A proposed class action filed this week in California claims subscribers to HP’s “Instant Ink” program have received far less than they bargained for.
According to the 33-page lawsuit, defendant HP Computing and Printing Inc.’s Instant Ink program is, in reality, unable to provide subscribers with “ink the moment [they] need it,” and instead leaves them to deal with “the very annoyances that were supposed to be prevented” through their subscriptions. The case claims that although HP promises to automatically send Instant Ink subscribers replacement ink cartridges before their printers run out of ink, the company is frequently unable to do so, sometimes leaving customers without a usable printer for days or weeks at a time.
Even when Instant Ink subscribers are provided with ink in a timely manner, they often find themselves “overwhelmed with errors that prevent them from printing,” the lawsuit alleges, claiming that HP’s printers, even when stocked with ink, frequently display error messages that “render them inoperable.” In response to customer complaints, HP has failed to attempt any repairs, according to the case. Instead, HP ships more replacement ink cartridges that, aside from sometimes taking eight or more days to arrive, often fail to resolve the underlying issue, the complaint charges.
The lawsuit further alleges HP has failed to deliver on its promise to provide “hassle-free,” “prepaid recycling” of its ink cartridges, and instead instructs subscribers who inquire about recycling to simply throw the cartridges away. Environmentally conscious subscribers are thus left with the choice to either return their cartridges to HP at their own expense or throw them away despite their contractual right to have their cartridges recycled for “free,” the suit says.
The case scathes that HP’s Instant Ink failures have “defeated the entire purpose” of the program and robbed subscribers of the benefits they were promised and for which they had already paid. According to the suit, Instant Ink subscribers, who the plaintiff says have also run into concealed costs in their attempts to cancel their subscriptions, would not have enrolled in the program had they known HP would be unable to uphold its end of the bargain.
“For these reasons, Plaintiff has tried to rescind his contract, cancel his subscription to the Program, and tender his printer for return to no avail,” the case reads. “This is likely true of other Subscribers as well.”
“Never Run Out”?
The lawsuit explains that HP’s Instant Ink subscription program was an effort by the company to “lock in its [s]ubscribers” and keep them from buying competitors’ supply cartridges by promising to provide “hassle-free,” environmentally friendly printing at a flat rate.
Per the case, Instant Ink subscribers were promised that their internet-connected HP printers would automatically alert HP when their ink supply was low, and that the company would mail replacement ink and toner “before you need them, so you never run out.” HP’s website represented that the subscription includes “ink or toner, hassle-free delivery, and prepaid recycling,” according to the complaint.
The case alleges, however, that what Instant Ink subscribers have received is a far cry from HP’s representations.
The lawsuit claims HP has often failed to timely send replacement ink and toner cartridges because they were out of stock, leaving customers, some of whom paid the defendant for high-volume plans, to wait until the supplies were back in stock and ultimately shipped to them while they were left unable to use their printers in the meantime. Per the case, Instant Ink subscribers were not informed prior to signing up for the program that they would be unable to use HP cartridges purchased from retail stores with their enrolled printers and could only use supplies shipped through the program. This wouldn’t be a problem, the suit says, if HP were able to timely provide replacement cartridges.
“Indeed, the entire purpose of the Program is to ensure than [sic] Subscribers ‘never run out’ of ink and receive ‘ink the moment [they] need it,’ but, due to HP’s failures, this simply does not happen,” the complaint scathes.
The plaintiff, a New York consumer, claims that he was left without the ability to print for approximately 35 days upon encountering issue after issue with the Instant Ink program earlier this year.
The lawsuit goes on to claim that even when HP does supply replacement cartridges, subscribers’ printers often experience errors that prevent them from printing, including a message that states they are “not enrolled” in the Instant Ink program. In response to errors, HP has “repeatedly ship[ped] additional replacement ink cartridges” to subscribers while failing to attempt any other timelier or more effective method of repair. The suit says the company’s response to these problems, or lack thereof, often leaves subscribers without working printers for several weeks at a time and robs them of the value of their subscriptions.
“No Extra Cost”?
The proposed class action further challenges HP’s representation that Instant Ink subscribers can cancel their subscriptions “any time, at no extra cost.”
According to the complaint, HP fails to disclose to customers that if they cancel their subscription, any ink cartridges supplied through the Instant Ink program will no longer function, and they will be forced to purchase “costly replacement ink cartridges” from local retailers before their program-supplied ink runs out.
The case contends that although HP represents that customers will be able to go back to using ink cartridges purchased at retail stores should they decide to cancel their subscriptions, this claim is misleading because it fails to inform subscribers that they “must immediately” purchase new cartridges at retail after they cancel their subscription. A reasonable consumer, the lawsuit argues, would consider buying an additional ink cartridge to replace an otherwise usable cartridge an “extra cost” associated with canceling their subscription.
“Put another way, HP misrepresents and actively conceals the fact that there are costs associated with canceling a subscription to the Program—i.e., the costs associated with buying ink cartridges at retail to replace otherwise useable ink cartridges provided (and previously paid for) through the Program,” the complaint relays.
As the case tells it, subscribers are left with “two undesirable options”—either cancel their subscriptions at the additional cost of having to replace usable ink cartridges (not to mention lose out on the cost of prepaid subscriptions that came with the purchase of some HP printers), or remain enrolled in the Instant Ink program and be subjected to “excessive downtimes, error messages, and unending calls/chats with HP technical support.”
The lawsuit goes on to allege that although HP aims to appeal to environmentally conscious subscribers by promising that their Instant Ink subscription “means fewer cartridges travel shorter distances and require less packaging” and includes prepaid recycling, “such is not the case.”
The case charges that because of HP’s aforementioned failures with regard to the Instant Ink program, the company has shipped more, not fewer, ink cartridges that have required additional packaging. According to the suit, subscribers’ enrollment in the Instant Ink program is “environmentally wasteful” given they end up receiving “substantially more ink cartridges” than they need due to the cartridges’ and printers’ propensity to malfunction.
Moreover, despite promising to provide postage-prepaid return envelopes so subscribers can return used cartridges for “hassle-free” “prepaid recycling,” HP has allegedly failed to do so, and instead instructs customers who inquire about recycling their ink cartridges to “simply throw [them] away.”
Who Does the Lawsuit Look to Cover?
The lawsuit seeks to represent anyone in the U.S. who was subscribed to the HP Instant Ink program and experienced an interruption in printing service due to an error message, faulty cartridge, or cartridges being out of stock. A subclass has also been proposed for New York residents who fit the same criteria.
The case also looks to cover anyone in the U.S., and a subclass of New York residents, who was subscribed to the HP Instant Ink program but was not provided with materials for free recycling.
How Do I Join the Lawsuit?
At this time, there is nothing you need to do to join or be considered a part of the lawsuit. If the case moves forward and settles, those affected (i.e., the “class members”) should receive notice of the settlement with instructions on how to file a claim for whatever compensation the court deems just.
In the meantime, one of the best things you can do is stay informed. Check back on this page for updates, or sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter here to get class action news and updates sent straight to your inbox.