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Apple Must Face Keyboard Suit

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On December 2, Apple moved to dismiss an ongoing suit pertaining to the design of its keyboards (In Re: MacBook Keyboard Litigation 5:18-cv-02813). The motion was rejected by Judge Edward Davila of the Northern District of California. The class action lawsuit was initiated by approximately ten consumers, who claimed Apple knew and hid that its “butterfly” keyboards were easily susceptible to issues and often failed as a result.

Customers stated their MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air keyboards “suffered from sticky keys, unresponsive keys and keystrokes” that failed to register when tiny amounts of dust, dirt, or debris collected under or near the keys. Users claimed that Apple also failed to provide a sufficient and effective solution. Apple would often replace a faulty keyboard with a new keyboard with the same issues. Further, Apple violated various states’ consumer protection laws.

The suit applies to Apple laptops with butterfly keyboards including the 12-inch 2015 MacBook and the 2016 or newer MacBook Pro. Apple created a program to fix the flawed keyboards. On its website, Apple described these keyboard issues as, “[l]etters or characters repeat unexpectedly; [l]etters or characters do not appear; [k]eys feel sticky or do not respond in a consistent manner.” The program aimed to have repairs ready the next day.

Judge Davila rejected Apple’s proposed bid to dismiss the suit. He wrote that Apple had not provided “an effective fix.”

“What made it a huge problem for users was that [the keyboards] weren’t recoverable,” Kyle Wiens, founder of the tech repair website iFixit said. “Every single one of their laptops since 2015 has gotten a 1 out of 10 on our repair index [iFixit’s rating system].”

The order quoted the complaint in relation to the defectiveness of the keyboard and its inability to perform and essential function. “Apple’s butterfly keyboard and MacBook are designed and produced in such a way that when minute amounts of dust or debris accumulate under or around a key, keystrokes fail to register properly… [w]hen one or more keys on the keyboard fail, the MacBook can no longer perform its core function: typing.” Additionally, the complaint alleged that Apple’s patent filing indicates that it was aware of its keyboard failures, despite marketing it otherwise; this is materially misleading consumers.  

The order stated, “Apple’s Motion to Dismiss the FAC, Apple argues that its Program provides Plaintiffs the remedy they seek, and thus, ‘moots their claims and eliminates their ability to establish injury or standing.’” However, “[b]ecause Plaintiffs establish standing, the court DENIES Apple’s Motion to Dismiss all of Plaintiffs’ claims under Rule 12(b)(1).  Because Plaintiffs adequately plead claims under the CLRA and Song-Beverly Act that the Program does not moot their claims, the court DENIES Apple’s Motion to Dismiss these claims under Rule 12(b)(6).” Further, Apple acknowledges the faulty keyboards on its service website, thus validating the Plaintiff’s claims. Apple’s motion to dismiss the case is denied and the suit will proceed.

In November, Apple introduced a new MacBook Pro without the butterfly keyboard; instead, it has the standard scissor keyboard. The terms ‘butterfly’ and ‘scissor’ describe the mechanism below the key. Butterfly keyboards are composed of four fragile pieces that have the key go down less when pressed, in comparison to scissor keyboards. However, the thin design meant that if one key broke, it was impossible to replace that one key. Instead,  fixing it meant taking nearly half the device apart or users would have to send their laptops in for repairs.

Plaintiffs seek monetary damages and equitable relief, among other relief and compensation.

The plaintiffs are represented by Chimicles Schwartz Kriner & Donaldson-Smith, as well as Girard Sharp. Apple is represented by Morrison & Foerster.

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