Court finds bad faith by Fitbit and its counsel in class action over allegedly malfunctioning heart rate monitors; notes Fitbit’s conduct bolsters the perception that “arbitration is where consumer lawsuits go to die”
A San Francisco federal judge has ruled that Fitbit Inc. and its lawyers acted in bad faith reflecting an “absolutely unacceptable level of gamemanship” in machinations over arbitration and arbitration fees after a plaintiff declined a settlement offer over allegations of defects in its heart rate monitors. As reported by Law360 (subscription), the judge sanctioned Fitbit for acting in bad faith, saying it owes attorneys’ fees “after getting a proposed consumer class action removed to arbitration only to reveal they had no intention of arbitrating the claims.”
The fraud class action was filed in 2016 on behalf of consumers nationwide who alleged that certain models of Fitbit‘s heart rate monitors – the Fitbit Blaze, Charge HR, and the Fitbit Surge – fail to accurately measure user heart rates, particularly during the intensive exercise toward which the devices are marketed. Such monitors are used by athletes and others who need to reach or not exceed specific target heart rates. Monitors reporting inaccurate heart rates are dangerous because the misinformation can lead to serious adverse health consequences.
“Fitbit delayed and impeded the arbitration on frivolous grounds, and was evasive and misleading after the matter was brought to the court’s attention,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Donato of the Northern District of California in a 10-page order issued July 24th. “Fitbit’s conduct has multiplied the proceedings in this case for no good reason and at the expense of plaintiffs’ and the court’s resources. It has also bolstered the perception that arbitration is where consumer lawsuits go to die.”
The plaintiff had paid her portion of the arbitration fees; however, Fitbit failed to pay its portion. The company’s lawyers focused on what they viewed as a discrepancy between the size of their settlement offer and the $162 cost of the fitness tracker device. When the plaintiff refused to accept their offer, Fitbit labeled the plaintiff “irrational” and unilaterally canceled the arbitration proceeding, an action that was not proper and which the court later found objectionable. The Court found that Fitbit’s delays and impedence of the progress of the case were frivolous, evasive, and misleading.
“This conduct cannot go unsanctioned,” Judge Donato wrote in his opinion. And after ordering that Fitbit pay plaintiffs’ instant attorneys’ fees, he further ordered that,
To help ensure that Fitbit does not again impose “pointless and wasteful burden[s] on the supposedly summary and speedy procedures prescribed by the Arbitration Act,”  it is ordered to file a copy of this decision in all cases where it seeks to compel arbitration under its Terms of Service with consumers.
“Arbitration is often used as a process designed to keep people from defending their rights,” stated Lieff Cabraser attorney Kevin Budner, as reported by The Recorder (subscription). “The takeaway is that the vice grip of arbitration is very, very strong, notwithstanding a judge’s clear finding that a party had acted in bad faith and frankly, here we think deceptively,” Budner added.
Consumer Protection Attorneys at Lieff Cabraser
On January 5, 2016, attorneys at Lieff Cabraser, along with their co-counsel, filed a class action complaint on behalf of consumers seeking redress for what they viewed as Fitbit’s deceptive and misleading representations about its heart rate monitor products. The consumers claim that, as a wide set of data demonstrates, Fitbit’s heart rate monitors cannot accurately or meaningfully record heart rates during the high-intensity exercise, for which Fitbit advertised them.
The consumers also claim that Fitbit fraudulently tried to shield itself from liability for these defective products by tricking consumers into agreeing to an arbitration agreement, which the consumers argue should not be enforced.
The lawsuit brings claims for false advertising, unfair competition, common-law fraud, fraud in the inducement, unjust enrichment, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranties under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, and under the consumer protection statutes of California and Arizona.
If you purchased a Fitbit heart rate monitor (Fitbit Charge HR, Blaze, and Surge), we invite you to visit our Fitbit heart rate monitor lawsuit page to contact a consumer attorney at Lieff Cabraser. We welcome the opportunity to learn of your experiences with your Fitbit heart rate monitor and to answer any questions you may have about your legal rights.