A federal court judge recently dismissed with prejudice consolidated lawsuits alleging that Apple falsely advertised the abilities of Siri, the voice-activated feature on the iPhone 4S.
Multiple suits were filed against the tech giant in 2012 after the launch of the 4S model. Apple distinguished the 4S – which cost at least $100 more than prior iterations of the iPhone – in part by the inclusion of Siri. The company called Siri “the coolest feature of the new iPhone 4S” and featured Siri in its marketing campaign that included e-mails and with videos showcasing her abilities (seven of the ten commercials marketing the 4S focused solely on Siri).
The plaintiffs claimed that the marketing campaign gave consumers a false expectation that Siri could perform the basic tasks depicted, such as making appointments, finding restaurants, or crafting text messages, on a consistent basis. In reality, according to the complaint, Siri cannot consistently complete such tasks.
Despite the hype surrounding Siri, Apple noted that the company cautioned consumers that the function was still in beta mode and included a disclaimer at the end of each commercial stating “sequences shortened.” U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken granted Apple’s motion to dismiss with leave to amend in May 2012.
But the plaintiffs’ second pleading attempt did not fare any better. “Plaintiffs still fail to isolate the particular statements at issue and explain each statement’s false and misleading nature,” Judge Wilken wrote in the February opinion. Although the amended complaint described the advertisements viewed by each individual plaintiff, “this is not equivalent to what the court required, which is to identify the specific statements within those advertisements that were false and misleading.”
A description of the ad accompanied by a statement that the plaintiff was misled “does not give Apple sufficient notice of which representations caused the deception alleged,” the court stated. “Apple would be hard-pressed to defend against an allegation that the overall impact of these commercials and advertisements misled plaintiffs.”
The few statements identified by the plaintiffs – descriptions of Siri as “this amazing assistant,” “breakthrough,” and “the coolest feature” – were mere puffery, the court added, and not actionable.
Judge Wilken reminded the plaintiffs that in her prior dismissal order, she suggested they try to give an estimate of how often they expected Siri to perform correctly, perhaps expressed as a percentage. Plaintiffs failed to do so, and “Apple and the court are left to guess whether plaintiffs expected Siri to operate without fail, or more often than not, or at any other level below perfection.”
Apple made no promises that Siri would operate without fail, the court said, and the plaintiffs cannot show that a reasonable consumer would expect such a level of performance based on the advertisements at issue.
Dismissing the case for a second time, Judge Wilken did so with prejudice, as the plaintiffs’ allegations “are either non-actionable puffery or inadequately plead.”
To read the order in In re iPhone 4S Consumer Litigation, click here.
Why it matters: Judge Wilken’s decision emphasized that plaintiffs must plead false advertising claims with particularity. General descriptions of commercials or press releases without more would require the defendants to justify the entire ad.