On October 5, 2013, Governor Brown signed into law a bill that makes immediate changes to Proposition 65. The amendments, which passed the California Legislature last month, impose a number of restrictions on private enforcers seeking to enforce Prop 65 against businesses that allegedly fail to provide a warning as required by Prop 65. The bill that became law is Assembly Bill 227 (AB 227), introduced by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (Forty-Third District of California) in February 2013, and discussed in our March 13, 2013 blog post.
However, as AB 227 was enacted, only limited types of businesses are likely to benefit. The amendments are very narrow, covering only certain exposures to alcohol or food-related chemicals, vehicle exhaust and tobacco smoke. Thus, the only businesses that are likely to benefit from the amendments are bars, restaurants, parking garages, and those who own or operate premises where smoking is permitted.
In general, the amendments establish a new “safe harbor”: AB 227 prohibits a Prop 65 lawsuit from being filed by a private enforcer over an alleged failure to provide a warning concerning one of the specified exposures, if the business takes specified action within 14 days of receipt of the notice of violation. The targeted business can escape a Prop 65 action if, within 14 days, the business: (1) actually corrects the alleged violation; (2) agrees to pay a civil penalty of $500 per facility or premises within 30 days; and (3) submits a “Proof of Compliance” notifying the private enforcer that the violation has been corrected. If the business takes the so-called “safe harbor” action in response to the notice of violation alleging failure to warn about exposure to alcohol or food-related chemicals, vehicle exhaust or tobacco smoke, the private enforcer is precluded from filing a lawsuit or collect additional civil penalties or attorneys’ fees from the business.
These types of piecemeal amendments to Prop 65 may increase public demand and political pressure for additional reform. In May 2013, Governor Brown proposed sweeping, substantive reform to Prop 65, intended to end decades of “frivolous ‘shake-down’ lawsuits” by Prop 65 bounty hunters and their lawyers. But by September 2013, those efforts stalled as stakeholders involved in the reform effort were unable to reach the consensus needed to generate the two-thirds majority approval that is required for any amendment of Prop 65 in the Legislature.
Conkle, Kremer & Engel constantly tracks the latest developments in Prop 65 in order to provide expert guidance and counseling to clients. This latest amendment is a demonstration that businesses who receive a Prop 65 warning should immediately seek qualified legal counsel to help them avoid liability and unnecessary payments to Prop 65 claimants and their lawyers. In fact, businesses are well advised to consult qualified legal counsel to review their compliance with Prop 65 before an immediate response becomes necessary.