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Matt Howsare is a Member in the firm’s Washington DC office. His practice focuses on federal, state, and international product safety matters and related regulatory issues and litigation. He provides representation on compliance with product safety regulations, product safety incident reporting, imported products, recalls, civil penalty proceedings, investigations, and other regulatory and enforcement matters. Matt previously served as the Chief of Staff of the CPSC from 2010 to 2013 and as the Chairman’s Senior Counsel in 2009. While working at CPSC, Matt played a leadership role in the implementation of the rules, regulations, and policies associated with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

With Congress back in session, on January 8th President Trump was swift to re-nominate Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle to be the permanent Chairman of the CPSC, along with a nomination for a second term as a Commissioner.  President Trump also re-nominated Dana Baiocco to be a Commissioner.

As we previously wrote, Chairman Buerkle was nominated by President Trump in in July of last year. After going through a Senate confirmation hearing in September that was contentious at times, Buerkle was approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for confirmation by the full Senate. Similarly, Ms. Baiocco was also awaiting full Senate confirmation after she was approved by the committee in November.

Both Buerkle and Baiocco were not confirmed by the Senate in December, at which time their nominations were returned to the President under Senate Standing Rule 31 along with almost 100 other nominees. Rule 31 provides that when a nominee is neither confirmed nor rejected prior to the end of the Congressional session, the nomination is returned to the President, and will not be reconsidered by the Senate unless they are re-nominated. Most often at the end of a calendar year, this rule is waived by the Senate. However, waiver of the rule requires unanimous consent, which was not provided for 100 nominees that were pending before the full Senate for confirmation in December.

Both Buerkle and Baiocco must again be approved by the committee. They will then again await full Senate confirmation.

This morning at the CPSC’s public hearing Commissioner Joe Mohorovic announced that he would be resigning from his position as a Commissioner, effective Friday, October 20th. Mohorovic announced that he would be joining the law firm Dentons.

While Acting Chairman Buerkle remains at the helm of the agency, Mohorovic’s absence will mean an unprecedented Democratic 3-1 majority at the Commission with a Minority Chairman. While Mohorovic’s resignation allows President Trump to nominate a third CPSC Commissioner in as many months, it likely will take months to get all three nominees confirmed by the Senate. Continue Reading Breaking: Republican Commissioner Mohorovic Departing the CPSC; Acting Chairman Buerkle Now Sole Republican in 3-1 Democratic Majority

Over the past few weeks, there have been many key goings-on related to the CPSC and its Commissioners.

Chairman Buerkle’s Confirmation Hearing and Committee Vote

First, on September 27, 2017, Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle sat for a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. At the beginning of the hearing, Buerkle faced tough questions, particularly from ranking member, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, and subsequent 11 deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators, Ms. Buerkle was repeatedly asked to defend her position that the CPSC should not undertake mandatory rulemaking on portable generator emissions. She explained that she believed the EPA has primary jurisdiction over carbon monoxide emissions from portable generators, but by working with industry on a voluntary standard involving an automatic shut-off mechanism within CPSC’s jurisdiction, it was her hope that a solution can be developed by the end of the year. Under CPSA, CPSC is required to rely on consensus standards instead of mandatory regulations where they are effective and compliance is widespread.

On October 4, 2017, the Committee cleared Chairman Buerkle’s nomination as Chair by voice vote but presumably because of the portable generators issue, her nomination for a second seven-year term as a CPSC Commissioner was not unanimous and voting followed party lines. Ms. Buerkle’s final hurdle will be a confirmation by the full Senate, which could take place quickly or take a couple of months depending on any further opposition to one or both of her nominations.

Continue Reading CPSC Round-Up: Buerkle Confirmation Hearing, Landmark Civil Penalty Ruling, and Partisan Action on Flame Retardants

Today, President Trump announced his nomination of Dana Baiocco to be a Republican Commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If confirmed, Ms. Baiocco would take the seat of Commissioner Robinson, whose term expires on October 26, 2017.

Baiocco is a well-known litigator and partner at Jones Day in Boston, Massachusetts. She is also familiar with the world of product safety. Baiocco’s product safety experience includes extensive product-liability litigation, having defended many major consumer product companies. Ms. Baiocco’s biography can be found here.

The nomination is surely a welcome one for Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle, who is currently operating with a Democratic majority and, until today, uncertainty surrounding when that would change. The nomination signals the White House’s intent to achieve a Republican majority at the CPSC and curtail the agency’s steady push of Democratic initiatives along 3-2 party line votes.

Notably, the nomination comes at the same time the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announced that it will hold a confirmation hearing on September 27, 2017 for Acting Chairman Buerkle to become the permanent Chairman of the CPSC. If both Buerkle and Baiocco are confirmed, the agency would reflect the composition of the current executive and legislative landscape, with a Republican Chairman and a Republican majority of Commissioners.

Below is more information from the White House Press Release:

 

Today, President Donald Trump officially announced his intent to nominate Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle to be the permanent Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Her new seven year term will begin on October 27, 2018 when her first term is set to expire. If confirmed, she will become the permanent Chairman immediately and her new term will end in October 2025.

The official announcement is copied below and was released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary just a few hours ago. Continue Reading President Trump Nominates Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle as Permanent Chairman of the CPSC

CommissionerBuerkle370x500This morning it was announced internally at the CPSC that Commissioner Ann Marie Buerkle has become the Acting Chairman of the agency. The CPSC has not yet released a statement concerning the transition of the chairmanship from Elliot Kaye to Ann Marie Buerkle, but we have confirmed the change in leadership with multiple sources inside the agency. In a move largely seen as a precursor to this change in leadership, the Commission recently voted to install Buerkle as the Vice Chairman of the agency — ensuring that she would become the Acting Chairman of the agency once Kaye vacated the Chairman’s office.

Continue Reading CPSC Begins Transition: Ann Marie Buerkle is Now the Acting Chairman of the Agency

Today the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) and Health Canada announced a massive joint recall with IKEA involving over 35 million pieces of furniture that can pose a tip over hazard to small children. While we would normally write about the recall itself, a troubling development has caught our attention.  A CPSC employee prematurely leaked the recall to staff reporter Tricia Nadolny at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The CPSC and IKEA officially announced the recall this morning, but the Philadelphia Inquirer prematurely broke the story yesterday afternoon. The reporter confirmed in the story that her source works for the CPSC and did not have clearance to discuss the recall publicly. Additionally, the story included quotes from consumer advocates and other interested parties reacting to the recall—indicating that the reporter had the information for a decent amount of time prior to publishing the story.

After the Inquirer article was published, multiple other media outlets began reporting the recall. This likely put IKEA (and the CPSC) in an incredibly difficult situation of having to quickly make decisions about the release of information about the recall. For companies and legal counsel negotiating a recall—especially one of this magnitude—this is a nightmare scenario.

Even if a company has a contingency plan in the event a recall is leaked early (something we usually recommend for higher profile recalls), the carefully negotiated messaging and CPSC agreed rollout of the recall will have been thrown out the window and replaced by the leaked information. The company will be forced to scramble to respond to media questions while also not spoiling the originally planned announcement.

Additionally, and even more problematic, consumers who may have recalled units will start calling and emailing the company before they know the company’s official 800 number to call and before the company has sufficient staff to start fielding those calls. With over 29 million units involved in this specific recall, that could add up to quite a lot of phone calls and emails.

There are many compelling reasons why the CPSC and companies agree to not only the content of a recall, but also its timing. For a recall of this magnitude to be leaked to the media is a very troublesome precedent and cause for concern to companies negotiating higher profile recalls with the CPSC. Companies have not historically had much to fear in terms of recall information leaking from the agency, but this development potentially calls that into question.

Not only is it a violation of CPSC’s own statutes and regulations for recall information to be prematurely leaked to the press (and potentially could lead to employee sanctions), but it is also potentially disruptive to the effectiveness of the recall itself. The CPSC should take steps to ensure such leaks do not occur in the future.

 

 

Howsare CohenThis article originally appeared on Law360 on May 12, 2016 and provides additional analysis to our prior post on this subject.

After filing a Section 15(b) report and conducting a recall with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), companies frequently ponder whether the CPSC believes the company timely filed its report under Section 15(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and, if not, whether the CPSC will launch an investigation that could lead to a civil penalty action. Unlike the experience of negotiating a recall where there is frequent contact with the CPSC within a defined time frame, the agency is usually silent and takes more time (sometimes years) to decide whether it will investigate whether a company met the statutory time deadline for filing the underlying Section 15(b) report.

In many cases, determining that a report was filed in such a manner to where the CPSC likely would not find reason for a timeliness investigation or civil penalty is relatively straightforward. In other cases where the timeliness of a report is more uncertain, however, only the CPSC’s statute of limitations for pursuing a civil penalty can provide similar comfort.

So what is the CPSC’s statute of limitations? The answer is not as straightforward as it may appear.

Continue Reading When Does A CPSC Late Reporting Violation First Accrue?

Time Expired Statute of LimitationsAfter filing a Section 15(b) report and conducting a recall with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”), it is not uncommon for a company to wonder whether it timely filed its report under the Consumer Product Safety Act (“CPSA”). A question sometimes asked of us is how much time must pass before the company can feel confident that the agency is not going to initiate a timeliness investigation or civil penalty action.

CPSC’s Statute of Limitations

The CPSA does not contain an explicit statute of limitations that answers this question. Instead, the CPSC operates under the general statute of limitations for the government to bring an enforcement action for a civil penalty, 28 U.S.C. § 2462, which states the following: Continue Reading What is CPSC’s Statute of Limitations for Civil Penalties? That’s a Gabelli Question

safeproductsPresident Obama signed Public Law 112-28 (“PL 112-28”) into law on August 12, 2011. PL 112-28 amended numerous provisions of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (“CPSIA”). One such amendment made a notable change to the operation of the CPSC’s Saferproducts.gov database with respect to claims that a database report contains materially inaccurate information (“MII Claims”). The new procedure mandates that database reports not be published for an extra five business days if an MII Claim is filed.

While the new process for MII Claims is now reflected in the Consumer Product Safety Act (and it appears that the CPSC is following it), the updated procedure is not well known within the regulated community. Potentially contributing to this general lack of awareness is the fact that the CPSC’s database regulation and the agency’s guidance posted on Saferproducts.gov have not been updated and reflect the law prior to the enactment of PL 112-28.

As amended, Section 6A(c)(4)(A) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (“CPSA”) now states: Continue Reading CPSC Public Database: An Important 2011 Change to the Procedure for Filing Materially Inaccurate Information Claims Can Easily be Overlooked