The Unintended Industry of Proposition 65: Plaintiffs’ Lawyers

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One of the unfortunate and unintended consequences of California’s extensive regulatory efforts has been to create a small industry of plaintiffs’ law firms and repeat clients apparently determined to extract settlement money from businesses.  Proposition 65 was implemented with the best spirit of consumer protection in mind.  But those regulations have since transmogrified into tools that primarily profit a small group of plaintiffs’ attorneys, to an extent that has become increasingly burdensome for consumer product manufacturers, resellers and property owners.

Proposition 65 provides for private enforcement actions, which enable individuals or groups to enforce the statutes against consumer products companies, property owners and others.  Prop 65 is a “right to know” law intended to help consumers make informed decisions about their purchases. The combination of a growing list of substances, difficulty in determining exposure levels with scientific certainty, sparse judicial and government oversight, and a right to attorneys’ fee awards under the statute, have transformed Prop 65 into a lucrative business model for a handful of law firms and closely-related consumer groups.  Hundreds of Prop 65 actions are settled each year, with about 70% of the settlement money paid being allocated to attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

California’s published statistics from 2013-2017 show an accelerating trend of more Notices of Violations filed each year.  In 2016 alone, for example, 1,576 Notices of Violation were sent to businesses selling products in California, while 2,710 Notices of Violation were sent in 2017.  The attorneys’ fee provisions of Prop 65 undoubtedly have much to do with that trend.  In 2016, 760 judgments or settlements were reached totaling $30,150,111, of which $20,062,247 was paid as attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs’ lawyers.  In 2017, 688 judgments or settlements were reached totaling $25,767,500, of which $19,486,362 was paid as attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs’ lawyers.

With that kind of monetary motivation, it is easy to see why some law firms make a practice of filing and serving Prop 65 Notices of Violations.  This effectively creates a small industry of lawyers who pursue Prop 65 claims, often for a small group of repeat-plaintiffs who appear again and again with the same lawyers.  Public records identify at least the following law firms, attorneys and their associated plaintiff clients, who pursue multiple Prop 65 claims:

  • The Chanler Group
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiffs Anthony Held, Ph.D., P.E.; Whitney R. Leeman, Ph.D; Mark Moorberg; John Moore; Paul Wozniak; and Laurence Vinocur
  • Lexington Law Group
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Center for Environmental Health
  • Yeroushalmi & Yeroushalmi
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Consumer Advocacy Group, Inc.
  • Aqua Terra Aeris Law Group
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiffs Environmental Research Center; and Center for Advanced Public Awareness, Inc. (“CAPA”)
  • Law Office of Daniel N. Greenbaum
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Shefa LMV, Inc.
  • Klamath
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation
  • Lucas T. Novak
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff APS&EE, LLC
  • Custodio & Dubey
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Ecological Alliance, LLC
  • Sheffer Law Firm
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Susan Davia
  • O’Neil Dennis, Esq.
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Alicia Chin
  • Bush & Henry, Attorneys at Law, P.C.
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Michael DiPirro
  • Brodsky & Smith, LLC
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiffs Gabriel Espinosa; Kingpun Chen; Precila Balabbo; Ema Bell; and Anthony Ferreiro
  • Law Offices of Stephen Ure
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Evelyn Wimberley
  • Lozeau Drury
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiffs Environmental Research Center, Inc.; and Community Science Institute
  • Robert Hancock of Pacific Justice Center
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Erika McCartney
  • Khansari Law Corporation
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff The Chemical Toxin Working Group, Inc.
  • Law Office of Joseph D. Agliozzo
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Sara Hammond
  • Glick Law Group
    • Represents repeated Prop 65 plaintiff Kim Embry

If you are unfortunate enough to receive a Prop 65 Notice of Violation from one of these lawyers or plaintiffs, or from any others, don’t ignore it.  The problem will probably not go away by ignoring it, and prompt action can help keep the matter from getting far worse.  Handling it yourself is also usually not a great plan.  Remember that the plaintiffs who sent the Notice of Violation are almost always represented by counsel experienced in Prop 65 matters.  You should contact experienced counsel to help you respond promptly and handle the matter with minimum disruption to your business.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys have many years of experience advising clients about how to avoid regulatory compliance issues, and we regularly defend clients against Notices of Violations of Proposition 65 and other California regulations. CK&E uses its extensive experience to help clients who are accused of regulatory violations quickly and effectively resolve claims, so clients can focus on growing their business.

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California’s Cleaning Product Right to Know Act Requires Ingredient Disclosure

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California became the first state in the nation to have a cleaning products disclosure law, after Governor Brown signed the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017 (S.B. 258 (Lara)) into law in late 2017.

The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act requires manufacturers of certain cleaning products sold in California to disclose on the product label and on the product’s Internet web site certain information related to known hazardous chemicals contained in the product.  Manufacturers will have until January 1, 2020 to comply with the online disclosure requirements, and until January 1, 2021 to comply with the product label disclosure requirements.  However, any intentionally added ingredient that is regulated by California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (commonly known as Proposition 65) will not have to be listed until January 1, 2023.

The new law applies to so-called “designated products”, which are defined as a finished product that is an air care product, automotive product, general cleaning product, or a polish or floor maintenance product used primarily for janitorial, domestic or institutional cleaning purposes.  It does not apply to foods, drugs and cosmetics, trial samples, or industrial products specifically manufactured for certain industrial manufacturing processes.

The product label will be required to disclose each intentionally added ingredient contained in the product that is included on any of 22 specified designated chemical lists – including chemicals listed pursuant to Proposition 65.  Alternatively, manufacturers may list all intentionally added ingredients contained in the product unless it is confidential business information.  The Act also requires the disclosure of fragrance allergens greater than 0.01 percent (100 ppm).  Additional requirements include the manufacturer’s toll-free telephone number and Internet web site address on the product label.

As for the online disclosure requirements, manufacturers must list all intentionally added ingredients and state their functional purpose.  All nonfunctional constituents present at above 0.01 percent (100 ppm) must also be listed.  The website must include electronic links for designated lists and a link to the hazard communication safety data sheet for the product.  In addition, specific requirements apply for the disclosure of fragrance allergens online.

The Act also adds a section to the California Labor Code imposing an obligation on employers who are required to provide employees with Safety Data Sheets (SDS).  Those employers must similarly make the printable information from the online disclosure available in the workplace.

Although it is a state law, the effect of the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act is certain to be felt by manufacturers across the country who sell their products into California, as is true of many of California’s other regulatory schemes, including Proposition 65, and will most likely result in a nationwide relabeling of covered products.

Given the Act’s numerous and in some cases highly technical requirements, manufacturers of cleaning products would be well advised to determine whether any of their products are subject to the Act, and take steps now to ensure compliance by 2020.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys stand ready to help manufacturers handle all that is coming their way.

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What’s in Your Packaging? Prop 65 Applies to PVDC

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Can your product wrap subject you to Proposition 65 warning requirements?  You bet.  California has added vinylidene chloride to its long list of chemicals to which Proposition 65 applies, effective on December 29, 2017.  The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has not established a safe harbor level for vinylidene chloride, although that remains under consideration.

Vinylidene chloride is used in the production of polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) copolymers. PVDC was developed by Dow Chemical Company, and was at one point used in the production of the popular food wrap product, Saran Wrap. PVDC has characteristics ideal for food packaging because it has low permeabiltiy to water vapor and gasses. While use of PVDC in Saran Wrap was later phased out due to cost and environmental concerns, other copolymers of vinylidene chloride are still commonly used in food packaging, including box overwrap, vertical form fill seal, horizontal form fill seal, and pre-made bags. Vinylidene chloride is also extensively used in a variety of other packing materials, as flame retardant coating for fiber and carpet backing and in piping, coating for steel pipes, and adhesive applications. Other common consumer products that may contain vinylidene chloride include cleaning cloths, filters, screens, tape, shower curtains, garden furniture, artificial turf, doll hair, stuffed animals, fabrics, fishnet, and shoe insoles.

Manufacturers, distributors and retailers are required to provide Prop 65 warnings to workers and consumers who are exposed to vinylidene chloride.  Companies have one year from the listing date to comply with Prop 65.  Companies that have not reformulated their products to remove vinylidene chloride, or that fail to provide a Proposition 65 warning on products containing it, by December 29, 2018 are at risk of receiving a “Notice of Violation” from private enforcers seeking to gain thousands of dollars in penalties and attorneys’ fees.  A Notice of Violation typically precedes a lawsuit for violation of Proposition 65.

The listing of vinylidene chloride as a chemical known to cause cancer by OEHHA is a reminder that not only product contents, but also packaging materials, are included within Prop 65 compliance requirements.  As we previously reported, since December 2014, products sold in California that contain diisononyl phthalate (DINP) have required a Proposition 65 warning.  DINP is found is many soft plastic and vinyl products, and purported violations have been found in seemingly innocuous packaging, such as gift bags for cosmetic products.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel has many years of experience advising clients with respect to Proposition 65 and other regulatory compliance issues. CK&E attorneys help clients stay out of legal crosshairs 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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Sunscreen Ingredient Restrictions in Maui, Hawaii?

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Sunscreen manufacturers and distributors should take note:  Maui County in the state of Hawaii could become the first county in the United States to ban the sale and use of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two active ingredients approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in sunscreens.

In November, a Maui Hawaii County Council committee introduced and recommended for approval a bill for an ordinance that would prohibit the sale and use of sunscreen containing the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate. These ingredients are commonly used in commercial chemical sunscreens as protection against ultraviolet (UV) light radiation.  The county-level move came after Senate Bill 1150 – introduced in 2017 by Hawaii Senator Will Espero to ban the use and application of sunscreens containing oxybenzone throughout the state of Hawaii – stalled at the end of the legislative session.

The FDA currently approves of only 16 active ingredients for use in over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreens, generally recognizing them as safe and effective.  Among the ingredients are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are commonly found in commercial sunscreen products, including from major sunscreen brands such as L’Oreal, Neutrogena and Supergoop.  The European Union already imposes strict limits on the use of oxybenzone in sunscreen products as well as warning requirements.

The Maui County proposal was prompted by environmental concerns and intended to promote the health and welfare of Maui’s coral reefs and marine life. The bill’s supporters claim that oxybenzone and octinoxate have a significant impact on the marine environment, noting that both ingredients have been detected in the ocean surrounding Maui at levels that well exceed the toxicity range for coral reefs.  Opponents of the ban, on the other hand, contend that the ingredients are safe for use, as they have been approved for use by the FDA.

The proposal to ban sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate, other than prescription products, is now before the full Maui County Council. If approved, manufacturers, retailers and distributors of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and oxtinoxate would have a year to ensure that their products no longer contain the banned ingredients. Businesses or persons found in violation of the law would be subject to civil penalties and administrative enforcement procedures. As of now, the bill does not contain a private right of action to allow consumers to bring actions for violations.  If passed, Maui’s outright ban could still face enforcement and legal challenges – including state preemption and federal Commerce Clause challenges.

While this is a unique development, local efforts to protect against health and environmental concerns are nothing new, but they do not always remain confined to their original purpose.  For example, California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly known as Proposition 65, was originally passed to protect the state’s drinking water sources from being contaminated with chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.  However, Proposition 65 does not act to ban the use of any chemicals; instead, it imposes warning requirements prior to consumer exposure to certain chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm.  The 2012 listing of benzophenone to the state’s list of regulated chemicals has already caused many sunscreen manufacturers using octocrylene, another FDA-approved active ingredient that may contain small amounts of benzophenone, to reformulate or use a more purified form of the ingredient.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel has many years of experience representing clients in the beauty and skin care industry address challenging regulatory compliance issues.  CK&E attorneys help clients stay out of legal crosshairs 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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The Conkle Firm Featured Panel of 2017 PCPC Legal & Regulatory Conference

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney H. Kim Sim was on the featured panel of this year’s Legal & Regulatory Conference sponsored by the Personal Care Product Council.  The featured panel, called “California: The Wild, Wild West,” explored the changes and challenges of the new business landscape in California, which boasts an economy that would place it sixth among the world’s nations.  The panel discussion was held on May 10, 2017 at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines in San Diego, California.   John Conkle, the CK&E attorney originally scheduled to speak on this panel, was unable to appear due to a federal court trial conflict.

 

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Seriously – Aloe Vera Whole Leaf Extract May be a Prop 65 Chemical

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We’ve recently written a series of articles about “natural” personal care products that may inadvertently run afoul of Prop 65 regulations.  You may be surprised to learn that such “natural” products may include ingredients that have been identified as “chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer” under Proposition 65.

One of the more surprising of the proposed Prop 65 ingredients is Aloe Vera Whole Leaf Extract.  On April 23, 2015, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (“OEHHA”) issued its notice of intent to list Aloe Vera Whole Leaf Extract as a chemical known to cause cancer. Although more than 420 species of Aloe plant exist, the specific form that is the subject of the proposed listing is: “Aloe Vera whole leaf extract” which “consists of the liquid portion of the Aloe Vera leaf and is a natural constituent of the Aloe barbadensis Miller plant.”  Fortunately, OEHHA specifically excludes Aloe Vera decolorized whole leaf extract, Aloe Vera gel, Aloe Vera gel extract and Aloe Vera latex, which are the more common forms used in personal care products.

When it issued the notice of intent to list Aloe Vera Whole Leaf Extract, OEHHA also issued a notice of intent to list Goldenseal Root Powder as a chemical known to cause cancer. OEHHA identified goldenseal root powder in the proposed listing as “the powdered dried roots and underground stems of goldenseal plants” and declared it to be “a natural constituent of the goldenseal plant.” OEHHA further specifies that Goldenseal is also known as Hydrastis Canadensis, orangeroot, Indian turmeric, and curcuma. Fortunately, OEHHA further specifies that the spice turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn.), frequently found in personal care products such as face and body lotions and cleansers, is not proposed for listing. The form of goldenseal root extract that is contemplated for addition to the Prop 65 list is most often used in the form of nutritional supplements.

Even when manufacturing or distributing “natural” products, beauty companies should take care to review the products’ current formulations to determine whether they contain an ingredient that is or may be on the Proposition 65 list, or whether any of their products contain an ingredient that may cause an exposure to a Prop 65 chemical.  It may be vital to work closely with manufacturers or suppliers, and have strong contracts to protect against Proposition 65 liability. Companies should be pro-active and consider reformulation if a proposed or actual Prop 65 chemical is being used.  And if a Proposition 65 Notice of Violation is received, affected companies should promptly contact counsel with experience in successfully resolving Prop 65 claims.

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Chemical Peel Ingredient Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) Requires a Proposition 65 Warning

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Trichloroacetic acid (TCA), a chemical that is commonly used in cosmetic treatments such as chemical peels and for the removal of tattoos and treatment of skin tags, warts and moles, is now subject to Proposition 65’s warning requirement.  This means that any exposure to the chemical in California requires a warning that the chemical is “known to the State of California to cause cancer.”  The penalties for failing to provide the warning as required by Proposition 65 can be substantial:  The law authorizes civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day per violation.  In addition, attorney fees are authorized by California’s private attorney general statute – creating incentive for private Proposition 65 “bounty hunters” and their lawyers to target businesses who fail to comply.

Under Proposition 65, no legal action is authorized by the Attorney General, district attorneys or private enforcers until 12 months after the listing of that chemical.  TCA (CAS No. 76-03-9) was added to the list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer on September 13, 2013.  As a result, Proposition 65 private enforcers were allowed to start sending out Notices of Violation over alleged exposure to TCA without a warning beginning on September 14, 2014.  The law permits such private enforcers to file a lawsuit 60 days after the Notice of Violation is served.

In addition to TCA, the following chemicals became subject to Prop 65 enforcement action on September 14, 2014:  chloral (CAS No. 75-87-6), chloral hydrate (CAS No. 302-17-0) and 1,1,1,2-tetrachloroethane (CAS No. 630-20-6).

Conkle, Kremer & Engel has significant experience in helping businesses understand and comply with the requirements of Proposition 65 and other regulations to avoid exposure to liability.  In addition to working with businesses to develop an effective compliance strategy, CK&E handles all aspects of Proposition 65 defense, including responding efficiently if a Notice of Violation is received.

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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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California Attorney General Reports Businesses Paid $17 Million to Settle Private Prop 65 Cases in 2013

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And that’s the “good news” – in 2012 it was $20 million.

The California Attorney General’s Office recently released its annual report of Proposition 65 settlements.  The report confirms what most businesses are already painfully aware:  Proposition 65 continues to be a thriving business for private Proposition 65 plaintiffs and their lawyers, who make millions of dollars in the name of the “public interest.”

While private plaintiffs did not reap as much in 2013 as they did in 2012 ($20 million), they did manage to collect $17 million.  That represents the third largest haul for bounty hunters since 2000, when the Attorney General’s Office began collecting the data and publishing annual reports.net

The summary reveals that in 2013 alone, private Proposition 65 plaintiffs acting in the “public interest” and their lawyers entered into a whopping 350 private settlements or consent judgments with businesses alleged to be in violation of Proposition 65, and collected $16,812,396.  In contrast, the Attorney General and local District Attorney each filed a single action.

Proposition 65 requires the State of California to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.  Businesses are required to warn consumers before exposing them to any one of more than 800 listed chemicals, by either labeling or posting a notice.  If a business does not comply, it can be liable for substantial civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day.

Proposition 65 has become a disturbingly lucrative operation for private enforcers, frequently called “bounty hunters,” who serve dozens if not hundreds of Notices of Violation on unsuspecting businesses.  These bounty hunters threaten to sue unless they are paid off in private settlements.  If a private settlement cannot be reached, they proceed with a lawsuit and try to force a settlement to avoid the cost of defense.

Proposition 65 allows private enforcers to keep 25 percent of all civil penalties collected, with the remaining 75 percent going to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).  In addition, private enforcers pocket 100% of so-called payments in lieu of penalties, or PILPs.  Whereas OEHHA would receive 75% of monies designated as civil penalties, OEHHA does not receive any portion of monies designated as PILPs.  Finally and most significantly, private enforcers’ lawyers are entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs under the State’s private attorney general doctrine.

The 2013 report shows that only one-tenth of all monies collected by private enforcers went to the State of California.  The rest of the money went to the bounty hunters and their lawyers:

  • $12,426,052, or 74%, went directly to the private enforcers’ lawyers as attorneys’ fees and costs
  • $596,977.25, or 3.6%, went directly to private-enforcer plaintiffs
  • $1,998,435, or 12%, went indirectly to private-enforcer plaintiffs as a payment in lieu of penalty
  • $1,790,931.75, or 11%, went to OEHHA.

The report also shows continued aggressive activity by a handful of Proposition 65 private enforcers.  At the top of the list are:

  • Center for Environmental Health (represented by Lexington Law Group) with 62 settlements or consent judgments totaling more than $3.3 million
  • Russell Brimer (represented by Chanler Group) with 60 settlements or consent judgments totaling more than $2.4 million
  • Peter Englander (represented by Chanler Group) with 46 settlements or consent judgments totaling more than $1.6 million
  • John Moore (represented by Chanler Group) with 41 settlements or consent judgments totaling more than $2 million
  • Environmental Research Center (represented by various law firms including Law Office of Karen A. Evans and Michael Freund & Associates) with 34 settlements or consent judgments totaling more than $2.8 million
  • Consumer Advocacy Group (represented by Yeroushalmi & Associates) with 25 settlements or consent judgments totaling more than $1.3 million

The Prop 65 outlook for businesses in 2014 does not look much better.  In particular, the June 2013 listing of cocamide DEA, a common ingredient in beauty and personal care products, such as liquid soaps and shampoos, has spawned dozens of lawsuits and hundreds of businesses have been named as defendants.  Numerous settlements have already been approved by the Alameda Superior Court this year, leading to speculation that the total settlements in 2014 will likely exceed the total settlements in 2013.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel routinely represents businesses against Proposition 65 claims and lawsuits brought by private enforcers, as well as counsels businesses on compliance with Proposition 65 in order to avoid becoming a future target of private enforcers.

 

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