Recently, a federal judge sitting in the Eastern District of California (Sacramento), for the first time, refused to require a manufacturer to place a Prop 65 warning on its product based on a finding that the requirement would violate the company’s First Amendment rights. We have been following this developing issue for some time. (See prior posts here, here, and here.) Continue Reading First Amendment Still Trumps Prop 65
Fresh off a victory in the CA primary, California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra filed suit on June 7, 2018 against Nutraceutical Corporation of Park City, Utah and Graceleigh, Inc. dba Sammy’s Milk of Newport Beach, CA, alleging violations of California’s Proposition 65 and California’s consumer protection laws. Continue Reading California AG Leads Attack on Lead in Infant Formula
As this space has addressed before (see here and here), the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act (Civ. Code section 1714.43), enacted in 2010, requires large retailers and manufacturers (those with worldwide sales in excess of $100 million) doing business in California to disclose on their websites their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chain for tangible goods offered for sale.
In Hodsdon v. Mars, a putative class action, the plaintiff alleged that this California consumer protection law required Mars, Inc. (of Mars Chocolate fame) to disclose on its products’ labels that the products’ supply chains may involve slave labor. The trial judge dismissed the complaint, and on June 4, 2018 the Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the California consumer protection laws do not obligate Mars to label its goods as possibly being produced by child or slave labor. The court explained that, in the absence of any affirmative misrepresentations by the manufacturer, manufacturers do not have a duty to disclose the labor practices in question, even though they are reprehensible, because they are not physical defects that affect the central function of the chocolate products. Continue Reading Where No Misrepresentation, Ninth Circuit Does Not Require Labels Disclosing Slave Labor
As this space has discussed on several occasions, there are many issues with California’s Prop 65 (check out some of my prior posts about unintended consequences here and here). In full disclosure, most of the issues I discuss here are presented from the viewpoint of businesses that find themselves at odds with citizen enforcers or their counsel, the language of the Proposition, and/or the California courts’ interpretation of that language.
However, Prop 65, otherwise known as California’s toxic substance warning law, appears to be the subject of equal opportunity complaining. Continue Reading Prop 65: GET THE LEAD OUT!
A recent Federal Court decision on the issue of whether to grant a preliminary injunction in the ongoing saga of the appropriateness of adding the pesticide Glyphosate to the CA Prop 65 list (see prior posts, here and here) has become the grist for the “Fake News” phenomenon. More specifically, Momsacrossamerica.org issued a press release on February 28, 2018 entitled “Judge Says Public Doesn’t Need Cancer Warning.”
However, a quick scan of the decision issued on February 26th reveals that the judge did no such thing. Continue Reading Prop 65 Preliminary Injunction and “Fake News”
Much of the recent discussion regarding Prop 65 has been focused on the regulatory changes going into effect in August of 2018. And that makes sense since there will be significant changes to the warnings, responsibility, and labeling obligations on product websites. There is, however, other activity that may result in a more profound change as to which chemicals require Prop 65 warnings. As we have discussed in the past (see prior post here), there has been litigation in California state court addressing the appropriateness of adding the pesticide ingredient Glyphosate to the Prop 65 list. Continue Reading A Federal Court Gets Opportunity to Weigh In on Prop 65 With a Little Help from Some Friends
California’s Safe Drinking Water & Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (affectionately known as “Proposition 65”) has long been the subject of discussion, both pro and con. Much of the conversation is on various issues surrounding the enforcement of Proposition 65 (for example, see a prior post here). In March 2017, a California trial court in Monsanto Co. v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (“OEHHA”), No. 16-CE CG 00183, addressed a much more basic issue: should a chemical – here Glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Round-Up® product – even be on Prop 65’s list of cancer-causing chemicals? Continue Reading California’s Prop 65: More Form Over Substance
Some of our colleagues from Mintz Levin’s Class Action Practice, Joshua Briones, Crystal Lopez, and Grace Rosales, recently authored an interesting and timely article in the Bloomberg BNA Product Safety & Liability Reporter. The article examines certain defenses in consumer fraud class actions over product labeling – specifically, defenses based on faulty damages models. Beyond proving the factual truth of the allegedly misleading labeling claims, the authors tell us, food and other consumer product companies can combat meritless suits by showing that the plaintiff’s damages-calculation model does not meet the requirements established under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
When reviewing a purported class action lawsuit, Federal Rule 23(b) requires the court to determine that “questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members.” Generally, a consumer’s damages in a false advertising case are equal to the amount of money needed to make the consumer “whole” — that is, to compensate the consumer for the harm caused by the false claim. But measuring the actual value received by a consumer and the but-for value that consumer would have received absent the false labeling by the product’s manufacturer requires a fact-intensive economic inquiry (for example, questions related to individual consumers’ behavior and preferences, the actual amount consumers paid for the product, time frame of the purchase, etc.). As a result, according to our expert litigators, defendants in product labeling lawsuits can oppose class certification or even file an early motion to decertify by showing that the plaintiffs’ damage model cannot be calculated with proof that is “common” to the class.
Joshua, Crystal, and Grace’s full article can be viewed here. Any manufacturer or retailer of consumer products that is facing a false labeling suit should give it a quick read!
We do not get many court decisions in the CPSC world, but yesterday we received one. Last evening, a Wisconsin federal district court essentially held in the Government’s case against Spectrum Brands, Inc. (Spectrum) that (1) Spectrum failed to timely report defective coffee pots in violation of Section 15(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) because they could create a substantial product hazard, and (2) the Government’s imposition of a civil penalty pursuant to the CPSA was not in violation of Spectrum’s statutory or constitutional due process rights. In doing so, the Court rejected Spectrum’s procedural and substantive arguments, including that the CPSC’s claims were time barred and that the CPSA’s reporting requirements are unconstitutionally vague.
The Department of Justice and CPSC alleged that a company acquired by Spectrum (Applica Consumer Products) knowingly failed to timely report under Section 15(b) of the CPSA a hazardous defect relating to certain coffee pot handles. The Complaint alleged that the Company had received approximately 1,600 consumer complaints over a four year period (2008-2012) related to the breakage of the pots’ handle resulting in coffee spillage and burns on consumers.
In response to the filing of the lawsuit, Spectrum asserted, among other arguments, that (1) the Commission’s claims against it were time barred under the so-called Gabelli doctrine; (2) the CPSA’s reporting requirements are unconstitutionally vague; (3) the CPSC failed to provide fair notice that a report was required in light of its finding that other Spectrum coffeemakers with similar issues did not present a substantial product hazard; (4) the CPSC’s late-reporting determination was arbitrary and capricious; (5) Spectrum had no duty to report because the CPSC had already been “adequately informed” of the handle failures and (6) the CPSA did not authorize the CPSC to seek certain forms of injunctive relief including the establishment of a compliance program and prospective liquidated damages in the event of noncompliance.
The Court rejected all of these arguments and handed almost a total victory to the CPSC that may have future ramifications in the product safety community. For example, the decision certainly lends new credence to the CPSC’s common refrain to regulated entities “when in doubt, report” when deciding whether a product defect could present a substantial product hazard. The Court even went so far as to cite this common CPSC advice in the opinion. It’s also noteworthy that the Court concluded that the CPSC does not need to articulate its reasoning for a civil penalty amount in writing and provide more transparency in the process generally—a complaint often raised by industry defendants.
“…Clowns to the right of me, jokers to the left, here I am…”
-Stealers Wheel (1972)
Legal actions regarding “Made in the USA” claims, whether prosecuted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or through various state unfair trade practices acts, often settle early in the proceedings. For example, in 2014, the FTC issued 16 “closing letters” wherein the target company agreed to revise its “Made in the USA” claim to clarify that its products, even those assembled in the United States, included imported components. In 2015, the FTC issued 28 such “closing letters”; and in 2016, to date, the FTC has issued 18.
Earlier this month, Chemence, Inc., the Ohio maker of Kwikfix, Hammer-Tite and Flash Glue, entered into a settlement with the FTC. Chemence was the third glue company that has resolved its claims issues with the FTC since 2015. Toagosei America, Inc., makers of the Crazy Glue brand, and Gorilla Glue both previously reached agreement with the FTC, with FTC issuing closing letters after both companies agreed to make clear that their products included some imported materials.
Chemence’s path to resolution with the FTC was different. Continue Reading Stuck in the Middle with the FTC