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

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