Having requested and obtained certification of a class of consumers who had purchased a number of Whirlpool Duet model washers allegedly susceptible to serious mold problems, Plaintiffs later sought to limit the class so as to exclude certain models. Whirlpool opposed the modification and, instead, sought decertification. The Northern District of Ohio granted Plaintiffs’ motion in part, modifying the class, and denied Whirlpool’s motion to decertify.
In setting forth the applicable legal standard, the court noted that a district court's order denying or granting class status is inherently tentative and that courts have the discretion, and obligation, to reassess their class rulings as the case develops. The court noted that the class may be redefined or decertified entirely at any time prior to final judgment. The court further commented that class modification, if possible, is a preferable alternative to decertification.
In this instance, Whirlpool began manufacturing Duet washing machines in 2001 and continues to produce them today. The class definition, however, did not have a cut-off date. Further, after receiving numerous complaints about mold and odor, Whirlpool made several design changes to various machines over time. These changes included both structural modifications to the machines and the addition of optional laundry cycles. The initial class definition would encompass the modified machines. Plaintiffs noted that some, though not all of Whirlpool’s design modifications, remedied the mold issues.
In support of their position, Plaintiffs argued that the initial class definition included too many models and was thus overbroad. Whirlpool, on the other hand, took the position that Plaintiffs should not be allowed to redefine the class because they had secured class certification -- and successfully defended the certification on appeal -- based on the premise that inclusion of allDuet models was not overbroad. Whirlpool advanced the position that Plaintiff should now have to carry its burden of establishing that all of the Duet washers included within the class definition were defective. Whirlpool further asserted that the court should decertify the class because neither the initial class nor the proposed redefined class met all the requirements of Rule 23.
The court ultimately concluded that Plaintiffs were partly correct. The court commented that it must assure commonality by re-defining the class to better reflect new evidence regarding exactly which Duet washer models have the alleged design defect. It did not, however, adopt the exact re-definition proposed by Plaintiffs. Further, the Court concluded Whirlpool was incorrect because the re-defined class met the requirements of Rule 23. As the court summarized, modification is a better choice than decertification, and the fact that the original class definition is overbroad does not show Plaintiffs obtained certification improperly in the first instance.
In re Whirlpool Corp. Front–Loading Washer Prods. Liability Litig., No. 1:08–WP–65000 (MDL 2001), 2014 WL 4351415 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 2, 2014).