("Plaintiffs"), individually, and on behalf of a putative class of consumers, bring various claims relating to Plaintiffs' purchases of Defendant Brother International Corporation's ("BIC" or "Defendant") Multi-Function Center line of all-in-one devices ("MFC machines"). Presently before the Court is BIC's second motion to dismiss Counts I, II, and III of the Third Amended Complaint ("TAC"), insofar as they are predicated on the alleged "Machine Error 41" ("ME41") defect. Specifically, Count I seeks declaratory judgment under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act ("CFA"), N.J.S.A. § 56:8-2; Count II seeks damages and equitable relief under the CFA; and Count III alleges unjust enrichment.

For the following reasons, BIC's motion to dismiss is granted in part, and denied in part; the motion to dismiss is denied with respect to Count II and granted with respect to Counts I and III. With respect to Plaintiff Huryk, Count III is dismissed without prejudice.

I. Factual Background

BIC's motion only relates to claims arising out of the ME41 print-head defect; thus, Plaintiffs' other allegations predicated on using BIC print cartridges only and the ink-wasting characteristics of BIC machines need not be considered here. TAC at ¶¶4-6. Since Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims, in part, for lack of standing pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the following account of the facts assumes all of Plaintiffs' allegations to be true.

BIC distributes MFC machines, which function as printers, fax machines, scanners, and copiers, TAC, ¶1. Plaintiffs contend, among other things, that their MFC machines contained a defect "referred to as the 'ME41 defect' because most model MFC machines display the error code, 'Machine Error 41' on their LCD screens when their print heads failed." Id. at ¶7. The TAC alleges that BIC knew of the defect since 2001: "[i]nternal documents reveal that BIC has known, since at least 2001, that the ME41 defect was causing premature print-head failure in MFC machines." Id. at ¶53. Further, Plaintiffs allege that BIC then acted by "intentionally concealing and failing to disclose that information [the ME41 defect] to prospective purchasers; and . . . unconscionably limiting warranty coverage for print-head failure caused by the ME41 defect [.]" TAC ¶112. In or near February 2005, BIC "implemented a limited extended warranty . . .which extends the warranty coverage on some MFC print heads that fail as a result of the ME41 defect from 90 days to 24 months from the date of purchase or 30 months from the date on the serial number [.]" Id. at ¶57. Both parties agree that Plaintiffs did get the benefit of the extended warranty. Around that time, BIC sent an email broadcast and posted an announcement on its website to inform consumers of the extended warranty. Id. at ¶57, 59. However, Plaintiffs claim that while taking these actions, BIC purposely downplayed the true "nature, scope, and extent of [the] ME41 [defect]." Id. at ¶61. Plaintiffs suggest that BIC "has made no efforts to notify consumers of the existence of that defect - including any mention on its website" other than the 2005 Report. Id. at ¶35. Further, Plaintiffs allege that BIC has not "promptly" offered repairs to consumers, but rather "blames the consumer, claiming that it was their use of non-OEM ink that caused the problem." Id. at ¶36. Consequently, Plaintiffs allege that consumers "were forced to replace the defective print heads (or the entire MFC machine) at their own expense." Id. at ¶60.

Plaintiff Walter Huryk, a South Carolina resident, purchased his 3220c MFC machine on December 11, 2003, TAC ¶88, and experienced a "Machine Error 41" problem with his MFC machine around March 2007, Id. at ¶90. Plaintiff Maniscalco, a California resident, purchased his MFC machine from Office Depot on June 28, 2004 and experienced a "Machine Error 41" defect in May 2007. See Maniscalco Interrog. No. 1; Micheletti Cert. ¶12*fn1 Both Plaintiffs allege they were forced to replace their MFC machines. Id. at ¶¶87, 93.

Plaintiffs filed suit in October 2006, filed a Second Amended Complaint in October 2007, and filed a Third Amended Complaint in July 2008.

II. Standard Of Review

BIC suggests that Plaintiffs' claims in the TAC are too vague and conclusory in nature to justify Plaintiffs' claims or standing. Therefore, it is important to elaborate on the standard for reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint. "[T]he standard is the same when considering a facial attack under Rule 12(b)(1) or a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6)." Petruska v. Gannon University, 462 F.3d 294, 299 n. 1. (3d Cir. 2006).

In Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224 (3d Cir. 2008), the Third Circuit elaborated the appropriate standard for evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(b)(1) motion in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007). The Third Circuit made clear that an acceptable statement of the standard remains: "courts accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233 (internal quotations and citation omitted). Though Twombly "emphasized throughout its opinion that it was neither demanding a heightened pleading of specifics nor imposing a probability requirement," Id., the Third Circuit emphasized the importance of Twombly's attention to the concept of a "showing."

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) requires a "showing" that the plaintiff is entitled to relief: The [Twombly] Court explained that Rule 8 "requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." [Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955,]1965 n. 3 [(2007)]. Later, the Court referred to "the threshold requirement of Rule 8(a)(2) that the 'plain statement' possess enough heft to 'sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.' " Id. at 1966. The Court further explained that a complaint's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965 & n. 3.

Id. at 231-32. Because a "showing" rather than a bare assertion is required, Twombly instructs "that a situation may arise where, at some point, the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Id. at 232 (citation omitted) (emphasis added). Further, "[w]e caution that without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only 'fair notice,' but also the 'grounds' on which the claim rests." Id. (citation omitted). However, the Third Circuit further cautioned that, in Twombly's discussion, the concept of a "showing" "requires only notice of a claim and its grounds," as distinguished from "a pleader's bare averment that he wants relief and is entitled to it." Id. at 234 (internal quotations and citation omitted).

The Third Circuit summarized:

The Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: "stating . . . a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest" the required element. [Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007).] This "does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage," but instead "simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" the necessary element. Id.

Id. Although only notice of a claim and its grounds are required to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must have "enough factual matter (taken as ...

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