Judge denies HP's plea to throw out all-in-one printer lockdown lawsuit
AiO devices won't scan or fax without ink, and plaintiffs say IT giant illegally withheld that info from buyers
HP all-in-one printer owners, upset that their devices wouldn't scan or fax when low on ink, were handed a partial win in a northern California court this week after a judge denied HP's motion to dismiss their suit.
The plaintiffs argued in their amended class action complaint [PDF] that HP withheld vital information by including software in its all-in-one printer/scanner/fax machines that disabled non-printing functions when out of ink and not telling buyers that was the case.
"It is well-documented that ink is not required in order to scan or to fax a document, and it is certainly possible to manufacture an All-in-One printer that scans or faxes when the device is out of ink," the plaintiffs argued in their complaint. The amended complaint was filed in February this year after US federal Judge Beth Labson Freeman dismissed the suit on the grounds that it hadn't properly stated a claim.
Armed with their amended complaint, lawyers for San Franciscan Gary Freund and Minneapolis resident Wayne McMath have succeeded at not only making relevant claims, but also surviving an attempt by HP to have the entire case dismissed for a second time.
In the amended complaint, Freund and McMath's lawyers argue that HP's move to disable devices that were low on ink was intentional, citing HP's own comments from a support forum post in which an HP support agent told a user complaining of similar issues that their "HP printer is designed in such a way that with the empty cartridge or without the cartridge [the] printer will not function."
"At this stage, the message board post amounts to a factual allegation that bolster plaintiffs' allegations that HP designed its printers to disable certain functions when their ink is depleted," Judge Freeman said in her order [PDF] handed down yesterday.
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Additionally, Judge Freeman found the plaintiffs had "adequately" described "the alleged defect and HP's knowledge of that defect," they had adequately pleaded that HP had a duty to disclose the restrictions, and that the defect occurred within the warranty period since the devices were shipped with ink cartridge limitations for non-printing features.
Judge Freeman allowed other claims to stand as well, only dismissing the plaintiffs' request for equitable restitution under the Minnesota Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Otherwise, Freeman said, "these allegations are sufficient" to allow the case to proceed.
This isn't the first time HP has been taken to court over claims it improperly locked printers down. In 2022 the IT giant settled a European lawsuit for $1.35 million alleging it used security chips and DRM-like software to prevent any third-party cartridges from functioning in HP printers. The US corporation has dealt with similar cases in Australia and America, which were settled.
HP hasn't responded to our questions about the latest lawsuit.
Canon, another printer manufacturer that sells all-in-one devices, was sued in 2021 for the exact same reasons as Freund and McMath's suit against HP - that Canon all-in-ones disabled non-printing functions when ink was low. That case was settled late last year for an undisclosed sum. ®