* Sears, Whirlpool were sued over moldy washers
* U.S. Supreme Court lets consumers pursue class actions
By Lawrence Hurley and Jonathan Stempel
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Feb 24 The U.S. Supreme
Court gave consumers a victory on Monday by allowing them to
proceed with class-action lawsuits alleging that millions of
front-loading washing machines they bought suffered from mold or
By refusing to hear the appeals in three lawsuits, the court
allowed claims against Whirlpool Corp, Sears Holdings
Corp and a unit of Germany's BSH Bosch und Siemens
Hausgeraete GmbH to move forward as class actions in
Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the
Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers had urged the
Supreme Court to hear the companies' appeals.
The court has in recent years cut back on the ability of
plaintiffs to pursue class actions, which can lead to bigger
jury awards and settlements than individual lawsuits, in cases
against AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Wal-Mart
At issue in the washing-machine cases was whether claims
about alleged defects in Whirlpool washers, Kenmore-brand
washers made for Sears by Whirlpool, and BSH Home Appliance Corp
washers were similar enough to be heard at the same time.
Consumers said that the machines did not clean themselves
properly, while the companies said only a small number of
machines had problems.
Whirlpool said in a statement that it would keep vigorously
defending against the lawsuits, which it called an "attack" on
"The facts remain unchanged: the vast majority of class
members have not been harmed and never will be," it said.
Sears said in a statement that it disagreed with the
decision and that an "overwhelming majority" of owners of its
Kenmore front-loading washers were pleased with them.
BSH declined to comment.
Samuel Issacharoff, a New York University law professor who
represents Sears and Whirlpool consumers, called the court's
decision "a big win," adding: "There is nothing un-American
about manufacturers having to stand behind their products."
OPENING THE DOOR
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and the
7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago had allowed
consumers to pursue respective claims as groups against
Whirlpool in Ohio, and Sears in six U.S. states.
Those courts' initial rulings for the consumers were later
thrown out after the Supreme Court ruled for Comcast last March
over cable TV subscribers who accused it of overcharging them.
The court said the proposed Comcast class was too diverse.
The 6th Circuit and 7th Circuit nonetheless later ruled for
the washing-machine plaintiffs a second time.
Sears had said the 7th Circuit decision by Judge Richard
Posner "opens the door to class actions based on any
mass-produced product's failure to meet expectations of a
handful of consumers, no matter how few other buyers had the
Another appeals court, the 9th Circuit, had refused to let
BSH appeal a December 2012 ruling by a federal judge in Santa
Ana, California, allowing a class action against that company to
Whirlpool is based in Benton Harbor, Michigan; Sears in
Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and BSH Bosch in Munich.
The cases are BSH Home Appliances Corp v. Cobb et al,
13-138; Sears, Roebuck & Co v. Butler et al, 13-430, and
Whirlpool Corp v. Glazer et al, 13-431.