Apple will not have to disclose a design flaw in certain MacBook Pro models after a Ninth Circuit judge denied an appeal to reopen a class-action lawsuit concerning the “stage light” or “flexgate” defect, Bloomberg Law reports.
The original lawsuit alleged that the company fraudulently concealed its use of defective internal display cables that caused dark areas to appear on some MacBook screens and eventually made some displays unusable. The defect appeared as uneven backlighting at the bottom of screens, creating an effect similar to stage lighting. Some reports claimed the backlight failed altogether.
Plaintiffs first sued Apple in 2020, claiming the company knew about the issues in the 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro but continued to sell defective units to customers. Last year, a judge said Apple was assumed to have knowingly sold these defective Macs.
“The court finds that the allegations of pre-release testing in combination with the allegations of substantial customer complaints are sufficient to show that Apple had exclusive knowledge of the alleged defect,” the judge wrote.
Apple failed to address concerns for years before quietly fixing the problem in its 2019 model. And after originally denying warranty repairs on affected systems, the company created a Display Backlight Service Program for the 13-inch MacBook Pro but left out the 15-inch model. Plaintiffs alleged Apple continued selling the larger version despite being aware of its fragility.
The problem was brought to the spotlight by DIY repair specialists iFixit, which determined that, after introducing the Touch Bar, Apple started using a thin, flimsy ribbon cable to connect the display to the base. When you lifted the lid, the cable was pulled tight, causing it to wear out over time. When issues arose after the warranty period, MacBook owners were billed $600 for a full screen replacement over an issue caused by a non-serviceable $6 component.
The current generation of MacBook Pro laptops uses flexible ribbon cables to connect the display to a display controller board beneath the Touch Bar. These cables wrap over the board, where they’re secured by a pair of spring-loaded covers—and they’re subjected to the stress of bending with every opening and closure of the laptop. Within a seemingly short time, those cables are starting to fatigue and tear. The backlight cable is generally the first to go, producing the infamous “stage light” symptoms, and eventually giving out entirely when the laptop is opened more than about 40°.
In July 2021, the class-action lawsuit was dismissed by US District Judge Edward Davila, who concluded the plaintiffs failed to prove the defect was a safety hazard and that Apple had concealed knowledge of the problem, Law360 reported.
The plaintiffs appealed against that ruling in hopes of reviving their case, claiming it violated California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Unfair Competition Law. It also alleged fraudulent concealment under common law theory and deceptive trade statutes in Washington, Florida, New Jersey, Michigan, Alaska, Missouri, Massachusetts, and Texas. The Ninth Circuit has now sided with Apple, determining the company has no duty to disclose the flaw.