On July 25, 2017 at 9:00 AM, the Consumer Product Safety Commission will be hosting a public workshop on Recall Effectiveness. The workshop, to be held in the Hearing Room at CPSC Headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, is intended to allow consumer safety professionals and the CPSC staff to discuss ways to improve the effectiveness of recalls. Mintz Levin’s product safety team will be in attendance.

The agenda for the workshop includes: Continue Reading CPSC to Host Recall Effectiveness Workshop; Commissioner Kaye Issues Recall Effectiveness Statement

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.

coffee-pot-cpscThe 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.

Continue Reading BREAKING: COURT RULES POSITIVELY FOR CPSC IN FEDERAL CIVIL PENALTY CASE AGAINST SPECTRUM BRANDS

In the wake of two tragic amusement park ride accidents in Kansas and Tennessee, and the ongoing political debate in America over gun safety issues, we felt it timely to help answer a question that continues to be asked in the media: does the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have the authority to address the safety of amusement park rides and guns?

amusement-park-guns-cpscAmusement Park Rides.  Every time there is a tragedy on a ride at an amusement park, the nation turns its attention and scrutiny on the CPSC as the nation’s safe products regulator.  However, and crucially, the CPSC does not have jurisdiction over the safety of “fixed site” amusement park rides.  In 1981, the Congress stripped the CPSC of its jurisdiction over these rides through an amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA).  As a result, rides that are “permanently fixed to a site” (such as the ones at the Kansas and Tennessee parks) are subject to voluntary standards written by the ASTM F-24 Committee on Amusement Rides and Devices and state and local regulations.

The CPSC does have jurisdiction over “mobile” amusement rides (those transported from location to location).  The agency also acts as a clearinghouse for safety information on ride incidents identified by Commission investigators and state and local ride officials.  The following 2012 CPSC Directory of State Amusement Ride Safety Officials provides a helpful introductory overview of the CPSC’s activities with respect to amusement park rides and a directly of the relevant state and local officials dedicated to ride safety.

Read our previous post about this jurisdictional issue here.

Gun Safety.  Like fixed amusement park rides, firearms and ammunition are excluded from the definition of a “consumer product” in the CPSA.  As a result, the CPSC does not regulate the safety of guns, shells and cartridges (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms does).

guns-amusement-park-cpscNote: CPSC Commissioner Marietta Robinson recently issued a thoughtful perspective describing how she believes the CPSC can make guns safer and help bring down the number of accidental incidents involving firearms.  According to Robinson, “guns should be defined as the consumer products they are so that we may do our job of protecting the American consumer.”

Despite its lack of jurisdiction to regulate the safety of guns and ammunition at present, the CPSC does have authority to regulate the safety of some products and accessories related to gun use.  For example, the CPSC has asserted its jurisdiction over separate firearm trigger locking devices.  Additionally, the CPSC has recalled previously gun storage boxes, handgun vaults, and gun holsters, thus all squarely falling within the regulatory authority of the agency.  In fact, as recently as 2013, the White House requested the CPSC to “review and enhance as warranted safety standards for gun locks and safes” as a measure to improve gun safety.

Without a further act of Congress, the CPSC’s activities with respect to fixed amusement park rides and gun safety will not likely change.

 

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?

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye announced in a meeting with consumer advocates that the agency will never again allow a company conducting a voluntary corrective action to call it anything other than a “recall.”  Last year, after the announcement of a joint CPSC-IKEA “repair program” to address a furniture tip-over hazard involving the company’s popular Malm dresser, we  asked whether the announcement indicated that the agency was possibly softening its practice of labeling every corrective action a recall.

The answer, according to Chairman Kaye, is a firm “no.”   Continue Reading CPSC Chairman Vows that Every CPSC Voluntary Corrective Action Will Be Called a “Recall”

On March 25, 2016, Administrative Law Judge Dean Metry found that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) case counsel did not prove that high powered, small rare earth magnets (“SREMs”) (1) are defective as sold by Zen Magnets (“Zen”); and (2) constitute a substantial product hazard when sold with appropriate warnings, including proper age recommendations (click here for decision and order).  Judge Metry concluded that because the SREMs are not designed, manufactured, or marketed for play to children under fourteen, the proper and intended use of Zen creates no exposure to danger, such as ingestion by small children.  Judge Metry did rule, however, that Zen needed to recall a small number of magnets that did not contain sufficient warnings or were marketed for ages twelve years and older.

In response to the decision, Shihan Qu, Zen’s founder said:

“The outcome of the administrative adjudication . . . is in, and common sense has prevailed. This represents first and only administrative review of the merits of the CPSC’s claims regarding SREMs. [This] represents 90% victory, and 10% recall. For the CPSC, this is a huge loss: it’s the first time a CPSC administrative action has been challenged in court since 2001.”

Continue Reading Zen Magnets Claims “90% Victory” Against CPSC in Magnet Recall Litigation

There have been many twists and turns over the past four years concerning the CPSC’s regulation of certain high powered, rare-earth magnet sets and its litigation against various entities selling these magnets.  In the latest chapter of the magnets saga, a federal court in Colorado has permanently enjoined Zen Magnets (Zen) from selling magnets purchased from another distributor, Star Networks USA (Star Networks) who later recalled them to settle administrative litigation with the CPSC.

It is illegal to resell previously recalled products under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA).  Zen asserted the products were “fungible commodities” and it had taken them out of the scope of the prohibition by repackaging and rebranding them.  In a victory for the CPSC, the court disagreed vehemently and ordered Zen to recall the magnets.  The court reasoned as follows: Continue Reading Federal Court Makes No Exceptions for “Commodity Products” and Orders Zen Magnets to Stop Selling Previously Recalled Magnets

CPSC Article Law 360 copy[This article originally appeared on Law360 on August 7, 2015 and updates our prior post on this CPSC corrective action]

On July 22, 2015, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and major furniture company IKEA jointly announced a “repair program” to address the serious and complex hazard of furniture tip-over posed by 27 million chests and dressers sold by the company. The repair program offers free wall anchoring repair kits so consumers can secure the chests and dressers to the wall to reduce the likelihood of a furniture tip-over incident.

If you were not looking for it, then you could have easily missed that the announcement did not contain the word “recall.” The corrective action is also not included in CPSC’s recall announcement list and is not listed as a recall on agency’s saferproducts.gov public database.

So why is this significant? Continue Reading CPSC Major ‘Repair Program’ Is Not Labeled A ‘Recall’

Ikea Product IssueYesterday the CPSC and major furniture company IKEA jointly announced a “repair program” to address the serious and complex hazard of furniture tip over posed by 27 million chests and dressers sold by the company. The repair program offers free wall anchoring repair kits so consumers can secure the chests and dressers to the wall to reduce the likelihood of a tip-over incident (more background on furniture tip over and wall-anchoring here).

If you weren’t looking for it, then you could have easily missed that the announcement did not contain the word “recall.” Nor was it included in the CPSC’s recall announcement list (though it is currently listed as a “recall” on saferproducts.gov).

So why is this significant? Continue Reading Shifting CPSC Recall Landscape? Agency Announces Major “Repair Program” that is not Labeled a “Recall”