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Do not assume a government shutdown means that reporting obligations at the CPSC are on hold. While the Commission’s staff designated as essential personnel are dedicated to protecting against substantial, immediate or “imminent threats to human safety” under the Commission’s shutdown directive[1], they will be reviewing reports to make that determination. The obligation to report is not suspended during the shutdown, even if there may be slower than normal response on matters that do not present an immediate threat. The filings are tracked by date and time electronically, and with 15 million in penalties at stake for failure to timely report, it is important not to confuse a partial shutdown of government operations with a stay on statutory obligations. There is no stay of the reporting obligations If you are a manufacturer, importer, distributor, and/or retailer of consumer products, you continue to have a legal obligation under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and other statutes administered by the CPSC to report the following types of information to the CPSC:

  • A defective product that could create a substantial risk of injury to consumers;
  • A product that creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death;
  • A product that fails to comply with an applicable consumer product safety rule or with any other rule, regulation, standard, or ban under the CPSA or any other statute enforced by the CPSC;
  • An incident in which a child (regardless of age) chokes on a marble, small ball, latex balloon, or other small part contained in a toy or game and that, as a result of the incident, the child dies, suffers serious injury, ceases breathing for any length of time, or is treated by a medical professional; and
  • Certain settlements of lawsuits.

Notably, the government shutdown has no impact on the timely reporting of lawsuit settlements. The New Year brings a new time period for an additional and separate reporting requirement under Section 37 of the Consumer Product Safety Act. It requires manufacturers of consumer products to report information about settled or adjudicated lawsuits during specific 24-month periods. Specifically, companies are required to report when at least three civil actions filed in federal or state court involve the same model of a product and each suit alleges the product was involved in death or grievous bodily injury.  15 U.S.C. § 2084(a). The products at issue in the three cases must involve the same particular model, distinctive as to functional design, construction, warnings, and instructions, i.e. the characteristics that affect the product’s safety related performance.

The CPSC regulations define grievous bodily injury to include certain categories of injury, including, but not limited to:

  • Mutilation or disfigurement including permanent facial disfiguration or non-facial scarring that results in permanent restrictions in motion;
  • Dismemberment or amputation;
  • The loss of important bodily function or debilitating internal disorder such as the permanent injury to the loss of an organ, or blindness or permanent loss, to any degree, of vision.
  • Injuries requiring extended hospitalization, including in-patient care of 30 days in acute care facility or 60 days in a rehabilitation facility;
  • Severe burns or severe electrical shock.[2]

Section 37 sets forth specific statutory time periods within which three settlements involving the same product would trigger reporting. Each of the 24-month statutory periods begin every odd year.  For purposes of this analysis, the applicable statutory periods are:

  • January 1, 2015 – December 31, 2016;
  • January 1, 2017 – December 31, 2018; and starting now
  • January 1, 2019 – December 31, 2021.[3]

In addition to Section 37 reporting, lawsuits should be reviewed with an eye towards whether they contain information reportable under Section 15, such as if the allegations reasonably support the conclusion that a product contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard or an unreasonable risk of injury. In-house counsel should keep these intersections in mind and make sure they bridge the gap between litigation and this regulatory reporting obligation.

It is a common tendency to think about product safety issues in separate buckets depending on whether they raise litigation or regulatory risks. But each should not be considered in isolation as they can overlap in various ways, including within the Consumer Product Safety Act.

 

[1] Order No. 0921.1

[2] 16 C.F. R. §1116.2

[3] See 15 U.S.C. § 2084(b); see also 16 C.F.R. § 1116.2(a); CPSC Recall Handbook at page 9 (found at https://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/106141/8002.pdf).

 

 

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Earlier this summer, President Trump nominated Republican Peter Feldman to serve as the fifth commissioner on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The Senate has now confirmed Mr. Feldman to both (1) serve out the remainder of former Commissioner Joe Mohorovic’s term, which expires in October 2019; and (2) serve a seven-year term beginning in October 2019.

Significantly, the confirmation of Mr. Feldman gives the Republicans their first majority control of the Commission in nearly twelve years, and presents an opportunity for Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle to further move the agency in a direction that reflects her regulatory priorities, as well as those of the Administration. Notably, the Commission will soon consider its FY 2019 operating plan which sets the agency’s agenda for the coming year.

Interestingly, the Senate voted 80-19 to confirm Mr. Feldman to serve out the remainder of former Commissioner Mohorovic’s term. However, on the following day when it came to vote on Mr. Feldman’s own seven-year term that would start in October 2019, the Senate split along strictly partisan lines confirming Feldman by a slim 51-49 majority. Some had argued that since Mr. Feldman’s “new” term would not begin until 2019, the next Senate should take up the nomination after the midterm elections.

Mr. Feldman is well-known among the product safety community. Having served as legal counsel to Senator John Thune (R-SD) at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation since 2011, he is experienced and well-versed in consumer product safety law and the activities of the Commission.

The CPSC released the following statement upon Mr. Feldman’s confirmation including this quote from Mr. Feldman himself:

“I believe strongly in the mission of the agency because American consumers have every right to expect that the products they purchase will be safe and will not pose an unreasonable risk of injury to themselves or their families,” Feldman said. “CPSC’s safety work is critical, particularly when it comes to protecting our most vulnerable populations. I look forward to advancing these agency priorities while ensuring fairness in the execution of its duties.”

We look forward to working with Commissioner Feldman in the years ahead and congratulate him on his confirmation.

 

You may have received an e-mail notice this week from the CPSC about the FOIA office’s new “Electronic Manufacturer Notification Collaboration Portal.”  The main purpose of the Portal is to reduce costs by using e-mail instead of snail mail for Section 6(b) and other FOIA-related notifications. 

Generally, automation of this process shouldn’t result in any meaningful changes in the FOIA notification and objection process.  The Commission’s regulations allow firms to submit information with a request for confidential treatment.  If the Commission receives a FOIA request for information previously designated confidential, the person who previously submitted the request for confidentiality is notified of the FOIA request and the need for quick response to protect that information from disclosure.

Given the quick turnaround time on requesting exemption from disclosure under FOIA, it is imperative for all industry players to make sure that the right contact is assigned – including someone in the Legal Department – to receive Portal notifications so your team can make quick decisions and take action if filing an objection with the CPSC is necessary.  The same contact person used for the Clearinghouse or Saferproducts.gov is a good bet.  But requesting an exemption under FOIA takes some analysis of the regulations.  Was the information submitted under section 15?  Is it a trade secret?  And so, companies would be well advised to make sure they have a process in place and conduct a training program to protect confidential data from disclosure.

If you haven’t yet received any notifications about the new automated Portal, you should check in with the CPSC at cpsc-foia@cpsc.gov and provide contact information for the proper registration person.  The full text of the notification recently sent by the CPSC is below:

Continue Reading Check Your Spam Filters!: CPSC Has Automated FOIA Communications

On June 7, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission provided administrative law followers a fascinating case study. For the first time in two decades, the CPSC’s five Commissioners heard an appeal put on by CPSC staff in administrative litigation. In its appeal, the staff seeks to overturn an administrative law judge’s opinion finding that Zen Magnets’ controversial high powered, small rare earth magnets (SREMs) are not defective and are not a substantial product hazard when sold with appropriate warnings. Novel already, what made this argument all the more interesting was an additional wrinkle:  four of the five Commissioners who heard the appeal had voted previously to approve a final safety standard that has the practical effect of banning such magnets outright.

Continue Reading CPSC Hears Rare Oral Argument in Zen Magnets Recall Litigation

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In today’s social media and internet focused world, tracking online reviews and commentary from consumers is essential for product manufacturers and retailers. Savvy online participation can provide companies with important quality feedback and bolster customer relations when consumer concerns are handled quickly and sensitively. But even companies are not immune to cyber trolls. What happens when an online comment or review contains false information about your product or brand, or accuses your company of offering poor customer service or selling defective goods? And, as is commonly the case, how can the truth of the matter be verified if the comment is posted anonymously? Here are some suggestions to follow as you work through the issue:

  1. Step One: Arm yourself with information by reviewing the basic elements of defamation law.
  2. Step Two: Assess whether action is necessary.  Sometimes ignoring the issue can be the right answer.
  3. Step Three: Take informal action, such as responding to blog comments on your own with your side of the story or requesting a retraction from the author or website host.
  4. Step Four: Assess goals and risks of litigation or formal action. 
  5. Step Five: If necessary, strategically draft a defamation complaint to initiate litigation.
  6. Step Six: Stand your ground and litigate aggressively through discovery challenges and other potential obstacles.

For more details, see the full article:  Six Steps to Protecting Your Reputation Online

Acting Chair Ann Marie Buerkle
Acting Chair Ann Marie Buerkle

This past Wednesday, in her first public remarks as Acting Chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Ann Marie Buerkle announced her top three priorities. As our readers know from our previous post, on February 9, then Commissioner Buerkle became Acting Chair of the CPSC after Commissioner Elliot Kaye stepped down as Chairman. Speaking to the annual conference of the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO), Acting Chair Buerkle announced that her top three priorities include: (1) collaborating with all product safety stakeholders; (2) taking a balanced and reasonable approach to regulation; and (3) expanding product safety education and awareness for consumers.

The overarching theme of Chairman Buerkle’s remarks could not have been more clear: the core mission of product safety does not change with respect to who is in the White House—the focus needs to remain on safety, data, and science, and, to further that mission, all product safety stakeholders should remove their stereotypes of different groups within the community and work collaboratively and creatively to further a common goal.

To that end, Chairman Buerkle stated that she will continue to approach product safety as she has done since taking her seat on the Commission in 2013 in order to further the agency’s mission—she will strive for good governance, build relationships across the safety community, take advantage of available data and science, and rely upon the expertise available inside and outside of the Commission.

Acting Chair Buerkle’s top three priorities include: Continue Reading CPSC Acting Chair Buerkle Announces Top Priorities at Product Safety Conference