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Barbie doll class action decertified

In their 2001 paper for the Manhattan Institute on state-court class actions and forum-shopping, John H. Beisner and Jessica Davidson Miller offer as one example of the kind of litigation that might better be assigned to a national forum the case of Cunningham v. Mattel, Inc., which

is a nationwide class action claiming that consumers paid too much for "limited edition" Barbie dolls that were later sold by Mattel at a lower price through other vendors. Plaintiff, a Madison County resident and purported Barbie doll collector, seeks to represent a class of "thousands" of people throughout the country who have purchased such "limited edition" Barbie dolls. The only explanation plaintiff's counsel provides for bringing this nationwide suit in Madison County is the statement that Mattel, a California corporation, is "engaged in the manufacture, sale and distribution of toys, including Barbie dolls, throughout the United States, including Madison County, Illinois." Plaintiff does not allege -- and there is no reason to believe -- that Madison County is a Mecca of Barbie collectors or otherwise has a particularly strong interest in resolution of this suit. And while on the surface, a suit about Barbie dolls may not seem to raise important civil justice policy issues, the case does present broader-ranging issues about the responsibility of a manufacturer to maintain the retail value of a product. Thus, once again, a locally elected county judge is being asked to set a policy for 50 states on an issue with potentially wide ramifications for consumers and businesses.

Since then the case has proceeded through much grueling litigation, reaching one milestone when the Madison County judge declared that he would apply California law to the entire class of sales nationwide, pleasant news for plaintiffs at the time since they could therefore invoke California's ultra-generous s. 17200 law. Oops: voters in the Golden State scaled back s. 17200 last year, and now, per the Madison County Record, the Cunningham case has at a minimum hit a speed bump, though plaintiffs don't seem much discouraged.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.