Sears v. Butler: SCOTUS Considers A Washing-Machine Class Action

So here’s the sequence: 

1. Government strong-arms production of new designs of environment-friendly front-loading washing machines.

2. The new front-loading washers turn out to have novel maintenance issues. In particular, they may develop musty smells unless owners practice some combination of leaving doors open to vent, wiping down surfaces, and other steps. Some consumers are irritated at this and regret the purchase, others not.

3. Trial lawyers sue all the major makers in class actions on behalf of all purchasers saying the new designs are defective, even though Consumer Reports rates the new category of washer “best in class” despite its drawbacks.

4. One of these class actions lands before Judge Posner at the Seventh Circuit, and he rules for letting it go forward on a theory of “predominance” (do these plaintiffs all belong in the same suit, when many are experiencing no problem at all?) that varies interestingly from what people assumed the Supreme Court’s thinking was on that subject.

5. The U.S. Supreme Court decides (coming up momentarily) whether to grant certiorari in Sears v. Butler.

There isn’t actually a strong logical chain linking 1) through 5); it’s kind of happenstance that the case threw up an issue involving predominance that the Supreme Court may find worth its attention, as opposed to merely presenting an overall profile of “hasn’t the whole system just become a crazy way to enrich lawyers?” Because “hasn’t the whole system just become a crazy way to enrich lawyers?” doesn’t count as a well-formed question for certiorari. [Background: Ted FrankmoreDaniel Fisher]

[cross-posted in slightly adapted form from Overlawyered]