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A federal judge has largely tossed a class-action lawsuit filed by a California resident who alleged that a major appliance manufacturer committed fraud by characterizing his gas-powered stovetop as safe despite its emissions.

Judge Araceli Martínez-Olguín of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California — who was nominated by President Biden and received Senate confirmation last year — last week dismissed with prejudice the majority of claims made by Charles Drake, the plaintiff in the case. The only count not completely dismissed is Drake’s allegation that the defendant, GE Appliances’ parent company, Haier Appliances, violated an implied warranty of merchantability.

“Drake does not allege the necessary elements of fraud by omission under California law,” Martínez-Olguín wrote in her decision. “Most glaringly, Drake fails to plead the second and fourth elements of fraud by omission: that Haier held a duty to disclose the fact of the emissions to him, or that Drake justifiably relied on Haier’s concealment of the dangerous emissions from his gas stove.”

“Drake alleges no connection between Haier and the studies he cites, appearing to conclude merely that Haier ‘should have known.’ This does not meet the specificity required for claims sounding in fraud,” she added. “Therefore, the claims sounding in fraud must also be dismissed on this basis.”

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The case dates back to early March 2023 when the California-based law firm Dovel & Luner filed the class-action suit on behalf of Drake. The complaint stated that gas stoves produce “health-harming pollutants,” such as nitrogen oxide, and points to a Consumer Reports article titled “Is Your Gas Range a Health Risk?” as evidence of said harms.

Drake’s complaint further pointed to a 2022 study funded by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a climate think tank which has advocated for a broad economy-wide green energy transition. That same study was cited by U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission member Richard Trumka Jr. when he floated a ban on gas stoves last year, sparking outrage among consumer advocates and lawmakers.

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And the complaint argued that Haier Appliances should be aware of such research and, therefore, the potential harms posed by gas stoves. Such harms would constitute a product “defect” and, since Haier still sells the products, would mean the company is committing consumer fraud, according to Drake. 

“Like other makers of gas stoves, Defendant monitors and keeps track of research on the health effects of its products,” the complaint stated. “This is diligence that large companies like Defendant routinely do when selling a consumer product. Defendant is aware of the fact that its Products emit harmful pollutants. It is further aware that use of gas stoves increases the rates of respiratory illness in adults and children.”

But Martínez-Olguín noted in her ruling that plaintiffs are typically required to allege “how the defendant obtained knowledge of the specific defect prior the plaintiff’s purchase of the defective product in order to sufficiently allege the manufacturer’s awareness of a defect.” By broadly stating Haier “keeps track of research,” Drake failed to overcome that hurdle, she ruled.

The judge ultimately gave Drake until March 14 to file an amended complaint, meaning the case is technically ongoing.

GE Appliances declined to comment, citing its policy “not to comment on pending litigation.” Dovel & Luner didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the ruling is the latest setback for environmentalists who have sought nationwide crackdowns on gas stoves over their climate impact. In January, a federal appeals court delivered a fatal blow to a natural gas ban proposed by the city of Berkeley, California, and, weeks later, the Biden administration watered down regulations targeting gas stoves in a win for the appliance industry.

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