Marks v. M.C. LLC (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-079-17)

NO. 16-02775 BLS I
LISA MARKS, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated,
This case came before the court on the defendants’ motion to dismiss the first amended class action complaint. The gravamen of the individual plaintiff’s claim is that she brought her 2011 Hyundai Sonata to a Jiffy Lube operated by defendant M.C. LLC (JL) in Beverly, MA for an oil change. After changing her oil, JL affixed a sticker to her windshield that indicated that her car would be due for the next oil change in 5000 miles. The plaintiff alleges that this is misleading because the owner’s manual “prescribes that normal oil change service/maintenance is to be performed every 7,500 miles.” The plaintiff alleges that defendant Jiffy Lube International, Inc. (JL International), the franchiser for JL’s stores, is jointly liable with JL because it “has power and control over the oil change services offered at [JL’s] locations.”
JL has provided the court with the entire owner’s manual for the plaintiff’s Hyundai and pointed out that the manual actually states that the oil should be changed at 7,500 miles under normal maintenance conditions and 3,750 miles under severe usage conditions. More specifically, it states that: “If any of the following conditions apply follow Maintenance Under Severe Usage Conditions.” It then lists nine conditions, including driving for a prolonged period
in cold temperatures and driving in areas where salt or other corrosive materials are being used: two conditions that presumably would apply to cars being driven in Massachusetts. JL argues that because the plaintiff has not alleged that she does not generally drive in these two conditions, she has not stated a claim that the 5,000 mile oil change interval recommended by JL is misleading because it is more frequent than that set out in the owner’s manual.
The court finds JL’s argument persuasive. However, it also finds that the plaintiff should be given an opportunity to allege that she drives the car in a manner which would suggest that the proper oil change interval is 7,500 miles and, therefore, as to her inconsistent with the recommendation found in the manual.
JL International argues that the claims against it must be dismissed because no claim is stated against JL and also because the conclusory allegation regarding its ability to control the manner in which JL conducts oil changes is insufficient to state a claim against a franchisor for vicarious liability for selecting the oil change interval under established law. See, e.g., Lind v. Domino’s Pizza LLC, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 650, 655-659 (2015) (where the Appeals Court held that vicarious liability on the part of a franchisor exists only when the franchisor “controlled or had the right to control the specific policy or practice that resulted in in harm to [plaintiff]”). While the court agrees that the plaintiff’s allegations of control are generic, it also notes that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the plaintiff to know the degree to which JL International has control or influence over the oil change interval placed on the service stickers by franchisees. Accordingly, it will deny JL International’s motion to dismiss, to the extent it does not rely on the grounds asserted by JL, unless it provides the plaintiff with all documents, if any exist, that relate to any instructions or recommendations that JL International provided to JL concerning the oil change interval to be affixed to customers’ cars.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendants’ motion to dismiss is ALLOWED, provided, however, that the plaintiff may have 60 days from the date of this order to file an amended complaint addressing the pleading issue discussed above. The defendant JL International’s separate motion to dismiss on the grounds that vicarious liability has not been adequately pled is denied, unless it provides the plaintiff with any documents that relate to instructions or recommendations that JL International provided to JL concerning the oil change interval to be affixed to customers’ cars within 30 days of the date of this order, in which case the plaintiff may replead its allegations regarding vicarious liability.
Mitchell H. Kaplan
Justice of the Superior Court
Dated: May 31, 2017

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