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George v. Bromwell's - The Fireplace People, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

December 2, 2019

GREGORY GEORGE, Plaintiff,
v.
BROMWELL'S - THE FIREPLACE PEOPLE, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. S. Ellis, III United States district Judge

         This products liability case arises from the explosion of a gas fireplace at plaintiffs home in the Bahamas. As a result of this explosion, plaintiff has sued the alleged manufacturers of the fireplace-Wolf Steel U.S.A., Inc. and Wolf Steel Ltd.-and the seller of the fireplace- Bromwell's - The Fireplace People, LLC, asserting a number of claims, including breach of the implied warranty of merchantability and breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. In addition, the seller seeks indemnification or contribution from the alleged manufacturers with respect to the seller's liability for any of plaintiff s claims. All three defendants filed motions to dismiss plaintiffs claims in the First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), and the alleged manufacturers filed a motion to dismiss the seller's cross-claim for indemnification or contribution. These motions were fully briefed and argued, and the motions to dismiss were denied in part and granted in part by the November 12, 2019 Order. More specifically, the November 12, 2019 Order noted that the denial of the motions to dismiss the breach of implied warranty counts and the granting of the motion to dismiss Bromwell's cross-claim merited more extensive discussion. This Memorandum Opinion provides that discussion.

         I.

         As required by Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are assumed to be true, and all facts are viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. See Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). The FAC contains the following relevant factual allegations:

• Plaintiff, a resident of Florida, purchased two identical Napoleon fireplaces for $25, 265.00 from Bromwell's - The Fireplace People, LLC ("Bromwell's") on April 14, 2017 in Falls Church, Virginia. FAC ¶¶ 1, 10. The Napoleon fireplaces were manufactured by Wolf Steel U.S.A., Inc. and Wolf Steel Ltd. (collectively, the "Wolf Steel entities"). Id. at ¶ 5. Bromwell's is an authorized dealer of Wolf Steel's fireplaces. Id. The fireplaces came with an instruction manual issued by the Wolf Steel entities that contains an express lifetime limited warranty.[1] Id. at ¶ 11.
• In December 2017, one of the fireplaces was installed in the master bedroom (the "Bedroom Fireplace") and the other fireplace was installed in the library (the "Library Fireplace") of plaintiffs home in the Bahamas. Both the Bedroom Fireplace and the Library Fireplace were installed in accordance with the installation and operating instructions set forth in the instruction manual. Id. at ¶ 16.
• The two fireplaces burned with different flames. The Bedroom Fireplace burned with a solid, continuous flame that was blue/yellow, and the Library Fireplace burned with an intermittent flame that was orange/yellow. Id. at ¶ 17. The Bedroom Fireplace lit easier than the Library Fireplace, and the Library Fireplace's pilot made a ticking sound when lit. Id.
• Plaintiff, through his representatives, reported these issues with the Library Fireplace to Bromwell's. Id. at ¶ 18. After multiple telephone conversations with plaintiffs representatives in April 2018, Bromwell's informed plaintiff that Bromwell's thought the issue sounded relatively minor and that there could be something blocking the pilot light. Id. at ¶19.
• Plaintiff continued to use the fireplace. Id. at ¶ 20. On the morning of January 21, 2019, plaintiff and one of his house guests entered the library and decided to turn on the Library Fireplace. Id. at ¶ 22. About a minute after plaintiff attempted to start the Library Fireplace, the Library Fireplace exploded. Id. at ¶ 23.
• The explosion caused extensive property damage. Id. The hurricane proof Loewen windows and doors were shattered and cracked, and the library's furnishings were damaged or destroyed. Id. at ¶ 29. Plaintiff estimates that the known damage to his home is $750, 000 to$1, 000, 000.[2] Id.
• An examination of the Library Fireplace found that the explosion was caused by a leak within the Library Fireplace. Specifically, the examination found that the Library Fireplace's control valve was manufactured in such a way that when gas traveled into the Library Fireplace, a substantial amount of gas leaked out of the valve and filled the space between the back of the Library Fireplace and the wall in front of which the Library Fireplace was located. Id. at ¶ 24. The accumulation of gas due to the leak from the defectively manufactured control valve led to the explosion. Id.
• The FAC, filed on August 9, 2019, alleges claims of: (I) negligent manufacture against the Wolf Steel entities, (II) constructive fraud against all three defendants, (III) breach of an express warranty against the Wolf Steel entities, (IV) breach of the implied warranty of merchantability against all three defendants, (V) breach of an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose against all three defendants, (VI) violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act against all three defendants, and (VII) negligence for failure to warn against all three defendants.

         II.

         The November 12, 2019 Order denied the Wolf Steel entities and Bromwell's motions to dismiss Count IV (Breach of Implied Warranty of Merchantability) and Count V (Breach of Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose) of the FAC. All three defendants argued that the Library Fireplace's instruction manual effectively excluded or disclaimed one or both of the implied warranties. Whether the provisions in the instruction manual operate to exclude or disclaim the implied warranty of merchantability or the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose is a question of law for a court. Va. Code § 8.1 A-201(10); Armco, Inc. v. New Horizon Dev. Co.,229 Va. 561 (1985). Thus, this ...


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