July 21, 2018
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Fourth LL Bean customer sues over return policy change

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
A worker marks boots that were returned to the L.L. Bean retail store in Freeport, Feb. 2, 2018.
By Lori Valigra

A California man has become the fourth L.L.Bean customer to sue the outdoor retailer over the change in its return policy earlier this year, claiming it has harmed him.

On Feb. 9, the Freeport-based company changed its long-standing lifetime guarantee to a one-year limit on most returns in an effort to stem what it claimed was growing abuse and fraud.

The newest lawsuit, filed May 4 by William A. Shirley of Berkeley, which seeks class-action status, is similar to the first lawsuit filed Feb. 12 in Illinois Northern District Court by lead plaintiff Victor Bondi of Chicago, and two subsequent lawsuits. The second was filed Feb. 28 in New York by Anita Berger and the third on April 24 in Massachusetts by Benjamin Pershouse.

All four plaintiffs claimed to be loyal customers who made purchases based on L.L. Bean’s unconditional satisfaction guarantee. They claimed the change has injured and deprived them of the lifetime return policy, which they saw as a benefit when they purchased items from L.L. Bean.

L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said the newest lawsuit is the fourth filed by the same group of lawyers handling the other three suits.

“Like the other three suits, this one is meritless,” she wrote in an email to the Bangor Daily News. “L.L.Bean products purchased prior to Feb. 9, 2018 are not subject to the new one-year restriction on returns. The customer in this suit [California] does not claim that he has been denied a refund on any purchase, and does not claim to be dissatisfied with his L.L.Bean products.”

Beem said the four lawsuits are independent of each other, but make parallel claims.

L.L. Bean filed eight documents on April 6 responding to the Chicago lawsuit, asking the Illinois Northern District Court, among other things, to dismiss the suit. The retailer claims the plaintiff lacks the standing to sue on behalf of a nationwide class of people because he does not live in other states or hasn’t bought goods from L.L. Bean in other states.

The documents also noted Bondi never tried to return his L.L. Bean boots.

A status hearing on L.L. Bean’s motion to strike the nationwide class-action claims is scheduled in the Illinois court on July 12.

The suit filed by Pershouse, a resident of Woburn, Massachusetts, also seeks class-action status. But in that case, the customer did try unsuccessfully to return a pair of slippers to a local L.L. Bean store.

Pershouse bought the slippers from the L.L. Bean website in November 2012, and after a few years of indoor use, he said the rubber soles began to flake in large chunks. The lawsuit said Pershouse tried to return the slippers on March 8 to the L.L. Bean store in Burlington, Massachusetts. It said the store manager refused to accept the return, which was accompanied by proof of purchase, because she didn’t think the slippers were defective.

The Massachusetts lawsuit also alleges that on April 5, for the first time, L.L. Bean modified its website to say, “Please note that products purchased before Feb. 9, 2018, are not subject to this one-year time limit.”

Customers had complained in other lawsuits and in online forums about what appeared to be a one-year limit on all returns..

“We do require proof of purchase, which can be provided in a number of ways, and we are not accepting returns in a number of circumstances that we do not believe relate to customer satisfaction, such as pet damage, excessive wear and product abuse,” Beem wrote.

The New York case said Berger of Staten Island bought an “Ultra Warm Coat” for $269 on Nov. 16, 2016, and the change in policy by L.L. Bean deprived her of returning the coat at any time if she wasn’t completely satisfied.

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