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Gruenwald v. The Toro Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 4, 2019

Scott Gruenwald, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
The Toro Company, and Toro International, Inc., Defendants. William Brooks, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
The Toro Company, and Toro International, Inc., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, for Partial Summary Judgment, and to Strike the Class Allegations in these related cases. For the following reasons, the Motions are granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Scott Gruenwald, an Illinois resident, bought a Toro TimeCutter riding lawnmower in 2014. He alleges that in 2018 the mower caught fire in his garage, ultimately engulfing his entire home.

         Plaintiff William Brooks is a resident of North Carolina. He too bought a Toro TimeCutter mower in 2014. In July 2019, after cutting his grass and putting the mower back in the shed in his yard, the mower caught fire. Brooks put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. There is no indication in the Complaint that any property other than the mower was damaged.

         In November 2015, Toro recalled approximately 9, 000 model-year 2015 TimeCutter mowers because of a fire hazard. (Brooks Compl. ¶ 5.) Gruenwald and Brooks allege that the model-year 2014 TimeCutter mowers were also defectively designed and “are prone to catching fire.” (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiffs allege that, despite knowing of the defects, Toro has refused to recall 2014 models or notify owners of the hazard. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs each seek to represent a class of “all persons in the United States who purchased or otherwise acquired a 2014 and/or 2015 Toro TimeCutter riding Lawn Mower, primarily for personal, family, or household purposes” within the relevant limitations periods. (Gruenwald Compl. ¶ 52.) They raise the same five claims against Toro: breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, negligence, unjust enrichment, strict products liability for both a design defect and failure to warn, and a claim for injunctive and declaratory relief. Toro moves for summary judgment against each Plaintiffs' warranty claim, moves to dismiss the remainder of the Counts, and seeks to strike the class allegations in both Complaints.[1]

         DISCUSSION

         A. Choice of Law

         Toro first argues that the Court must apply Illinois law to Gruenwald's implied-warranty, negligence, and strict-liability claims and North Carolina law to these same claims Brooks raises. And because this is a products-liability case, Toro contends that the Court need not engage in the traditional choice-of-law analysis because there is a presumption that the law of the state where the plaintiff lives and the injury occurred controls. Plaintiffs respond that there is no true conflict between the laws of Illinois or North Carolina and Minnesota, and that in any event, a choice-of-law analysis is required and would result in the application of Minnesota law to both Plaintiffs' claims.

         To determine whether to apply the law of the forum or another state's law in a diversity case, the Court must first determine whether there is an outcome-determinative conflict between the laws sought to be applied. Nodak Mut. Ins. Co. v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 604 N.W.2d 91, 94 (Minn. 2000). If there is such a conflict, then the Court must apply Minnesota's choice-of-law factors to determine which state's law to apply.

         1. Breach of Implied Warranty

         a. Illinois

         Under Illinois law, “with respect to purely economic loss, UCC article II implied warranties give a buyer of goods a potential cause of action only against his immediate seller.” Rothe v. Maloney Cadillac, Inc., 518 N.E.2d 1028, 1029 (Ill. 1988). Under Minnesota law, however, an express or implied warranty “extends to any person who may reasonably be expected to use, consume or be affected by the goods and who is injured by breach of the warranty.” Minn. Stat. § 336.2-318.

         Gruenwald contends that he can establish the privity Illinois law requires through Toro's express warranty, which applies to the “original purchaser” of the product. (Hurst Decl. Ex. B (Docket No. 19-2) at 49.) Toro points out that Gruenwald did not mention this warranty in his pleadings. Toro also argues that an express warranty “does not necessarily create privity for purposes of an implied-warranty claim.” (Def.'s Reply Mem. (Docket No. 23) at 3 (emphasis omitted).) But even the authority Toro cites notes that Illinois courts allow plaintiffs under some ...


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