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Stern v. Maibec Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 2, 2018

ILENE STERN and MELISSA McCAFFREY, individually and on behalf of all similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
MAIBEC INCORPORATED, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         Presently before the Court is Defendant Maibec Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment of Plaintiff Ilene Stern and Melissa McCaffrey's Third Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 257). This matter arises from advertisements that Maibec purportedly made on its website and in brochures, about the quality and durability of its shingles. Plaintiffs allege that these shingles did not perform as advertised and, as such, allege claims of breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranties, and deceptive practices under New York General Business Law § 349. For the reasons discussed herein, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         Maibec is a leading manufacturer of eastern white cedar shingles in North America and Canada's leading manufacturer of wood siding. (Defendant's Statement of Material Facts [SOMF] at ¶¶ 11-12). Maibec does not sell its shingles directly to homeowners; instead, it sells shingles to distributors, who then sell to Maibec dealers, who in turn sell to lumber yards, contractors, or builders. (Id. at ¶ 15). Maibec offers two separate warranties for its eastern white shingles: (1) a 50-year warranty against wood decay; and (2) a warranty against stain failure. (Id. at ¶ 28). The 50-year limited warranty states:

Under the terms of this warranty, [M]aibec [I]nc. warrants the product against decay for a period of fifty (50) years from the date of purchase. This warranty is void should the product be immersed in water or come into direct contact with the ground or adjacent horizontal structures (ex.: decks). This warranty does not cover any other damages, [M]aibec [I]nc. reserves the right to void all warranties if the installation requirements are not respected. The requirements are found in the product box or on the [M]aibec® website. The purchaser recognizes that the product is subject to naturally occurring variations (contraction/expansion, texture, minor dimensional differences). [M]aibec [I]nc. reserves the right to inspect the product prior to any repairs, and to conform that the product displays the defect covered by this warranty."

(ECF. No. 257-16 "Exhibit M"). The Limited Warranty also included a notice provision which states, "[a]ny claim under this warranty by the purchaser or subsequent owner, as the case may be, must be made in writing during the period covered by the warranty and must include the original invoice." (Defendant's SOMF at ¶ 29). According to Maibec, the 50-year warranty covers rot, "which is decomposition through the action of bacteria and fungi." (Id. at ¶ 31). Nevertheless, if, within five years of the wood decay warranty, the shingles begin to rot or decompose, Maibec will cover the cost of the replacement shingles and labor to install it. (Id. at ¶ 29). After this period, Maibec will cover the cost of replacement shingles that fall within the 50-year warranty. (Id.).

         On its website, Maibec advertised its eastern white cedar shingles, claiming that it "is very durable and requires very little maintenance." (Plaintiffs SOMF at ¶ 3). In addition, Maibec offered brochures that made the following representations: (1) "Timeless. Traditional. And tougher than ever."; (2) "At [M]aibec, we have spent the last four decades improving the way white cedar shingles are made. Today, they are engineered to be so durable that you just might consider them high tech."; (3) "Best of all, [M]aibec shingles are guaranteed to last"; and (4) "The fact that they are low maintenance and look even better as they age is just an additional benefit." (Id. at ¶4).

         In the spring or summer of 2008, Stern installed Maibec shingles on her home, as part of a home renovation project. (Plaintiffs' SOMF at ¶ 2). Initially, Stern was considering a competitor's shingles, since they were maintenance free; however, her contractor preferred using Maibec shingles and assured her that Maibec offered the same warranties as the competitor and that Maibec shingles would require no maintenance. (Defendant's SOMF at ¶¶ 37-38). After speaking with her contractor, Stern went to Maibec's website to understand the terms of its warranty and the quality of the product. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-42). At deposition, Stern claimed that she spent 5 to 10 hours on the Maibec website, in considering installation of Maibec shingles. (ECF No. 257-13, "Stern Deposition" at 337). When presented with the statements made on Maibec's website, which were identified in the Third Amended Complaint, Stern claimed she could not recall reading any of the following statements:

Eastern white cedar is very durable and requires very little maintenance. It contains natural preservatives which protect it from rot and insects.
When it comes to siding a house, nothing compares to eastern white cedar. It is warm, beautiful, and has proven reliable for over a century. At Maibec, we have spent the last four decades improving the way white cedar shingles are made. Today, they are engineered to be so durable, you just might consider them high tech.
Best of all, Maibec shingles are guaranteed to last. Our original 50-year warranty against wood decay, up to 30 years* warranty on two coats of solid stain and 5-year warranty on labour is one of the best warranties in the industry.

(Id. at 168-70; Third Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 15-17). She did, however, recall reading the "very durable and requires very little maintenance" language that was advertised on Maibec's website. (Id. at 313-14).

         Two years after installation of the shingles, mold began to develop on her shingles; however, shortly thereafter, Maibec provided a cleaning solution to remove it. (Defendant's SOMF at ¶ 49). The following year, summer of 2011, Stern began noticing that her shingles were warping, cupping, and lifting. (Id. at ¶¶ 50-52). According to Maibec, Stern never notified it of these issues and, instead, joined in this lawsuit. (Id. at ¶¶ 53-54). Stern, however, contends she complained to a Maibec employee, Keith Ball, about the mold and warping. (Plaintiffs' SOMF at ¶¶ 23-24). During Ball's inspection of Stern's house, he concluded that the warping and other issues were not due to improper installation. (Id. at ¶ 25). Stern claims that the shingles have not matched her expectations and due to "the deterioration and deformation of [the] shingles, they need to be replaced." (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21).

         McCaffrey alleges similar issues. Between February and May 5, 2007, McCaffrey had Maibec shingles installed on her home as part of a home renovation project. (Id. at ¶ 26). Before beginning renovations, she explained to her contractor that she wanted a "natural look" to her house, to which he recommended using Maibec shingles. (Defendant's SOMF at ¶¶ 85-86). Her contractor explained to her that Maibec has an "excellent warranty" and its shingles are not supposed to peel. (Id. at ¶ 88). Thereafter, she claimed to have searched Maibec's website, before deciding to use its shingles. (Id. at ¶ 89). According to McCaffrey, she spent twenty hours researching the Maibec website and viewing properties where Maibec shingles were installed. (ECF No. 257-14, "McCaffrey Deposition" at 306). Although McCaffrey claimed that she recalled reading on the website that the shingles would be durable and maintenance free, when presented with the quotes identified in the Third Amended Complaint, she was unable to recall whether she considered these statements when deciding to purchase Maibec shingles. (Id. at 188-89).

         Like Stern, McCaffrey experienced issues with her shingles shortly after having them installed. In 2012 or 2013, roughly five years after installation, McCaffrey claims to have noticed that the shingles "were peeling, cracking, mold, cupping, warping, buckling, and curling." (Plaintiffs SOMF at ¶ 27). According to McCaffrey, these problems have worsened and require replacement. (Id.). McCaffrey also claims to have contacted Maibec on several occasions regarding these issues. (Id. at ¶ 28). Specifically, in July 2013, she claims to have emailed Maibec about these issues and talked to a Maibec representative. (Id.). She also claims that her husband completed and mailed a Maibec complaint form on September 16, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 28-29). Like Stern, McCaffrey claims to have relied on representations made on Maibec's website in deciding to use its shingles and that she did not expect these shingles to have "material imperfections." (Id. at ¶¶ at 31-34).

         Maibec now seeks summary judgment dismissal of Plaintiffs' remaining claims: breach of contract (Count I), breach of express warranty (Count II), breach of implied warranty (Count III), breach of warranty of merchantability (Count IV), and violation of New York General Business Law § 349 (Count VIII).

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the evidence establishes the moving party's entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the party opposing the motion must establish that a genuine issue as to a material fact exists. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Lacey Twp.,772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment cannot rest on mere allegations and instead must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Siegel Transfer, Inc. v. Carrier Express, Inc.,54 F.3d 1125, 1130-31 (3d Cir. 1995). "[Unsupported allegations... and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment." Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorp.,912 F.2d 654, 657 ...


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