If Your Home Can’t Move, It’s Not a “Consumer Product” under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act
In Bennett v. CMH Homes, Inc., No, 13-5423, — F.3d — (6th Cir. Oct. 30, 2014), the Sixth Circuit ruled that a manufactured home is not a “consumer product” under the federal Magnusen-Moss Warranty Act. Plaintiffs Dan and Karen Bennett purchased a 2180-foot triple-wide manufactured home after their residence burned down. The seller warranted that it would deliver and install the new home and that installation would be in accordance with applicable governmental regulations. Unfortunately for the Bennetts, the seller never properly leveled the manufactured home, and at least one of the installers was not licensed to install manufactured homes in the State of Tennessee.
The Bennetts sued, alleging breach of contract and breach of warranty under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. That act’s protections are limited to “consumer products,” so the issue before the Sixth Circuit was a narrow one: Whether the Bennetts’ manufactured home was a “consumer product.”
The panel majority held that the manufactured home was not a “consumer product,” relying on both the legislative history of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and the common understanding of the word “consumer goods” at the time the law was enacted. With respect to legislative history, Senator Moss stated, in 1974, that a house would not be a “consumer product” because it is not “tangible personal property.” The Sixth Circuit, expanding on that understanding, held that the Bennetts’ manufactured home was not a house-trailer or a mobile home designed to be moved; rather, it remained permanently on the land and was taxed as real property. Furthermore, it was as big as and looked like a “regular house.” And dictionaries for the words “consumer” or “consumer goods” from the time of the law’s enactment described products that were expendable or replaced, quite different from a dwelling.
Judge Stranch dissented, first taking issue with the majority’s distinction between “manufactured homes” and “mobile homes.” She pointed out that many so-called “mobile homes” are not built to be actually mobile, and that the industry had coined the term “manufactured home” to replace “mobile home” in response to negative stigma against “mobile homes.” Judge Stranch also relied on the Federal Trade Commission’s and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s interpretations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and additional legislative history in concluding that manufactured homes like the Bennetts’ should be considered “consumer products.”
Ultimately, however, the majority’s opinion that carried the day. It appears that unless one can move his or her home from place to place, the Sixth Circuit will not consider it a “consumer product,” at least not for purposes of federal warranty law.