Was Defect in Appliance an Actionable Breach of Warranty?
Was an individual who purchased goods on Facebook Marketplace entitled to damages when the goods were defective? Did the seller breach an express warranty she made regarding the condition of the goods and therefore entitling the buyer to a refund of the purchase price?
Facebook Marketplace is an e-commerce platform that connects sellers and buyers of goods. Individuals with an active Facebook account can attempt to sell an item by creating a public listing that can be viewed by anyone on Facebook. The seller typically photographs and provides a description of the item listed. Interested buyers may then contact the seller through Facebook Messenger, an instant messaging application that allows the parties to privately communicate with each other.
In October 2022, Jessica Deridder listed a washer and dryer on Facebook Marketplace. The appliances were described as a “Kenmore Elite Oasis Washer & Electric Dry Set.” Paulette Petti saw the listing and contacted Deridder via Facebook Messenger. At one point, Petti asked, “They are both in great working order correct?” Deridder responded, “They both work great and are quiet.” The parties negotiated a sale price of $500 for the washer and dryer, and arranged a mutually convenient time for Petti to pick up the appliances.
The day after Petti picked up the appliances, she sent a message to Deridder advising her that the washer was leaking. She explained that after she discovered the leak a friend took the back plate off the washer and replaced a hose. The washer still did not work properly. Petti then hired a repairman who determined that the computer board was malfunctioning and estimated it would cost more than $600 to fix.
Petti contacted Deridder on Facebook Messenger and demanded that she refund the $250 purchase price of the washer, stating, “I do not have a working washer and you told me it was fine and all in good working order.” Deridder refused to refund the money, insisting that the washer “was 100% working the way it should have been prior to leaving here.” Deridder suggested that Petti most likely broke something when she transported the washer to her home or when her friend opened the back of the machine to replace the hose.
Petti then filed a small claims action against Deridder in the Justice Court, Town of Pennfield, Monroe County, seeking damages in the amount of $250.
Small claims court is designed to provide litigants with a simple, informal and inexpensive procedure for the prompt determination of claims. Although procedural rules may be relaxed, cases must be decided according to the rules and principles of substantive law.
Under New York law, the transaction constituted a contract for the sale of goods governed by Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code. Resolution of the dispute turned on whether Deridder breached any of the warranties provided for in UCC Article 2.
Three provisions of the UCC pertain to a seller’s warranty for the quality of the goods sold. UCC § 2-314 and UCC § 2-315 deal with implied warranties. UCC § 2-313 deals with express warranties.
UCC§ 2-314 — Implied Warranty of Merchantability
The implied warranty of merchantability is found in UCC § 2-314. Under that section a warranty that the goods shall be merchantable is implied in a contract for their sale if the seller is a merchant with respect to goods of that kind. Stated differently, the implied warranty of merchantability is a guarantee that goods sold by merchants are reasonably fit for the intended purpose for which such goods are used. The status of the seller is critical in determining the applicability of the implied warranty of merchantability. Merchants are deemed to give an implied warranty of merchantability; non-merchants are not.1
Here, Deridder was not a merchant. She did not regularly deal in the sale of washing machines, nor does she hold herself out as having knowledge or skill peculiar to goods of this kind. Deridder would more accurately be described as a casual or inexperienced seller. Since Deridder was not a merchant, no implied warranty of merchantability arose from the transaction.2
UCC§ 2-315 — Implied Warranty of Fitness for Particular Purpose
UCC § 2-315 provides: “Where the seller at the time of contracting has reason to know any particular purpose for which the goods are required and that the buyer is relying on the seller’s skill or judgment to select or furnish suitable goods, there is an implied warranty that the goods shall be fit for such purpose.” The implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose usually applies to merchants, but unlike the implied warranty of merchantability, it may apply to non-merchants where justified by the particular circumstances.3 In any event, for a claim to arise under that section, it must be established that the buyer was relying upon the seller’s skill and judgment to select and furnish the goods.
Here, there was nothing in the communications between the parties on Facebook Messenger or in the trial testimony that would support a finding that Petti relied upon Deridder’s skill and judgment to select the washing machine. Therefore, Petti was is not entitled to recovery under the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.
UCC§ 2-313 — Express Warranty
Under UCC § 2-313, a seller who makes representations about the condition of the goods sold can be liable for breach of express warranty. Any seller —merchant or non-merchant — may make an express warranty.
Express warranties may be formed where the representations were made in advertisements. For example, in a 1976 case in Geneva City Court, defendant offered a used refrigerator for sale by means of a classified advertisement in the local newspaper. The court found that the advertisement, which described the refrigerator as being in “good condition”, created an express warranty.
New York Courts have also found express warranties existed where the representations about the goods sold were made during negotiations or bargaining prior to the sale.
For instance, in a 2008 Ossining Justice Court case, defendant placed an advertisement in the newspaper regarding the sale of a boat. Plaintiff responded to the advertisement and viewed the boat at defendant’s premises. During negotiations, defendant told plaintiff that the motor was “working great.” After consummating the sale, plaintiff discovered a crack in the engine block. The court outlined the plaintiff’s burden in a breach of express warranty case:
In order to prevail for breach of an express warranty, a plaintiff must establish that there was an affirmation of fact or a promise by the seller the natural tendency of which was to induce the buyer to purchase Generalized statements and exaggerated claims made by a seller about a product, which a reasonable consumer would not rely upon as a statement of fact, do not create an express warranty. However, where the seller makes representations of fact about specific characteristics of the product, which were relied upon by the buyer as part of the basis of the bargain, an express warranty is created [.]
The Ossining court found that the defendant’s representations made during negotiations concerning the condition of the boat’s motor were reasonably relied upon by the plaintiff as part of the bargain and, therefore, were express warranties under UCC § 2-313.5
An examination of New York cases interpreting UCC § 2-313 revealed that an affirmation of fact sufficient to create an express warranty may be made by a merchant or a non-merchant, may be written or oral, and may be made in an advertisement for the sale of the product or during negotiations for the purchase of the product.
In this case, there is no evidence that the advertisement — the listing on Facebook Marketplace — created any express warranties. However, the negotiations regarding the sale conducted via instant messaging on Facebook Messenger surely did. Deridder’s statement that the washer and dryer “work great” was an affirmation of fact about the appliances that was likely to induce Petti to purchase. Deridder’s representation that the appliances “work great” became part of the basis of the bargain and was relied upon by Petti. Consequently, an express warranty that the appliances were in working order was created and Petti was entitled to damages for breach of that express warranty.
Affirmative showing by the seller that the loss resulted from some action or event following delivery of the goods can operate as a defense. But Deridder made no such affirmative showing in this case. Her suggestion that the damage was caused by Petti during the transport of the appliances or when the hose was replaced was mere speculation. Although Deridder testified that she had video and other proof that the washer worked at the time of the sale, no such evidence was produced at trial. Furthermore, the nature of the required repairs suggested that the damage existed at the time of sale. Consequently, there was no affirmative showing by Deridder that Petti caused the damage to the washing machine.
Accordingly, Petti was entitled to an award of $250, plus the filing fee of $10, for a total judgment in the amount of $260.