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Chaudhri v. Lumileds, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 3, 2018

IMRAN CHAUDHRI, individually and on behalf of those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
LUMILEDS LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION

          KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.

         Before the Court is the motion of defendant Lumileds, LLC (“Lumileds”) to dismiss plaintiff Imran Chaudhri's complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), 12(b)(6), and 12(f). In this putative class action, Chaudhri has brought various claims sounding in fraud pertaining to certain advertising of an automotive headlamp bulb[1] that is manufactured by Lumileds. The plaintiff, when he read the packaging for defendant's X-TremeVision headlamp bulb, hoped it would satisfy his Goethesque quest for “more light.” The question here is whether the bulb's packaging represented that the X-tremeVision headlamp bulb would project its beams (a) more brightly in all directions, as measured by a laboratory luminous flux test; or (b) farther, e.g., as measured from the front of a car when the bulb is installed in the headlight lens/reflector assembly.

         In May of 2015, Chaudhri purchased a twin package of “Philips X-tremeVision” headlight bulbs. He claims that he purchased the X-treme bulbs based on a representation on the packaging that it would produce 100% more light. The bulbs come in a blister pack, i.e., a clear plastic package embedded in a card. At the top right corner of the card, above the bulbs, is the statement “흍% more light.” Lower on the card, below the bulbs, is a second, composite representation. That second representation contains an aerial depiction of a car with headlight beams projecting from the front (shining to the right of the card). Bisecting the light beam vertically is a line, demarcated “standard.” The light beam from the vehicle, as pictured, extends well beyond the “standard” line. At the far end of the beam appears the designation “흍%.” (See photo of package at p.5, infra.)[2]

         Chaudhri wondered whether it was true that the Philips X-treme headlamp bulb emitted “흍% more light” than the less expensive standard Philips headlamp bulb. Chaudhri's counsel had Calcoast-ITL, a photometric testing laboratory, conduct a luminous flux test to compare the output of the two. Calcoast's luminous flux test measured the total light emitted in all directions from the bulb, designated in Lumens.[3] Calcoast's testing determined that the Phillips X-tremeVision headlamp bulbs produced only 2.3%, not 100%, more Lumens than the standard bulb.

         Lumileds says that Chaudhri distorts the meaning of the package advertising by focusing solely on the phrase “흍% more light” at the top of the card. That phrase, says Lumileds, must be understood in the context of the visual depiction of the car and its headlight beams, farther down on the card. That composite representation, according to Lumileds, does not signify that the X-tremeVision headlamp bulb would emit 100% more light spherically, in all directions, which is what Calcoast's luminous flux test measured. Rather, it signifies that when the X-tremeVision headlamp is installed in the car's lens/reflector headlamp assembly, the distance its beam is projected is “흍%” than that of a standard bulb. As to that issue, no testing has been done by the plaintiff.

         Chaudhri opposes Lumileds's motion to dismiss, and cross-moves for summary judgment. Chaudhri asserts that the luminous flux test results and the X-tremeVision packaging permit a conclusion as a matter of law that Lumileds was representing to the consumer that the bulb produces “100% more light, ” and that this representation was false. To bolster his argument, Chaudhri points to certain information in Lumileds's patent for the X-tremeVision headlamp.

         This Court has considered the parties' submissions and decides the motions without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. Without fact finding, however, I must find that the packaging of the product, viewed as a whole, is ambiguous as to whether the X-tremeVision headlamp is claimed to be generally 100% brighter, or only that, when installed, it projects its beams farther down the road. The arguments have a circular quality, as each party continues to simply point to a different part of the card and claim victory. Lumileds focuses on the representation in the middle of the package card, accompanied by an image of a car that seemingly suggests that “흍%” refers to distance; Chaudhri focuses on the unadorned representation “흍% more light” at the top of the card. This issue that cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss (or, as Chaudhri would have it, on a premature, pre-discovery motion for summary judgment). For the reasons stated below, then, both motions are denied.

         I. Facts

         A. Procedural History

         Chaudhri is a resident of New Jersey who seeks, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23, to represent a nationwide class of persons who purchased Philips X-tremeVision headlamps. (Compl. ¶¶1, 29-38).[4] On February 15, 2018, Chaudhri filed a federal-court complaint against Lumileds, asserting five counts: (1) New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“NJCFA”); (2) common law fraud; (3) negligent misrepresentation; (4) express warranty; and (5) the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.

         On May 7, 2018, Lumileds moved to dismiss the entire complaint for failure to state a claim, lack of standing, and lack of jurisdiction. (DE 15). On June 25, 2018, Chaudhri opposed the motion to dismiss and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (DE 24).

         B. Allegations in Complaint

         Lumileds[5] manufactures automotive lighting products, including bulbs for headlamps. (Compl. ¶8). In May of 2015, Chaudhri purchased a twin package of “Philips X-tremeVision 9003 headlamps, ” a Lumileds product. (Id. at ¶¶8-9). Chaudhri paid $59.99 for two Philips X-tremeVision headlamps; in comparison, a Philips standard 9003 headlamp, sold singly, costs $10.99. (Compl. ¶12). Chaudhri bought the headlamps at a Pep Boys located in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Compl. ¶10).

         Chaudhri purchased this particular headlamp because the product's packaging “represented that Philips X-tremeVision headlamps produce 100% more light”:

         (Image Omitted.)

         (Compl. ¶11, Figure A).

         In November of 2015, one of Chaudhri's X-tremeVision headlamps “burned out, ” and he purchased a replacement headlamp from a different company, Sylvania. (Compl. ¶¶15-16). Chaudhri did not notice any difference in light output between the Sylvania headlamp and the Philips X-tremeVision headlamp. (Compl. ¶17). This apparently aroused Chaudhri's suspicions as to whether the X-tremeVision bulbs represented an improvement over less expensive ones.

         Chaudhri's counsel[6] contacted Calcoast-ITL, a photometric testing laboratory, to determine whether the Philips X-tremeVision headlamps truly produce “100% more light” than standard Philips headlamps. (Compl. ¶18 & Ex. A, Calcoast Rpt). Calcoast tested four Philips X-tremeVision 9003 headlamps and four Philips standard 9003 headlamps. (Compl. ¶21). Calcoast conducted a “luminous flux measurement, ” which tests the total light emitted from a bulb. (Compl. ¶20 & Calcoast Rpt at 1). More specifically, this test measures “the total light emitted in all directions from the bulb in units of Lumens (Lm).” (Calcoast Rpt at 2).

         A luminous flux test, which was employed by Calcoast, is different from a luminous intensity test, which was not employed. The luminous flux test (at least as employed by Calcoast here) measures light that is emitted from a bulb in all directions. It is thus described by Lumileds as a “spherical test.” A luminous intensity test, by contrast, would be a more appropriate measure of the light projected in front of a vehicle by a headlight bulb. Luminous intensity (again, in this context) would depend not just on the brightness of the bulb itself, but also on the interaction of a bulb with the lenses and reflectors of the car's headlight assembly. (Calcoast Rpt at 2). Thus Calcoast's report explains that the results of a luminous flux test may be different from those of a luminous intensity test: “[w]hen installed in a headlamp, the total emitted light from the bulb is redirected using reflectors and/or lens optics to various points in front of the vehicle. This redirected light is measured within a solid angle and is expressed as luminous intensity in units of Lumens per steradian or Candela (Cd).” (Calcoast Rpt at 2).

         Calcoast's luminous flux test determined that the Philip's X-tremeVision headlamps produce, on average, 2.3% more Lumens than the Philips standard headlamps in low beam configuration. (Compl. ¶22). Specifically, the Philips standard 9003 headlamps produced an average light output of 894 Lm, whereas the Philips X-tremeVision 9003 headlamps produced an average total light output of 915 Lm. (Compl. ¶21). This, says Chaudhri, is “far less” than “100% more light, ” and so the representation on the Philips X-tremeVision packaging is false. (Compl. ¶22).

         In fact, Chaudhri claims, a 100% boost could not occur. If the X-tremeVision headlamp bulbs were to actually produce 100% more light on the luminous flux test (i.e., an output of 1820 Lm or more), they would violate federal regulations. (Compl. ¶¶23-28; see 49 C.F.R. §§ 564, 571.108 (requiring that replaceable headlamps conform to federal regulations that specify maximum power (measured in watts), luminous flux, and luminous intensity)). The federal regulations narrowly constrain the range for total light emitted from a light source (luminous flux) to 910 Lm, plus or minus (“”) ten percent. (Compl. Ex. B at 2, DE 1 at 26). Thus the luminous flux range for low-beams is limited by regulation to a range of 819 Lm to 1001 Lm. (Compl. ¶27). Chaudhri claims that if Philips X-treamVision headlamps actually produced “100% more light, ” measured in lumens, then their output would be 1820 Lms, well outside the range permitted by the federal regulations. (Compl. ¶28). Therefore, says Chaudhri, Lumileds must have known its representation on the packaging was false, because it could not sell headlamps that exceeded 1001 Lumens. (Compl. ¶41).

         C. Additional Facts Asserted on Summary

         In addition to confirming the factual allegations of the complaint, [7]Chaudhri's summary judgment motion stresses that the “100% more light claim” on the package is not qualified or explained. (PSMF ¶2). He also points to U.S. Patent 8, 471, 447, which covers the technology used by the Philips X-tremeVision headlamps. (PSMF ¶16). The patent, he says, does not indicate that the technology produces “more” light, but only that it redirects light. (PSMF ¶¶16-24).

         These facts are to a great extent disputed by Lumileds. Most fundamentally, however, because the parties are talking past each other regarding the packaging, each says that the other's facts are not material.

         II. Discussion

         Lumileds moves to dismiss Chaudhri's complaint on several grounds. First, Lumileds moves to dismiss the fraud claims for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and for failure to plead fraud with specificity under Rule 9(b). (DBr at 14-23). Lumileds further claims that Chaudhri has insufficiently pled reliance, a causal link between the misrepresentation and a purported loss, and damages. (DBr at 24-27). As to the claims of negligent misrepresentation and common law fraud, Lumileds asserts that the complaint fails to plead Lumileds's knowledge of falsity.

         Lumileds also moves to dismiss Chaudhri's complaint under Rule 12(b)(1), claiming that Chaudhri lacks standing to sue. Chaudhri, says Lumileds, is a serial litigant whose claimed injuries are self-inflicted, solely for the purpose of litigation.

         Finally, Lumileds moves to dismiss or strike any class claims that may be asserted on behalf of any non-New Jersey purchasers. This action has not been certified as a class action, however.

         Chaudhri has opposed Lumileds's motion to dismiss. Upping the ante, he has cross-moved for summary judgment. He asserts that the documentary evidence attached to the complaint and in support of Lumileds's motion establishes as a matter of law that the statement “흍% more light” is false.

         A. Lumileds's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         i. Applicable standards

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); See Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (Rule 8 “requires a ‘showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief.” (citation omitted)). Thus, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is “plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see also West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat. Bank,712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013). That facial-plausibility standard is met “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the ...


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