A federal court in Maryland has dismissed a number of claims filed by a pet owner whose French bulldog allegedly ingested part of a Nylabone chew toy that subsequently caused intestinal injury. Stanley v. Cent. Garden & Pet Corp., No. CCB-11-2401 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Md., decided September 19, 2012). Because the warning accompanying the product was adequate under state law, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims for strict liability and negligence based on failure to warn. The court also dismissed her breach of express warranty claim for failure to point to “any specific statement of fact or promise by the defendants” that she alleged was false. The court denied the defendants’ request to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim for fraudulent concealment, finding that her allegations were sufficient.
The court also allowed the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim to proceed, finding that Maryland law permits claims for both legal and equitable relief. The court dismissed the corporate parent from the suit because, in her efforts to pierce the corporate veil, the plaintiff had failed to allege that “the corporate cloak has been used to perpetuate fraud” or that the companies had disregarded the proper corporate formalities.
As for the plaintiff’s claims for damages, the court agreed with the defendants that Maryland limits compensatory damages in cases of tortious injury to pets to the reasonable and necessary cost of veterinary care. While that limitation would not affect the plaintiff’s claims for implied warranty, unjust enrichment and consumer protection, the court determined that she had “not demonstrated that she is entitled to recover non-economic damages under these claims either” in the absence of allegations that she experienced a specific physical or emotional injury. The court also ruled that the plaintiff could not recover treble or punitive damages.
The plaintiff had sought to represent a nationwide class of consumers, but conceded that the class should be confined to Maryland consumers. The defendants sought to strike all class allegations, arguing that the plaintiff could not satisfy Rule 23. The court agreed to strike allegations in support of a Rule 23(b)(2) class, finding that the plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief “appears incidental to her claim for money damages.” But the court refused to strike class allegations as to the plaintiff’s strict liability, negligence, fraud, unjust enrichment, and consumer protection claims because she had not yet sought to certify the class and thus there was a “need for further factual development before resolving the close issues,” such as predominance and whether strict liability, fraud and consumer-based claims are suitable for class treatment.
Still, the court agreed to strike the class allegations for breach of implied warranty, finding that Maryland law imposed a notification prerequisite and the plaintiff “has made no allegations that she or other potential class members gave notice either to the defendants or to the immediate sellers from whom the chew toys were purchased.”