We continue to track litigation and legislations involving proposed or enacted bans or limitations on natural gas appliances. As anticipated, this area continues to evolve, and we are finding increased litigation regarding the enforceability of such laws, as well as the safety of natural gas appliances. We previously discussed the efforts to electrify America’s natural gas infrastructure in various markets here. This article provides updates and explains several nuances to these electrification efforts.
Citing the effects of carbon emissions on climate change and the potential for health risks, efforts to electrify America’s natural gas infrastructure are underway in various markets. Natural gas comprises primarily methane. Indoor appliances like gas stoves are also associated with emissions of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. The electrification efforts are making an impact at local, state, and federal levels.
At a local level, cities including Berkeley in 2019, San Francisco in 2020, and New York City in 2021, have banned certain natural gas hookups in all new building construction. San Francisco’s 2020 legislation applied to new residential and commercial building construction and required use of all-electric power. The ordinance was estimated to cover about 60% of the city’s development pipeline. It followed a similar ordinance requiring all-electric construction for new municipal projects in San Francisco.
In Mehner v. Furniture Design Studios, Inc., 2023 WL 2351688 (D. Neb. Mar. 3, 2023), the court granted summary judgment on product defect claims by a plaintiff allegedly injured by the collapse of a restaurant chair eight years after the manufacturer delivered it. This well-reasoned decision reminds us that even for fairly simple products, expert proof may be required to establish a defect – and failure to develop the factual predicate in discovery may leave the plaintiff without an opinion (and without a case). It also highlights important limitations in the “malfunction theory” that sometimes allows a plaintiff to proceed without expert proof or identification of a specific defect.
Plaintiff was eating at a restaurant in Omaha when his chair allegedly collapsed. He sued Furniture Design Studios (FDS), which designed, manufactured and sold the chair, asserting strict liability and negligence design defect claims.
Specific personal jurisdiction can be a very straightforward concept. If a plaintiff claims to have been injured by a product that the defendant itself sold directly to plaintiff at a store within the forum state, disputes over specific personal jurisdiction would be rare. Other cases can be closer calls, particularly when a defendant has extensive contacts within a forum but none of them are causally related to the plaintiff’s claims. At what point does a defendant’s purposeful availment of a forum cease to be “related to” a plaintiff’s claims? The Ninth Circuit offered some helpful guidance on that issue in its decision in Yamashita v. LG Chem, Ltd., — F.4th —, 2023 WL 2374776 (9th Cir. Mar. 6, 2023).
Plaintiff in Yamashita was a Hawaii resident who brought a personal injury/products liability suit in Hawaii state court. The suit named two defendants. The first was a South Korean company that manufactured a battery that Plaintiff alleged had caused him injury. The second, which was a wholly owned subsidiary of the South Korean company, was a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Georgia. It did not manufacture the product at issue but distributed it within the United States. Both defendants denied ever selling the product directly to individual consumers. The defendants removed the case to the District Court for the District of Hawaii and moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The district court granted the motion, and Plaintiff appealed.
Proponents of digital innovations such as blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices have hailed the introduction of such technology as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. When used together, they may create self-executing “smart contracts” for a variety of transactions. Smart contracts do not need to rely on IoT devices, but when they do, these devices are critical to the system, most importantly because they collect and transfer the transaction-related data that triggers the execution of the contracts. But how is that data verified, and what happens if the IoT devices are wrong?
On May 19, 2022, in an unpublished decision, a Ninth Circuit panel reaffirmed that under California law manufacturers do not have a duty to disclose defects in their products that manifest after the expiration of the product’s warranty unless the defect poses an unreasonable safety risk. Taleshpour v. Apple, Inc., 2022 WL 1577802 (9th Cir. May 19, 2022). The court affirmed dismissal of a proposed class action against Apple Inc., holding that California consumer protection laws were not violated as a matter of law because the alleged defect in MacBook Pro laptop computers arose after the expiration of the warranty and the complaint did not allege any safety issue. The court followed existing Circuit precedent, even though there is some conflicting authority in the California courts of appeal.
Plaintiffs alleged that in certain MacBook Pro models, the backlight ribbon cables used to connect the display screen to the display control tear because the cables do not provide enough slack when the laptops open and close. Apple agreed to replace the display of all 13-inch MacBook Pros that suffer from the alleged defect, but not the 15-inch model or any model released after 2016. Plaintiffs alleged on behalf of the class that the excluded models suffered from the same backlight defect as the pre-2016 13-inch version. Plaintiffs conceded the backlight ribbon issues arose after the expiration of Apple’s one-year warranty.