Conkle Firm Attorneys and PCPC Lobby California Legislature about SB 574 and AB 495

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On April 3, 2019, Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys John Conkle and Raef Cogan joined the Personal Care Products Council (“PCPC”) in Sacramento, California to lobby members and staff of the California Legislature on pending legislation important to members of the personal care products industry, including Senate Bill 574 and Assembly Bill 495.

CK&E attorneys, PCPC staff and participating industry representatives visited legislative offices to advocate for positions favored by personal care products industry members. Over the course of more than 15 meetings with legislators and their aides, the group focused its advocacy on two pending bills that, if enacted, would have significant consequences for the U.S. cosmetics industry as a whole. Conkle, Kremer & Engel has previously written about Senate Bill No. 574 (“SB 574”) introduced by Senator Connie Leyva and Assembly Bill No. 495 (“AB 495”) introduced by Assembly Members Al Muratsuchi and Buffy Wicks. These are important bills that if enacted would have significant consequences for the U.S. cosmetics industry as a whole.

SB 574, also known as the “Toxic Fragrance Chemicals Right to Know Act of 2019,” would require cosmetic manufacturers to disclose fragrance of flavor ingredients that appear on any one of 27 “designated lists.” CK&E attorneys explained during the meetings that a viable version of this bill may be presented in the future, but that as written SB 574 threatens cosmetic companies’ confidential business information, results in duplicative regulation and relies on faulty, unscientific “lists” to determine what information manufacturers must disclose.

AB 495, is entitled the “Toxic Free Cosmetics Act,” and would dramatically increase the number of cosmetics listed as “adulterated,” without justification. CK&E attorneys explained that under AB 495 as proposed, any cosmetic that contained even trace amounts of identified ingredients would be labeled “adulterated” and would be banned outright. Some ingredients sound scary, like lead, but are in fact naturally occurring and cannot be completely eliminated from cosmetic (or many other) products. Others are preservatives that have been deemed completely safe for use in cosmetics by the FDA and other regulatory bodies.

Both SB 574 and AB 495 are coming up for committee vote soon. Conkle, Kremer & Engel will stay apprised of the results and will provide updates on this legislation that is important to the cosmetics industry.

PCPC California Lobby Day also featured presentations from Allen Hirsch, Chief Director of the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (“OEHHA”), Karl Palmer from the Department of Toxic Substances Control (“DTSC”), Joseph Calavita from the Air Resources Board, and Senator Bill Quirk, Chair of the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. The regulators spoke about important upcoming actions by their agencies. Senator Quick focused on the importance of protecting our environment from toxins, primarily greenhouse gasses. Each of these presenters stressed a need for more information sharing between the industry and the respective regulatory and legislative bodies.

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2018 Proposition 65 Trends Show Increasing Risk to Business

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2018 turned out to be the most lucrative year ever for Proposition 65 attorneys and their clients, according to settlement data collected by the California Office of Attorney General (OAG). The famous “right-to-know” law has been on the books for more than 30 years, and requires businesses to provide warnings for exposures to any one of the more than 900 chemicals on the Proposition 65 list that are known to cause cancer, reproductive harm or birth defects – or face hefty civil penalty and attorneys’ fees demands from the OAG, a district attorney or, far more commonly, private enforcers who initiate their claims by sending Notices of Violation.

Reviewing the recent trends, the indications are that the private enforcer claimants are becoming more efficient at extracting as much as possible from the unfortunate businesses who receive Notices of Violation. Even though California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is supposed to benefit from Proposition 65 recoveries, the chart below shows graphically that the vast majority of the money obtained by the claimants stays with the claimants – and most of it stays with the claimants’ attorneys. In 2018, less than 12% of the money obtained by private enforcers went to OEHHA, and more than 79% went to the claimants’ attorneys.

2014-2018 CKE Prop 65 Settlement Chart

The claimants’ increasing efficiency is shown clearly by the fact that, even though the number of Notices of Violation sent to businesses dropped by approximately 13% (2,710 in 2017 and just 2,364 in 2018), the number of settlements and judgments increased from 693 in 2017 to 834 in 2018. The average settlement shot up by 13%, from $38,395 in 2017 to $44,097 in 2018. This was buoyed in large part by a huge increase in the attorneys’ fees and costs collected by plaintiffs’ attorneys. In 2017, plaintiffs’ attorneys took in $20.2 million in attorneys’ fees and costs. In 2018, plaintiffs’ attorneys recovered $29.1 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.

The small circle of private enforcers making these claims remains an exclusive club. The claimants active in 2018 included: Alicia Chin; Amy Chamberlin; Anthony E. Held, Ph.D., P.E.; Anthony Ferreiro; APS&EE, LLC; As You Sow; CA Citizen Protection Group, LLC; Center for Advanced Public Awareness, Inc.; Center for Environmental Health; Consumer Advocacy Group, Inc.; Dennis Johnson; Donny Macias; Ecological Alliance, LLC; Ecological Rights Foundation; Ema Bell; Environmental Law Foundation; Environmental Research Center, Inc.; EnviroProtect, LLC; Erika McCartney; Evelyn Wimberley; Gabriel Espinosa; Hector Velarde; John Moore; Estate of Karen Charlene Calacin; Kim Embry; Kingpun Cheng; Laurence Vinocur; Maureen Parker; Michael DiPirro; Paul Wozniak; Peter Englander; Precila Balabbo; Russell Brimer; Safe Products for Californians, LLC; Sara Hammond; Shefa LMV Inc.; Susan Davia; The Chemical Toxin Working Group, Inc.; and Whitney R. Leeman, Ph.D.

Questions still remain as to the effects on the Proposition 65 industry of the OAG’s amended settlement guidelines that went into effect October 1, 2016, and the new clear and reasonable warning requirements that went into effect August 30, 2018. We posited some theories in our previous blog post on the issue, but it’s too early to tell the collective effects of these changes on the net Proposition 65 costs for businesses. One thing is for certain: The risks to businesses are increasing as Proposition 65 claimants are demanding more money than ever to resolve their claims. Absent any meaningful Proposition 65 reform, that trend will only continue. Unfortunately, Proposition 65 is notoriously difficult to reform because it requires a two-thirds majority approval of each house in the Legislature and any amendment must further the purposes of Proposition 65.

The best approach for businesses is to be proactive to try to meet the Proposition 65 challenges before they become very costly burdens. Aside from carefully reviewing your compliance, the most important factor in reducing costs of resolution is to act promptly when you receive a Notice of Violation to contact qualified counsel experienced in Proposition 65 issues. Conkle, Kremer & Engel keeps up to date on developments in Proposition 65 and provides expert guidance to clients to ensure compliance with Proposition 65 and other regulations.

2018 by the Numbers

  • 2,364: Notices of Violation Served
  • 834: Number of Settlements/Consent Judgments
  • 39: Number of Active Prop 65 Plaintiffs
  • $36.7 Million: Paid by Businesses to Resolve Claims
  • $29.1 Million: Attorneys’ Fees & Costs Collected by Plaintiffs’ Attorneys
  • $3.3 Million: Payments Collected by Plaintiffs
  • $4.3 Million: Payments to State Agency
  • $44,097: Average Settlement/Judgment Amount

2017 by the Numbers

  • 2,710: Notices of Violation Served
  • 693: Number of Settlements/Consent Judgments
  • 38: Number of Active Prop 65 Plaintiffs
  • $26.6 Million: Paid by Businesses to Resolve Claims
  • $20.2 Million: Attorneys’ Fees & Costs Collected by Plaintiffs’ Attorneys
  • $2.7 Million: Payments Collected by Plaintiffs
  • $3.7 Million: Payments to State Agency
  • $38,395: Average Settlement/Judgment Amount

This blog post was coauthored by Desiree Ho.

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Prop 65: PILPs and ASPs and Fees — Oh My!

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We previously blogged about Proposition 65 trends based on data about settlements and judgments collected and made public by the California Attorney General’s Office. One trend we noted was the downward shift in civil penalty offsets known as “payments in lieu of penalties” (PILPs) or “additional settlement payments” (ASPs), due to recent amendments to the Proposition 65 regulations to rein in such payments. We’ll refer to these offsets collectively as ASPs and look at how the amendments have affected the Proposition 65 “industry”.

By way of background, Proposition 65 generally allows claimants (termed private enforcers) to keep 25% of the civil penalties as well as recover their attorneys’ fees and costs in enforcement actions. The state’s regulating agency, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) retains the other 75% of the civil penalties. While Proposition 65 authorizes penalties of up to $2,500 “per day for each violation,” the reality is that civil penalties make up a very small portion of an overall settlement or judgment: The vast majority of the payment is earmarked as attorneys’ fees and costs paid to the claimant’s lawyers.

In the past, Proposition 65 private enforcers have often demanded additional payments that were treated as offsets to civil penalties. In other words, whatever the appropriate amount of civil penalties, they would carve out a portion of it as ASPs, because the claimants could keep the ASP portion entirely or direct it to a related entity – in addition to retaining their 25% share of the civil penalties. OEHHA does not receive any part of an ASP.

The practice became concerning enough that the Attorney General’s Office amended the regulations, effective October 1, 2016, to impose additional requirements for ASPs. According to the Final Statement of Reasons for the rulemaking, the amendments were intended, among other things, to “ensure that [OEHHA] receives the civil penalty funds specified in Proposition 65, so that it has adequate resources for Proposition 65 implementation activities” and to “limit the ability of private plaintiffs to divert the statutorily mandated penalty to themselves or to third parties, in the form of [ASPs].”

The regulations as amended also reflect the Attorney General’s position that ASPs should not be included in any settlement that is not subject to judicial approval and ongoing judicial oversight. The effect has been that, since 2017, only one private settlement agreement has included ASPs. Several others were reported in 2017 and 2019, but a review of the settlement agreements showed that the private enforcer in those cases erroneously reported its 25% portion of the civil penalties as ASPs.

While this can be seen as a bright spot, it may have the unintended consequence of lowering the incentive for certain private enforcers to settle early and privately, increasing costs to businesses who receive a Proposition 65 “notice of violation” – the official precursor to legal action. Indeed, since the amendments, we have continued to see a high number of court judgments contain ASP provisions, since those are still allowed under the amended regulations but subject to additional scrutiny by the Attorney General. In 2017, 90 of the 345 court judgments called for payment of ASPs (totaling $1,421,660) and in 2018, 109 of the 366 court judgments included ASPs (totaling $1,915,083). While not all plaintiffs are as aggressive about collecting ASPs, some NGO plaintiffs (such as As You Sow, Center for Advanced Public Awareness, Center for Environmental Health, Consumer Advocacy Group, Ecological Rights Foundation and Environmental Research Center) still show a strong preference for ASPs in resolving their claims. It is possible that OEHHA’s move to restrict ASPs results in more lawsuits and fewer pre-litigation settlements, but may not ultimately reduce ASPs as much as anticipated.

More problematically, the amendments seem to have had the unintended effect of driving up the civil penalties and attorneys’ fees and costs. The amended regulations provide that ASPs should not exceed the 75% share of the civil penalty paid to OEHHA. Previously, ASPs in both private settlements and judgments often exceeded the total civil penalties. The regulations now effectively place a cap on the amount of ASPs: ASPs that exceed 75% of the civil penalties may cause the Attorney General to file an opposition. So to maximize their own recovery private enforcers are now settling for what seems to be high civil penalties and ASPs that are a hair below 75% of that amount. Legally, that is a very doubtful practice – since ASPs are an offset to civil penalties, a defendant should pay the same total amount based on statutory factors, regardless of whether any part of the payment is earmarked as an ASP or if all of it is treated as a civil penalty.

One of the most stunning observations of the trends in Proposition 65 recoveries is that the attorneys’ fee portion of Proposition 65 settlements has increased every year. As we will discuss further in a later blog post, in 2018 the total amount of attorneys’ fees and costs collected by Proposition 65 plaintiffs shattered all records. Attorneys’ fees made up 79% of all Proposition 65 recoveries in 2018 – up from 76% in 2017. The claimants’ attorneys collected an astonishing $29,117,784 – an increase of nearly $9 million over 2017. It is not a big leap to infer that there is a connection between this and the changed regulations reducing claimants’ ability to rely on ASPs – claimants may be increasing the attorneys’ fees portion of their recovery to make up for perceived “losses” in ASPs.

What do the amended regulations and the settlement trends mean for businesses defending against Proposition 65 claims? For one, settling early and privately in an out-of-court settlement is a recommended strategy. ASPs should not be part of such early agreements. This means anyone receiving a notice of violation should act promptly to obtain qualified legal counsel, because private enforcers can sue in court after giving 60 days’ notice. Certain defense strategies can be utilized to try to force an out-of-court settlement for a non-cooperating private enforcer, or at least make a court judgment less appealing to the claimant. Businesses should also take steps to minimize civil penalties and thereby ASPs by taking immediate corrective action as well as ensure that their legal counsel put together a defense that supports a minimal civil penalty recovery under the law.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are experienced at helping clients defend against Proposition 65 claims, resolving them cost-effectively and efficiently, as well as implementing proactive strategies to avoid Proposition 65 and other regulatory issues.

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Prop 65 Settlements Predominantly Benefit Claimants’ Lawyers

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Over the last several years, the  California Attorney General’s Office (OAG) has released annual reports of Proposition 65 settlements through 2017.  These reports make one thing clear – Proposition 65 continues to be a lucrative source for private Proposition 65 claimants and their lawyers, as the total settlement payments continues to rise through the years.

In the past, we noted that private Proposition 65 claimants and their lawyers collected at total of $17 million in settlement payments (comprised of civil penalties, “PILPs” or “Payments in Lieu of Penalties” [also known as “Additional Settlement Payments”] and attorneys’ fees and costs) in 2013, and $20 million in 2012. The trend since then has been upward on all fronts, with one notable recent qualification regarding PILPs.

Proposition 65 contemplates that private claimants will share any civil penalties collected, with 75 percent going to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) and 25% being kept by the private claimants.  However, Prop 65 claimants are allowed an alternative remedy of PILPs, in which the claimants can pocket 100% of the PILPs and share nothing with OEHHA. All private claimants needed to do is establish that the PILP payments will go to fund some kind of activities with a nexus to the basis for the litigation, and show how those funds would be spent.  Until recently, this was not a big obstacle for Prop 65 claimants. As can be seen from the OAG reports, many Prop 65 claimants are special-purpose entities that contend their own business of pursuing Prop 65 claims serves the environmental interests they are trying to protect through pursuit of more Prop 65 claims.  As a result, these entities could pocket the PILP money to self-fund their own activities to make more Prop 65 claims. Being able to keep all of the PILP money, rather than the alternative of having to give 75% of civil penalties to OEHHA, undoubtedly made PILPs very attractive to Prop 65 claimants. Perhaps the only bright spot in the chart below is the significant reduction (by more than 50%) in PILP recoveries, which followed an amended regulation that went into effect on October 1, 2016 to tighten requirements for PILP settlements. We’ll develop more on this amendment and its effects in a future blog post.

Finally, but clearly most significantly in terms of dollars spent on settlements of Prop 65 claims, private claimants’ lawyers are entitled to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. As seen in OAG reports, and displayed graphically below, this attorney fee recovery constitutes by far the largest portion of Prop 65 settlements.

2014-2017 Summary of Proposition 65 Resolutions (Updated from OAG Data as of 3/25/2019)
2014-2017 Summary of Proposition 65 Resolutions
(Updated from OAG Data as of 3/25/2019)

Since 2012, total settlement payments have increased substantially, reaching their high-water mark in 2016 but not declining very much in 2017 (2018 figures have not yet been fully released by OAG). Between 2014 and 2017, Prop 65 settlement payments totaled well over $25 million per year.  Overall, the settlement payments are comprised of attorney fee recoveries to claimants’ lawyers, PILP recoveries to claimants, and a smaller number of civil penalties that are shared 25% with claimants and 75% with OEHHA. In sum, every dollar shown in the chart below, other than the OEHHA portion shown in red, has gone to either the Prop 65 claimants or the claimants’ lawyers:

When viewed graphically, it becomes all the more evident that the vast majority of Prop 65 settlements benefit claimants and their lawyers, not OEHHA or any other government agency charged with protecting the public. Questions must arise whether this was really the intent of Proposition 65, however beneficent was its purpose.

2016 was the biggest year for Prop 65 private claimants, according to data released by the California Attorney General’s Office.  In 2016, private claimants settled 760 cases, suing smaller businesses and larger entities like K-Mart, Michaels, Williams-Sonoma, and Twinings.  The settlements for that year totaled over $30 million.

Of the $30 million collected in settlement payments in 2016, attorneys’ fees made up more than $21.5 million, or 71.5% of all private settlements.  In addition, while civil penalties amounted to just over $5 million, or 18% of all private settlements, private claimants can take 25% of any civil penalty assessed as a “bounty.”  In 2016, the civil penalties retained by claimants represented a sum of $1,361,500, or 4.51% of all private settlements.  PILP money made up 10.42% of all private settlements.  That means approximately $3.1 million landed in the hands of private claimants and their attorneys, in addition to the attorneys’ fees and civil penalty bounties they received.

A few firms did particularly well that year.  In 2016, The Chanler Group brought in 242 settlements for over $7.4 million.  83% of this figure, or over $6 million, was paid out in the form of attorneys’ fees and costs.  Brodsky & Smith brought in 99 settlements for nearly $2.5 million.  90% of the nearly $2.5 million, or $2.2 million, in settlement payments went to the lawyers as attorneys fees and costs.

Some claimant representatives obtained settlements that were not quite as disproportionately in favor of attorneys’ fees and costs.  For example, the Center for Environmental Health brought in 93 settlements in 2016, for a total of $4 million, broken down as follows: 11% as non-contingent civil penalties, 16% as PILP payments, and 74% as attorneys’ fees and costs.  Similarly, the Consumer Advocacy Group brought in approximately $4 million across 71 settlements, recovering 11% as non-contingent civil penalties, 14% as PILP payments, and 75% as attorneys’ fees and costs.

The Environmental Research Center brought in 55 settlements for nearly $5 million, and the breakdown of payments was split more evenly: 36% as civil penalties, 31% as PILP payments, and 33% as attorneys’ fees and costs.

In 2017, private claimants continued to pursue Prop 65 claims, settling or obtaining judgments in 693 cases.  The recoveries totaled more than $26 million. As can be readily seen in the chart above, although the total claimants’ recoveries were somewhat lower, they were on par with 2015 recoveries. Further, attorneys fees were proportionately even higher in 2017 than in preceding years, and the reduction was primarily in the PILP recoveries. Attorneys’ fees made up more than $20 million, or 76% of all private settlements, and civil penalties retained by claimants represented an additional $1,431,496 or 5.4% of all Prop 65 recoveries.

If these trends continue, total Prop 65 settlement payouts will continue to rise, imposing the “unnecessary burdens for businesses” that “are cause for public concern,” as the OAG noted in 2014. Conkle, Kremer & Engel routinely represents businesses against Prop 65 claims and lawsuits brought by private claimants, and works with businesses to develop compliance strategies to minimize the risk that they will be future targets of Prop 65 claimants.

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It’s Time: New Prop 65 Warnings are Required August 30, 2018

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In November 2017, we advised readers of Conkle, Kremer & Engel’s blog that products sold in California would become subject to new Proposition 65 warning requirements beginning August 30, 2018.  The new “Clear and Reasonable Warning Regulations” from California Office of Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) significantly changed warning requirements for affected products that are manufactured on or after August 30, 2018.  Among other changes, the new regulations affect the safe-harbor warning requirements that govern the language, text, and format of such warnings, and also impose downstream warning mandates through retail, online and catalog sales channels. Generally, some of the major changes that companies selling consumer products should be aware of include:

  • The “warning symbol” :  A graphic “warning symbol” is now required on consumer products, other than food products. The “warning symbol” must be printed in a size no smaller than the height of the bolded word “WARNING,” and should be in black and yellow, but can be in black and white if the sign, label, or shelf tag for the product is not printed using the color yellow. The entire warning must be in a type size no smaller than the largest type size used for other “consumer information” on the product, and in no case should be smaller than 6-point type.
  • Listing of a specific chemical:  Warnings must now specifically identify at least one listed ingredient chemical for each toxicological endpoint (cancer and reproductive toxicology) and include a link to OEHHA’s new website P65Warnings.ca.gov. Certain special categories of products, such as food and alcoholic beverages, have a specialized URL that must be used instead.
  • New warning language:  Warning language must now warn of an exposure to a chemical or chemicals from the product, rather than just warn that the product contains the chemical or chemical. For example, “ WARNING: This product can expose you to diethanolamine, which is known to the State of California to cause cancer. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
  • Internet and catalog requirements:  For internet sales, warnings must be provided with a clearly marked hyperlink on the product display page, or otherwise prominently displayed to the purchaser before completion of the transaction. It will not be sufficient if the product sold on the internet bears the required label, but the internet point of purchase listing does not. For catalog sales, a warning must be provided in a manner that clearly associates it with the item being purchased.
  • Short-form warnings:  The regulations allow the use of certain abbreviated “short-form” warnings, which may omit the identity of any specific chemical, only if the warning is printed on the immediate container, box or wrapper of the consumer product or is affixed to the product.  For example, “ WARNING: Cancer – www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”  If a short-form warning is used on the product, the same short-form warning may be used for internet and catalog sales.

The regulations seek to minimize the burden on retail sellers of consumer products, but there are some obligations affecting resellers. Manufacturers, producers, distributors, and other upstream businesses comply with warning requirements if they affix a clear and reasonable warning to the product, or provide written notice and warning materials to an authorized agent of a retailer, among other requirements.  Retailers who receive products with a Proposition 65 warning on the label, or who receive proper notice that a warning is required, are responsible for placement and maintenance of internet warnings for those products before selling to consumers in California.  Retailers should only be liable for Proposition 65 violations under limited circumstances, such as if they cover, obscure, or alter a product’s warning label, or if they receive notice and warning materials but fail to display a warning, including catalog and internet warnings preceding consumer sales into California.

The particular requirements for each specific product can vary, so manufacturers and resellers are well-advised to seek qualified counsel to review their circumstances before committing to potentially costly label and website changes that may not comply with the new requirements.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys stay up to date on important regulatory developments affecting their clients in the manufacturing and resale industries, and are ready to help clients navigate the changing regulatory landscape in California and elsewhere.

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October 2018 Update

H. Kim Sim of CK&E was interviewed and quoted extensively in ChemicalWatch about the difficulties manufacturers face in implementing the “very confusing and very complex” requirements of the new warning label requirements of Prop 65.  For example, as Kim said, “The requirement that manufacturers name at least one substance for which they are providing warning has proven particularly challenging. Determining which one to include ‘can be tricky for companies to decide’, she said. ‘Is one more scary to the public than another?'”

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Prop 65 Trouble is Brewing for Coffee Sellers

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A brewing case spells trouble for coffee shops in California.  Coffee sellers including Starbucks, Target and Whole Foods are in the midst of an ongoing lawsuit with the Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) over the presence of acrylamide in coffee.

Acrylamide is on the Proposition 65 list of chemicals which California has declared are known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.  While acrylamide is not found in raw foods, the chemical can form in starchy and carbohydrate rich foods, such as potatoes, when cooked at high temperatures.  Acrylamide is a natural byproduct of the coffee roasting process, and is formed when the sugars and amino acids of the coffee bean are heated.

CERT (associated with Raphael Metzger of the Metzger Law Group) is a well-known plaintiff in Prop 65 cases of this sort, and this is not the first time CERT has been involved in litigation over acrylamide in food and drink products.  Acrylamide was added to the Proposition 65 list in 1990 based on studies showing it as a potential carcinogen in industrial exposures.  In April 2002, a subsequent study by the Swedish National Food Administration revealed high levels of the chemical in various high carbohydrate foods which are cooked at high temperatures, including french fries, potato chips, crackers, and bread.  CERT filed suit that same year against McDonalds and Burger King over the presence of acrylamide in french fries.  The fast-food retailers eventually settled and agreed to post Prop 65 warnings.

Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has set the No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) for acrylamide at 0.2 µg/day.  NSRL is the level of exposure at which chemicals on the Prop 65 list are deemed to pose no significant risk, and for which a Prop 65 warning is not required.  CERT v. Starbuck Corp., et al was originally filed in 2010 against 90 coffee sellers.  The suit claimed that defendants’ coffee contained 4-100x more acrylamide than the NSRL.  During the first phase of a two-phase bench trial, defendants argued that the level of acrylamide in their coffee products posed no significant risk because a multitude of studies show that coffee consumption does not increase the risk of cancer.  The court rejected this argument because the studies assessed the effects of coffee generally, as opposed to the presence of acrylamide in the coffee.  Defendants’ argument that requiring them to post a Prop 65 warning amounts to unconstitutional forced speech was also rejected.

The second phase of the trial began in September 2017.  During this bench trial, defendants argued that coffee is exempt from the NSRL standard, and rather an “alternative risk level” applies.  Proposition 65 allows for a higher “alternative risk level” to apply to chemicals produced in the process of cooking foods to make them palatable or safe.  Since acrylamide in coffee is naturally produced during the roasting process, Defendants argue that they are subject to this exemption.

A ruling is expected soon, and if CERT succeeds, California coffee sellers will be required to post Proposition 65 warnings.  Several coffee retailers who were initially named in the lawsuit have already posted warnings in their stores.  7-Eleven, who opted to settle the suit, agreed to post warnings and pay a $900,000 fee.  While Starbucks continues to challenge the suit, it has already posted warnings at its stores, presumably to limit damages it may have to pay if CERT succeeds at trial.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys will continue to monitor and report on the outcome of this case.  CK&E has many years of experience advising clients about Proposition 65 and other regulatory compliance issues they face.  Our attorneys help clients stay out of legal hot water by working with them to ensure their products continue to meet all legal requirements, and helping them plan for foreseeable changes in the law.

 

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WARNING: Are Your Products and Websites Ready for the New Prop 65 Requirements?

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California’s Office of Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has issued new Proposition 65 Warning Regulations that will go into effect on August 30, 2018. It is important for companies to understand the changed regulations and be proactive in adapting their product labels and even internet marketing to adapt to the new regulations.  The coming changes have introduced a variety of new concepts, imposing additional burdens on businesses selling their products in California, and making it easier for plaintiff Prop 65 attorneys and groups to bring costly private enforcement actions.

The OEHHA has made significant changes to the safe-harbor language requirements that govern the language, text, and format of such warnings. The new regulations introduce the concept of a “warning symbol,” which must be used on consumer products, though not on food products. The “warning symbol” must be printed in a size no smaller than the height of the word “WARNING,” and should be in black and yellow, but can be in black and white if the sign, label, or shelf tag for the product is not printed using the color yellow.

Warnings must now also specifically state at least one listed chemical found in the product and include a link to OEHHA’s new website www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.  These are examples of the new format for more specific warnings:

  • For exposure to carcinogens: “ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
  • For exposure to reproductive toxins: “ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
  • For exposure to both carcinogens and reproductive toxins: “ WARNING: This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more listed chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer, and [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information, go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”

Certain special categories of products, such as food and alcoholic beverages, have a specialized URL that must be used. For example, warnings on food products must display the URL www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/food.

Recognizing that many consumer products have limited space “on-product” to fit the long-form warnings, the OEHHA has enacted new regulations allowing abbreviated “on-product” warnings. This short warning is permissible only if printed on the immediate container, box or wrapper of the consumer product. An example of the required format for the abbreviated warnings is:

  • WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm – www.P65Warnings.ca.gov

The new regulations also specifically address internet sales for the first time. Warnings must be provided with a clearly marked hyperlink on the product display page, or otherwise prominently displayed to the purchaser before completion of the transaction.  It will not be sufficient if the product sold on the internet bears the required label, but the internet point of purchase listing does not.

The particular requirements for each specific product can vary, so manufacturers and resellers are well-advised to seek qualified counsel to review their situation before committing to potentially costly label and website changes that may not comply with the new requirements.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys stay up to date on important regulatory developments affecting their clients in the manufacturing and resale industries, and are ready to help clients navigate the changing regulatory landscape in California and elsewhere.

Although the new regulations take effect August 30, 2018, and the new warning labels are required for products manufactured after that date, companies can begin using the changed labels now. It is definitely not advisable to wait until August 2018 to begin making the required changes.

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California Proposition 65 Warnings for DINP Exposure are Required Soon

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Starting December 20, 2014, products sold in California that contain diisononyl phthalate (DINP) will require a Proposition 65 warning.

DINP is found is many soft plastic and vinyl products.  DINP is used as a plasticizer in a wide variety of products including apparel, footwear, sporting goods, gloves, fashion accessories, school supplies, shower curtains, bath mats and other home accessories, garden hoses, toys, vinyl flooring, and electrical wire and cables.

DINP was added to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals on December 20, 2013 as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.  By law, the warning requirements go into effect one year after the listing.  Accordingly, the Proposition 65 warning requirement for products causing an exposure to DINP will start on December 20, 2014.

Businesses that manufacture, sell, or distribute products in California containing DINP are required to provide a warning to consumers that the product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.  The warning is required unless the exposure is so low as to pose no significant risk to cancer.  The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has not established a safe harbor level for DINP.

The phthalate DINP is presently banned in certain children’s toys and products in concentrations of greater than 0.1 percent under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008.  Other phthalates that are already on the Proposition 65 chemical list include di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP), di-n-hexyl phthalate (DnHP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) and di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP).

Companies that have not reformulated their products to remove DINP, or that fail to provide a Proposition 65 warning on products containing DINP, by December 20, 2014 are at risk of receiving a “Notice of Violation” from private enforcers seeking tens of thousands of dollars in penalties and attorneys’ fees.  A Notice of Violation typically precedes a lawsuit for violation of Proposition 65.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel has extensive experience in the area of Proposition 65.  CK&E provides businesses with legal counseling and guidance on compliance with Proposition 65.  CK&E also regularly assists businesses in responding to Notices of Violation and defending claims for violation of Proposition 65 in litigation.

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California Attorney General Kamala Harris Promises to Scrutinize Prop 65 Settlements

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As reported on the Conklelaw blog, the California Attorney General’s Office recently released its long-awaited 2013 report of Proposition 65 settlements.  The report reveals that private Proposition 65 bounty hunters collected nearly $17 million in civil penalties, payments in lieu of penalties and attorneys’ fees and costs from businesses during 2013.

Concurrently with the report, the Attorney General’s Office took the unusual step of releasing a letter directed to the Proposition 65 plaintiffs’ bar – a small group of attorneys and law firms who specialize in representing private enforcers.

The letter from the Attorney General’s Office letter characterizes the 2013 report as shining “a light on some of the aspects of private enforcement of Proposition 65 that result in unnecessary burdens for businesses and are cause for public concern.”

The letter expresses particular concern over Proposition 65 plaintiffs’ practice of collecting “Payments in Lieu of Penalties” (also known as PILPs).  PILPs are supposed to offset civil penalties in Proposition 65 cases, and are intended to fund activities that have some nexus to the basis for the Prop 65 enforcement action.  Proposition 65 bounty hunters have broadly interpreted such PILP-funded activities to include funding additional Proposition 65 litigation.  Unlike civil penalties, of which California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is entitled to 75 percent, the state does not receive any portion of PILPs.  In 2013, 21% of the money collected in private settlements was paid as PILPs.

The Attorney General’s Office also criticized the enormous attorneys’ fees routinely collected by private enforcers as part of Proposition 65 settlements, and promised to “redouble” efforts to evaluate attorney’s fees awards.  In 2013, nearly 75 percent of all of the Proposition 65 settlement money, or an astonishing $12.5 million, went straight to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.  Attorney General Harris concluded, “Clearly, the high transaction costs for resolving Proposition 65 cases continue to be cause for concern.  They are the reasons we have been redoubling our efforts to evaluate attorney’s fees awards in the private party settlements submitted to us. . . .”

Attorney General Harris’ pledge to actively scrutinize Proposition 65 settlements is consistent with her “hands-on” approach to attempting to curb private enforcement efforts.  In 2011, for example, the Attorney General filed an opposition to a motion to approve settlement in Held v. Aldo, challenging an attorney’s fee request for more than $5 million by the Chanler Group – one of the most active Proposition 65 plaintiff’s firms – as unreasonable.  Let’s hope Attorney General Harris backs her pledge with more direct and effective oversight to curb abuses of Proposition 65 by private enforcers.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are committed to guiding clients through the constantly changing landscape of Proposition 65 compliance and enforcement.

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