Christopher Baxter and Matthew Stanmyre, NJ.com, December 08, 2016, updated December 16, 2016


The Newark school system has filed a class-action lawsuit against the nation's leading maker of artificial sports fields, FieldTurf, alleging the company defrauded more than 100 public and private schools and municipalities in the state.

The complaint, filed late Wednesday in state Superior Court in Essex County, capped two days of fast-moving developments following an NJ Advance Media investigation that revealed the company sold high-end turf for years after executives knew it was falling apart.

Lance Kalik -- an attorney with the law firm Riker Danzig, which is representing the schools -- said the news organization's investigation "contained allegations and facts that are quite disturbing."

"If true, it means that many public bodies, not just the state-operated district, but others as well, as well as some private schools, have been sold a product that was based on potentially false and misleading marketing and sales practices," Kalik said.

At $300,000 to $500,000 each, the turf was the most expensive on the market, but FieldTurf officials justified the cost by saying it would perform better and last longer than any product sold by competitors, as well as the company's own, previous generation turf technology.

But as early as 2006, key FieldTurf executives became aware the turf, sold primarily as Duraspine or Prestige XM, was cracking, splitting and breaking apart.

The complaint takes aim at what more than a dozen experienced consumer attorneys have all said was FieldTurf's biggest weakness -- and biggest potential legal exposure -- in its handling of the Duraspine crisis: its decision not to notify every customer of the problem or change its marketing and advertising claims.

The attorneys said that, regardless of the condition or performance of any field, the fact that the company was making claims to customers that it knew to be misleading or untrue was likely a violation of state and federal laws guarding against false and deceptive advertising.

Pending lawsuits in federal court in California, as well as state court in Texas, also allege fraud. The Newark lawsuit does not name specific fields, but there are several owned by the district, including the one at Malcolm X Shabazz High School.

Also, the state's leading lawmakers -- Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) -- have issued sweeping calls for accountability, including potential criminal and civil probes as well as lawsuits.

FieldTurf officials have conceded nearly one of every five U.S. Duraspine fields has been replaced under warranty. The true number of afflicted fields could be far higher, however, because the company has never notified every customer of the problem.