Summary Judgment Ends Consumers’ iPhone Radiation Suit



Apple, Inc. has been granted summary judgment in a case challenging the tech giant’s flagship iPhone products’ compliance with radiofrequency (RF) radiation regulations. Last week, a San Francisco federal court held that the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) RF radiation exposure rules preempted the plaintiffs’ tort and consumer-fraud claims. 

The order found that the agency’s equipment-authorization scheme represented an intentional decision to “establish uniform technical standards embodying a careful balance between safety and efficiency.”

The order explained that, like other smartphones, Apple phones rely on radiofrequency electromagnetic waves to send and receive signals. The oscillation of electrical charges in the phone antennas generate RF radiation. In turn, “the closer to the body the phone remained while in use, the more RF radiation a user would get.” At high levels, RF radiation can cause burns and other injuries. At lower levels, the effects are controverted, but may cause an “increased risk of cancer, cellular stress, structural and functional changes to the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, genetic damage, and neurological disorders.”

The plaintiffs sought to hold Apple responsible for selling mobile phones that did not comply with FCC RF radiation emission standards. They argued that Apple failed to disclose that using phones would expose users to RF radiation levels greater than the federal limit of 1.6 W/kg, or risks attendant to that exposure. For relief, they requested medical monitoring.

Before considering the parties’ arguments, Judge William Alsup described the case’s extensive procedural history. The plaintiffs, purchasers of nine different iPhone models, filed their first amended and consolidated complaint on Dec. 5, 2019. The complaint relied heavily on a Chicago Tribune story that spurred the FCC to investigate Apple’s compliance.

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