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Green Building News

Judge Tosses Lumber Complaint

Illinois handymen sued retailer after discovering a 4x4 isn't actually 4 inches square

A federal judge has decided Menards chain wasn't trying to cheat anyone with labels showing nominal measurements of lumber.
Image Credit: Mike Mozard via Flickr

A federal judge in Illinois has dismissed a case brought against a lumber retailer by customers who claimed that labels on dimensional lumber were misleading.

The plaintiffs — Michael Fuchs and Vladislav Krasilnikov, both of Illinois — had filed a class action complaint against Menards, a building supply retailer, and hoped to collect damages that could have exceeded $5 million. The beef? What’s sold as a 4×4 doesn’t actually measure 4 inches by 4 inches but is actually 3 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches.

Their lawyers, a firm called McGuire Law PC, argued the pair never would have bought the lumber in the first placed had they realized the nominal dimensions described on the label were different than the actual dimensions. Menards, the suit says, racked up “significant profits from its false marketing.”

Fuchs and Krasilnikov wanted a jury trial, but in a ruling on September 29, Judge Edmond Chang wasn’t having any of it. Noting the labeling is recognized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Chang wrote, “Without a literally untrue statement, combined with the government-recognized distinction between nominal sizes and actual sizes, no reasonable consumer would think that the labels showed the exact dimensions of the lumber.”

According to an article posted by the Journal Sentinel, Chang wrote, “It would be one thing if packaging prevented access to the height and width. … It is another thing where the plaintiffs can readily see if there is a mismatch between what they perceive as the size on the label and the height and width of the lumber.”

Sawn lumber may start out at 4 inches by 4 inches when it is originally milled but turning it from rough-sawn stock into finished material requires the removal of some wood — so actual dimensions are smaller. Beginning carpenters quickly learn the difference between actual and nominal dimensions, but the basis for the lawsuit is that lots of people don’t know that.

Where the trouble started

According to the complaint filed in March, Fuchs went to a Menards store in Gurnee, Illinois, last November to buy cedar siding and 4x4s. In the store, he saw signs advertising 1×6 cedar siding as well as 4×4 Douglas fir lumber. But when he got home and measured the lumber he’d just bought, it was not 1 inch by 6 inches, or 4 inches by 4 inches.

Lawyers argued that Krasilnikov had the same experience when he bought 4×4 lumber at a Menards store in Fox Lake, Illinois. There, he bought two 4x4s for a total of $15.98 and took them home, fully expecting they would be a full 4 inches square.

“However, unbeknownst to consumers, the product dimensions advertised by Defendant are not the actual dimensions of the products being advertised,” the complaint reads. “That is, the dimensional lumber products sold by Defendant do not actually have the same dimensions as stated on Defendant’s in-store shelf tags and signage, labels, flyers, and other advertisements.”

Had the case won class action status, any settlement would conceivably affected many thousands of others.

A similar case is still pending against The Home Depot. This one was filed in March on behalf of Mikhail Abramov by the same firm that sued Menards. The complaint also focuses on the actual dimensions of a 4×4.

The retailer asked Judge Chang in June to reassign its case to his court because of the similarities to the Menards suit. But Chang said the labels used by the two retailers were different enough to warrant keeping the cases separate.


  1. JC72 | | #1

    Ambulance chasers.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Urban ignorance
    Those of us who live in rural areas are sometimes surprised that young Americans who live in cities can't tell a spruce tree from a pine tree. But it turns out that there are young Americans who manage to grow up without even knowing what a 2x4 looks like.

    In a related development, the marketing team at Home Depot has decided that there is a need to produce online videos to explain to their customers such esoteric tasks as -- wait for it -- how to use a tape measure. Here is the link to the story:

  3. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #3

    To be fair, Martin
    The owner's manual that comes with tape measures is often inadequate.☺
    The first "contractor" I ever worked for would carry around a 3 /4" thick piece of wood so he could nail it to the edge of the framing in order to be able to mark 16" o. c.

  4. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Response to Stephen Sheehy
    There's always a lot to say when it comes to the "16 inches on center" question. When a teenager first shows up at a job site, they want to know things like, "Do I mark the bottom plate with the center of the stud or the edge of the stud? If it's the edge, which edge? How can I make sure that the first sheet of OSB ends in the middle of a stud instead of on the edge of a stud? Do I have to plan ahead for the sheathing by making the first stud gap different from subsequent gaps?"

    There are answers to all of these questions, of course, and most GBA readers know the answers. That's why we're patient with a teenager showing up for his or her first day of work.

    But the Home Depot video doesn't address these questions.

  5. shtrum2 | | #5

    It's everywhere!
    I bought some Portland cement the other day and when I got home discovered it wasn’t even from Portland. Turns out it was from Mexico! I’m writing my congressman . . .

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