Reprint: Court Directs Plaintiffs to Replead Most Claims in HP Printer Ink Cartridge Consumer Suit

An opinion issued Monday by the Northern District of California found mostly in favor of HP Inc. in a consumer plaintiff’s suit alleging that the printer maker purposefully pushed out firmware updates that rendered third-party ink cartridges incompatible with certain HP printers. The court granted leave to amend most causes of action, but said the plaintiff could not pursue those stated by non-California law claim classes because he lacked standing.

The suit, one of several filed against HP over its alleged tactics to steer consumers towards its own ink cartridges, brings claims under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), as well as California consumer remedy and anti-fraud laws. 

In his April-filed complaint, the plaintiff explained that in order for an ink cartridge to work in an HP printer, it must be compatible with both the software and hardware of the printer. Allegedly, cartridges made by manufacturers other than HP are 25% to 75% less expensive than HP cartridges, yet when used, they return error messages because HP updates its firmware to render them incompatible. 

HP moved for partial dismissal of the suit on the basis of failure to state a claim and for lack of standing.

Judge Beth Labson Freeman’s 16-page opinion first addressed the plaintiff’s four fraud-based claims. The court found the complaint wanting in terms of both alleged misrepresentations and omissions on HP’s part. As to the former, the complaint pointed only to evidence that misrepresentations about the functionality of third-party cartridges were made in investor materials and a strategic plan, not to consumers, the court said.

Judge Freeman also rejected the CFAA claim because the plaintiff failed to allege required statutory damages of $5,000. In granting leave to amend, the court instructed that to succeed, the plaintiff had to plead aggregated damages stemming from a single act by HP. 

In addition, the injunctive relief claims withstood HP’s standing challenge because the plaintiff alleged he could be harmed by conduct that could be repeated in the future. Lastly, Judge Freeman deferred judgment on whether choice of law issues precluded a nationwide class, citing the need for “a detailed and fact-intensive inquiry” into the substantive law applicable of class members’ claims. 

The plaintiff is represented by Morgan & Morgan Complex Litigation Group and HP by DTO Law.