A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has refused to certify a class that could have included 40 million customers claiming to have bought Sears Roebuck & Co.’s Craftsman tools under the mistaken belief that they were made in the United States.

Judge Anthony Mohr on Friday ruled that the putative class had “serious problems” with its claims, which he found overly broad and lacking in uniformity.

“To manage this case and its more than 40 million putative class members would be a nightmare, made more daunting by the lack of an appropriate measure of damages,” Mohr wrote in a 41-page decision.

The ruling stems from a suit filed in 2004, claiming that the company falsely advertised its line of tools as “Made in America.”

The lawsuit initially was brought in California state court but was removed to federal court and later transferred to multidistrict litigation pending in the Northern District of Illinois. In 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit sent the case back to California state court.

The action sought to include as class members anyone in California who, from Jan. 6, 2001, to the present, had purchased “any Craftsman tool or product where any unit or part thereof was entirely or substantially made, manufactured or produced outside of the United States.”

Mohr found that dealing with claims from such a class would have been unwieldy, particularly considering the potential number of products involved.

“Class members would need to be grouped according to what they purchased, whether part or all of that product was made overseas, whether they saw any advertising (never mind what kind and where) and whether the ads were material to their decision to purchase,” he wrote. “The cost and time of this process virtually eliminates any benefit to be achieved by class treatment.”

Representing the plaintiffs was Barbara Hart of Lowey Dannenberg Cohen & Hart in White Plains, N.Y. She said that her clients were considering seeking certification under a narrower class definition and appealing the decision. “The judge has said that plaintiffs were free to move again under a narrower class,” she said.

Representing Sears was Francis Citera of the Chicago office of Greenberg Traurig. “We’re very heartened by the decision,” he said.

Leigh Jones is associate editor with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate.