Court Denies Return in Dispute Over L.L. Bean’s Return Policy

A recently dismissed class action is a good reminder to companies that any changes to return, exchange, or warranty policies cannot be retroactively applied to purchases made before the policy changes are implemented.

A group of consumers recently filed a class action lawsuit against L.L. Bean, Inc. claiming that changes to the company’s return policy violated consumer protection and unfair competition laws.

For over a century, L.L. Bean provided customers with a lifetime, 100 percent satisfaction guaranteed, product warranty – meaning that a consumer could return any L.L. Bean product, at any time, for any reason, regardless of its age or condition. The company modified the terms of its policy in 2014 to require proof of purchase and a valid ID. The changes also allowed the company to refuse to issue returns in certain circumstances, such as if items are soiled or contaminated. On February 9, 2018, L.L. Bean announced a new warranty policy under which all products purchased after February 9, 2018 are covered by a limited one-year product warranty, provided any returns must be accompanied by proof of purchase. After the expiration of the one-year warranty period, only those products that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship will be considered for return. The new policy also expressly allows L.L. Bean to refuse to issue returns or exchanges for products that have been misused or abused, have excessive wear and tear, are lost due to fire, flood or natural disaster, or are damaged by pets or other accidents.

On March 14, 2019, the Court dismissed the proposed class action, stating that plaintiff’s claims that he overpaid for L.L. Bean products and was denied the company’s lifetime warranty “made no sense.” The Court explained that L.L. Bean was always entitled to reject refunds made in bad faith, and refunds due to improper care or excessive wear and tear are inherently made in bad faith. Therefore, the addition of circumstances under which L.L. Bean can reject returns did not change the warranty nor lessen the value of plaintiff’s products. Additionally, the Court noted that the other changes to the policy did not apply to the plaintiff, as such changes are prospective and plaintiff’s goods were purchased before February 9, 2018.

Retail companies should be aware that they are permitted to reject returns not made in good faith regardless of whether the company has promised 100 percent satisfaction guaranteed and the length of any warranty period. If retail companies are planning on making any additional changes to their refund policies, to avoid legal challenges down the road, such changes should only apply to purchases made after the change has taken affect.

Law Clerk Megan Rzonca co-authored this article. 

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