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.
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