Apple Wins, Always?

Apple wins, always. In Birdsong v. Apple, Inc., No. 08-16641, 2009 WL 5125776 (9th Cir. Dec. 30, 2009) [PDF], the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a complaint alleging that Apple’s iPods are defective because it is possible to listen to music at an unsafe volume, and, therefore, they pose an “unreasonable risk of noise-induced hearing loss.”

The plaintiffs planned to represent a nationwide class of iPod users, but the Court rebuffed the plaintiffs’ two main arguments. First, the Court stated that the plaintiffs had alleged no facts that could support a breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. Second, plaintiffs had no standing to assert a claim under California’s unfair competition law.

The plaintiffs alleged that the iPod could be made safer, by the use of some noise-reduction technology or software that could relay the volume in decibels to the iPod user. Simply because a product could be used in a risky manner, however, is not enough to prevail on a warranty of merchantability claim. Put simply, the iPod performs exactly as intended, and there is no breach of the warranty of merchantability.

In addition, the plaintiffs’ claims under the unfair competition law were not supported by an injury, and, therefore, plaintiffs had no standing to assert their claims. First, the plaintiffs did not claim any actual hearing loss as a result of their iPod use, ostensibly because they were not, at any time, actually injured by their iPod. Neither did they assert that such harm was “actual or imminent.” The court observed as follows:

[T]he plaintiffs’ third amended complaint reveals the conjectural and hypothetical nature of the alleged injury as the plaintiffs merely assert that some iPods have the “capability” of producing unsafe levels of sound and that consumers “may” listen to their iPods at unsafe levels combined with an “ability” to listen for long periods of time.


Id
. Finally, plaintiffs’ contention that the iPods’ lack of safety diminished their value to the plaintiffs could not satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement, and the Court noted the plaintiffs’ admission that “Apple provided a warning against listening to music at loud volumes.”

What remains to be seen is where a similar case could go if there were actual injury. Such an injury could support an unfair competition claim as well as additional negligence claims.

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