United States of America v. Spectrum Brands, Inc.
Transmission of Notice of Appeal, Orders, Judgments and Docket Sheet to Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals re: 264 Notice of Appeal, (Attachments: # 1 Order No.: 196, # 2 Order No.: 234, # 3 Judgment, # 4 Order No.: 256, # 5 Opinion and Order No.: 262, # 6 Amended Judgment, # 7 Docket Sheet) (lak)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
OPINION AND ORDER
SPECTRUM BRANDS, INC.,
Between 2008 and 2012, Applica Consumer Products, Inc. (“Applica”), received
roughly 1,600 reports from U.S. consumers that the carafes distributed as part of its
Black & Decker SpaceMaker line of coffeemakers were suddenly cracking, separating and
breaking at the handle. Some of these handle failures included reports of burns and
By virtue of its acquisition of Applica’s parent company in 2010 and
eventual merger with Applica in 2014, the defendant, Spectrum Brands, Inc., assumed
legal responsibility for Applica’s obligation, if any, to report these potential defects in the
carafe handles under the Consumer Product Safety Act (“the Act” or “CPSA”).
Congress designed the CPSA to “protect the public against unreasonable risks of
injury associated with consumer products.” 15 U.S.C. § 2051. To achieve that goal,
section 15(b) of the Act requires manufacturers, retailers and distributors of consumer
products to report “immediately” to the Consumer Product Safety Commission
(“CPSC”) “information which reasonably supports the conclusion that [a] product
contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard . . . [or] creates an
unreasonable risk of serious injury or death[.]” 15 U.S.C. § 2064(b).
While the CPSA obligates companies to self-report information about potentially
defective products, the plain language of section 15(b) does not require companies to
report every potential defect. Under the operative regulations, companies are directed to
undertake a two-step evaluation process before reporting by first determining whether a
“defect” may exist, and then whether that defect could create a substantial product
hazard. 15 U.S.C. § 2064(b)(3); 16 C.F.R. § 1115.4. The parties agree that the answer
to the first question is “yes,” so the present dispute centers on whether the defective
coffee pot handles could create a substantial product hazard. 1
In this lawsuit, the United States of America seeks civil penalties and permanent
injunctive relief against Spectrum, alleging its delay in informing the CPSC about these
apparently defective handles violated reporting requirements under section 15(b) of the
CPSA. Spectrum argues that the defects in the carafes were never a substantial product
hazard sufficient to give rise to a reporting obligation under section 15(b). Alternatively,
Spectrum argues that the government’s claims are now procedurally barred for a variety
of reasons, including statute of limitations, vagueness and denial of due process generally.
Pending before the court are dispositive motions from both sides, each asserting a
right to judgment as a matter of law based on undisputed facts.
For the reasons
explained below, the court finds Spectrum’s procedural defenses unpersuasive and that it
violated the statute, having failed to submit a section 15(b) report until years after its
reporting obligation originally arose.
The government also claims a separate obligation to report under section 15(b)(4) because
Spectrum (Applica at the time) had information that reasonably supported the conclusion the
carafe handles created “an unreasonable risk of serious injury.” 15 U.S.C. § 2064(b)(4). The
court also addresses this claim below.
UNDISPUTED FACTS 2
A. The parties
The United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed this suit on behalf of the
government, specifically the CPSC, an independent federal agency charged with
enforcing the CPSA, after its five-member commission unanimously voted to refer this
enforcement action to DOJ.
Spectrum is a corporation organized under Delaware law with its principal place of
business located in Middleton, Wisconsin. In June of 2010, Spectrum acquired 100% of
Russell Hobbs, Inc. By virtue of that acquisition, another company, Applica, also became
Spectrum’s wholly owned subsidiary.
When Spectrum and Applica merged in 2014,
Spectrum assumed all of Applica’s assets and liabilities.
Therefore, the parties treat
Spectrum and Applica as the same entity for the purposes of this lawsuit, as will the
Between July of 2008 and April of 2012, Applica imported from China, and then
sold in the United States, a line of Black & Decker SpaceMaker Under-the-Cabinet
While Applica created the specifications for the coffeemakers, an
approved Chinese vendor, Yamada, designed, tested and manufactured them.
The following facts are material and undisputed for purposes of summary judgment, except
where noted below. Because none of the facts on which the court relies in deciding the parties’
motions are gleaned from any of the parties’ experts, the court will reserve on both sides’ motions
to strike (dkt. ##102, 105, 117) pending a determination of their relevance in the civil penalty
phase of this case. Because defendant concedes liability on plaintiff’s claim that it continued to
sell or distribute the coffeemakers after they were subject to recall in violation of 15 U.S.C.
§ 2068(a)(2)(B) (dkt. #144), this opinion similarly need not address facts relevant only to that
Despite conceding in response to plaintiff’s proposed finding of fact (Def.’s Resp. PFOF (dkt.
The carafes included with the coffeemakers were glass, with a molded plastic
handle attached to the glass pot with a single screw near the top and a metallic bracket
encircling the pot near the bottom.
Applica’s specifications for the handles required
them to be capable of withstanding approximately 132 ounces, double the maximum
capacity of the carafes, along with the wear and tear caused by 10,000 “test” or “brew”
cycles. In addition, the coffeemakers were designed to brew a full carafe of coffee at a
temperature lasting between 165°F and 195°F for up to two minutes, and a half carafe
between 160°F and 195°F up to thirty minutes.
B. Initial reports from consumers
Between 2008 and 2012, Applica received customer complaints about its products
via phone or email through a call center operated by Fox International Ltd., Inc. (“Fox”).
Fox provided Applica, and therefore effectively Spectrum, with daily reports about
quality or safety concerns raised by customers. These were then regularly reviewed by
the company’s directors and legal counsel.
contemporaneous knowledge of consumer complaints concerning the carafe handles. 4
Applica began receiving complaints in November of 2008, when a customer reported a
#107) ¶ 3) that Spectrum was a “manufacturer” as defined by the CPSA -- because it
“manufactures or imports a consumer product,” 15 U.S.C. § 2052(a) -- Spectrum now purports to
dispute that characterization (Def.’s Opp’n Br. (dkt. #110) at 5 n.5). Regardless, Spectrum
effectively concedes that it is governed by the CPSA’s section 15(b) reporting requirements,
whether as a “manufacturer,” “distributor” or “retailer.” Similarly, Spectrum asserts no material
difference between these roles, at least for liability purposes.
As the government points out, the individual consumer complaints are not offered for the truth
of the matters asserted, but rather for the purpose of establishing notice, nullifying Spectrum’s
hearsay objections to those proposed facts. (Pl.’s Reply PFOF (dkt. #114) ¶ 79.)
broken handle. By February of 2009, reports of at least fifteen other failures followed,
including a notice from a customer stating that her husband’s hand was burned when the
handle broke and offering to send the broken carafe to Applica so that it could be
“studied.” (Pl.’s Reply PFOF (dkt. #114) ¶ 96.)
In March of 2009, Applica performed a “returned product analysis” on a
customer’s broken carafe at the direction of Peter Taube, Applica’s Product Assurance
Director. In a report summarizing the results of that analysis, an Applica staff engineer
Plastic catches (Photo 2, 3) on the upper carafe housing are
broken on both sides[.] Additionally, the upper screw boss is
fractured as is the plastic directly below the boss. This allows
the carafe to slip forward while pouring coffee. The material
thickness of this catch, the strength of the boss and the
plastic material brittleness may be contributing factors in this
(Id. at ¶ 107.)
After Applica received another report about a broken handle, Taube sent an email
to Stuart Slugh, Applica’s Senior Director of Consumer Services, and Leslie Campbell,
Applica’s Vice President of Engineering. Dated April 4, 2009, Taube expressed his hope
to “escalate” the issue of a potential defect. (Id. at ¶¶ 110-11.) Around April 16, 2009,
Taube also requested that another product analysis be performed on a returned carafe.
The summary of that analysis described findings similar to the first:
Unit received with the carafe handle separation from
mounting ring on the carafe bottom and broken upper handle
(Photo 1). Plastic catch on upper housing carafe is broken on
one side (Photo 2). Additionally, the upper screw boss is
fractured (Photo 3) and several plastic cracks are found in
carafe spout, plastic catch and handle cover, and housing
(Photo 4, 5, 6, & 7). The broken screw boss was also
fractured on both sides (Photo 8.)
(Pl.’s PFOF Ex. 6 (dkt. #79-6).) By May of 2009, Applica had received more reports of
broken handles, totaling at least 60, including four reports of resulting burns. 5
C. Remedial measures and additional reports
On April 1, 2009, Applica asked Yamada to find the causes of and suggest
corrections for the three issues identified in the March returned product analysis -- the
thickness of the catch, the strength of the boss and the brittleness of the plastic. Yamada
proposed four “permanent corrective actions,” which Applica developed into and issued
as an “Engineering Change Request” (“ECR”), intending to implement changes to
strengthen the handles. That ECR included a “STOCK-SCRAP” order, which required
Yamada’s remaining inventory be discarded.
Taube also followed-up by email,
emphasizing that: (1) the handle changes were “mandatory”; and (2) Applica would not
accept carafes that did not implement the new design. By May of 2009, Applica had
tested the newly designed carafes and began stocking them as part of a “rolling change,”
meaning that they would be shipped to consumers as the inventory of the old design was
According to Taube, Applica monitors consumer complaints regarding a product
more closely after implementing an engineering change. With the complaints continuing,
Plaintiff’s proposed finding of fact actually states that Applica had notice of only three burns by
May of 2009 (Pl.’s Reply PFOF (dkt. #114) ¶ 127), although the declaration plaintiff cites in
support of that fact states that there were four reports. (Decl. of Christopher J. Paparo (dkt. #57)
¶ 9.) Regardless, the discrepancy is immaterial to the resolution of the parties’ dispositive
motions for the reasons explained in this opinion.
Applica began receiving letters concerning the carafes from the CPSC itself. In particular,
the CPSC notified Applica’s counsel by letter dated June 30, 2009, about a complaint it
received from the same consumer whose report to Applica was the basis of Taube’s email
from April 4, 2009. The letter specifically identified an apparent failure of the screw
securing the handle to the carafe, and further admonished as follows:
The reports we have provided you may -- either alone or with other
information you now have or may later receive -- reasonably support a
conclusion that the product contains a defect which could create a
substantial product hazard, or creates an unreasonable risk of death or
serious injury. If so, you are required under section 15(b) of the CPSA, 15
U.S.C. 2064(b), to notify the Office of Compliance and Field Operations at
(Decl. of Thomas John Schroeder Ex. B1 (dkt. #80-2) (emphasis added).) By the end of
2009, Applica had received at least 300 complaints about broken handles, including
fourteen reports of resulting burns or lacerations.
On or around February 26, 2010, the CPSC sent Applica two more notifications
about broken handles, which were then followed by two more on or around March 31,
another on September 30, and two more on December 31, 2010.
Each of these
notifications included the same warning to Applica regarding the section 15(b) reporting
requirement. Applica received more reports of broken handles directly from customers
throughout 2010, culminating in over 1,000 reports, including forty-nine involving burns
The following year, those numbers climbed to over 1,500 reports,
sixty-four of which involved burns or lacerations. 6
Reported injuries included: (1) on February 9, 2009, a cut from glass caused when the handle
broke; (2) on February 22, 2009, a burn on the hand of the consumer’s husband when the handle
D. Spectrum reports to the CPSC
In March of 2012, Spectrum was served with a class action complaint that alleged
the carafes were defectively designed. In response, Spectrum ordered a “review of the
product history” of the coffeemakers.
This resulted in Spectrum ordering Applica to
voluntarily recall them.
By the time Spectrum submitted a section 15(b) report to the CPSC on April 3,
2012, it had received approximately 1,600 reports of broken handles, 66 reports of burns
and three reports of lacerations since November of 2008.
Along with the report,
Spectrum requested a “fast track recall,” explaining in a letter to the CPSC that it did so
as a “strategic response to a lawsuit without merit,” since under a fast track procedure,
“there is no determination by the staff that the product presents a substantial product
hazard or unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.” (Pl.’s PFOF Ex. 4 (dkt. #79-4) at
10.) Spectrum submitted an amended, supplemental report on April 27, 2012.
broke while he was pouring coffee; (3) on March 17, 2009, a slightly burned hand, with the
consumer also noting, “luckily he did not have a full pot of coffee or he would have been seriously
injured”; (4) on April 28, 2009, burns on a consumer’s hand, stomach and legs, as well as burns
on her dog, with a May 7, 2009, follow-up report of medical attention sought for the stomach
burns; (5) on July 13, 2009, burns on a consumer’s hand and arm; (6) on July 21, 2009, a cut on
a consumer’s hand caused by cleaning up a broken carafe; (7) on October 21, 2009, a burned
hand; (8) On March 3, 2010, a consumer “pour[ing] hot coffee all over him[self]”; (9) on April
20, 2010, burns on a consumer’s hand and arm; (10) on September 10, 2010, burns on a
consumer and his wife; (11) on November 18, 2010, a minor burn on a consumer’s wife’s leg;
(12) on January 13, 2011, a consumer’s wife “dump[ing] hot coffee on her legs”; and (13) on
January 31, 2011, burns on both a consumer and his wife’s legs, for which the consumer was
seeking compensation. Other reports included: (1) on July 31, 2009, that the consumer felt “very
lucky [the detached carafe] did not break apart and pour scalding coffee over [him] or [his] wife;
(2) on September 30, 2009, a consumer’s belief that a broken handle was “very dangerous”; (3)
on October 26, 2009, another consumer’s belief that a broken handle was “very dangerous”; (4)
on December 28, 2009, a consumer feeling “very scared the handle would break”; and (5) on
February 28, 2011, a consumer stating “luckily no one was burned.” (Decl. of Christopher J.
Paparo (dkt. #57).)
The CPSC issued a press release announcing a recall of the coffeemakers on or
around June 1, 2012. In January of 2013, the CPSC went further, issuing an updated
release to reflect that consumers would receive a full refund rather than a replacement
carafe. Since both recalls were a type of “voluntary corrective action” under the CPSA,
Spectrum worked together with the CPSC to issue the recall.
Section 15(b) of the CPSA requires companies to report certain information about
a potentially defective or dangerous product:
Every manufacturer of a consumer product . . . distributed in
commerce, and every distributor and retailer of such product,
who obtains information which reasonably supports the
conclusion that such product -....
(3) contains a defect which could create a substantial product
hazard described in subsection (a)(2) of this section; or
(4) creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death,
shall immediately inform the Commission of such . . . defect,
or of such risk, unless such manufacturer, distributor, or
retailer has actual knowledge that the Commission has been
adequately informed of such defect . . . or such risk.
15 U.S.C. § 2064(b).
Any manufacturer that “knowingly” violates the CPSA’s reporting requirement
“shall be subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $100,000 for each such violation,” up to
a maximum penalty of $15,000,000 “for any related series of violations.”
U.S.C. § 2069.
The CPSA also gives district courts jurisdiction to “[r]estrain any
violation” of section 15(b) through equitable means. 15 U.S.C. § 2071(a)(1).
The government seeks summary judgment on its claims that Spectrum violated
the CPSA by failing to report the defective carafe handles sooner. Spectrum moves for
dismissal of plaintiff’s claims as barred by the statute of limitations. It also moves for
summary judgment on the grounds that: (1) the CPSA’s reporting requirements are
unconstitutionally vague; (2) the CPSC failed to provide fair notice that a report was
required in light of its investigations involving other coffeemakers distributed by
Spectrum; (3) the CPSC’s determination that Spectrum violated the reporting
requirements was arbitrary and capricious; and (4) Spectrum had no obligation to report
the handle failures because the CPSC was already “adequately informed” within the
meaning of section 15(b). Spectrum also seeks leave to file: (1) additional evidence in
support of its motion for summary judgment; and (2) an additional motion for summary
judgment, based on its purported discovery of new evidence that the CPSC “failed to
satisfy a mandatory statutory precondition for bringing suit.” (Def.’s Mot. for Summ.
Judg. (dkt. # 140) at 2.) Given their variety, the court will first address defendant’s
threshold procedural arguments before turning to the substantive merits.
I. Procedural Arguments
Motions for leave
In the preliminary pretrial conference order entered September 28, 2015, the
court established May 6, 2016, as the dispositive motions deadline and July 15, 2016, as
the discovery deadline. (Dkt. #15.) Spectrum submitted its first set of interrogatories to
the government on October 12, 2015, including interrogatory number five, which is set
State the amount of the civil penalty you seek in each count
of your Complaint, and describe in complete detail the
CPSC’s consideration of the factors set forth in section 20(b)
of the [CPSA], 15 U.S.C. 2096(b), and 16 F.F.R. Part 1119,
including, without limitation, how each factor was weighed in
making the determination of the amount of the penalty to be
(Pl.’s Mot. for Leave (dkt. #140) at 2.)
On November 16, 2015, the government responded as follows:
If Spectrum is found liable under Sections 2068(a)(2)(B) and
(a)(4) of the CPSA, the United States will make a specific
request for a civil monetary penalty based on the facts
illuminated through discovery. The United States’ request
will explain the basis of the requested civil monetary penalty.
Accordingly, Interrogatory 5 is also premature.
(Id. (citing Decl. of James Hemmings Ex. 1 (dkt. #126-1).) After Spectrum objected to
the adequacy of this original response, 7 the government provided a supplemental
response at Spectrum’s request on July 1, 2016, further explaining that:
The Commissioners deliberated based on a legal
memorandum provided by the CPSC’s Office of General
Counsel and discussions with attorneys of that office . . ., and
upon considering the section 20(b) factors decided to seek up
to the maximum civil penalty authorized by law.
Spectrum’s counsel reports expressing his concern with plaintiff’s original response to the
interrogatory in an email sent on June 13, 2016, and during a phone conference held on June 24,
2016. (Decl. of Timothy L. Mullin, Jr. (dkt. #130) at 1.)
(Decl. of Timothy L. Mullin Ex. B (dkt. #130-2) at 5.)
In this supplement, the
government also presented its own analysis of the section 20(b) factors, though again
maintaining that the actual amount of the civil penalty it seeks depends on the findings
as to liability. (Id. at 4-10.)
Finding this response to still be inadequate, Spectrum filed a motion to compel “a
full response” on July 8, 2016. (Def.’s Mot. to Compel (dkt. #129) at 1.) Along with a
response to Spectrum’s motion provided on the discovery deadline, the government filed
a declaration from Elliot Kaye, the Chairman of the CPSC, in which he confirmed that
“there is no written analysis of the Commissioners’ consideration of the factors, and that
the Commissioners deliberated individually.” (Decl. of Elliot F. Kaye (dkt. #136) ¶ 3.)
During the hearing on that motion, Spectrum’s counsel conceded that the legal
memorandum was privileged and, therefore, not subject to production. (Tr. of Mot. Hr’g
(dkt. #138) at 8.)
Given this concession, this court denied Spectrum’s motion to
(Dkt. #137.) Nevertheless, based on supposedly “new evidence” in Kaye’s
declaration, Spectrum: (1) seeks leave to bolster its argument that the CPSC acted
arbitrarily and capriciously in authorizing this action for civil penalties, as demonstrated
by the “Justice Department’s takeover of the Commission’s statutorily-prescribed
function to assess penalties” (Def.’s Mot. for Leave (dkt. #131) at 2); and (2) moves for
summary judgment on the additional basis that the CPSC “failed to make a formal
determination of the appropriate amount of penalties to seek in this matter, in violation
of both the [CPSA] and the Commission’s own regulations.” (Def.’s Mot. for Leave (dkt.
#140) at 2.) The court will deny both motions.
The initial question governing both of defendant’s motions is whether the
evidence is “new.” See Whitford v. Boglino, 63 F.3d 527, 530 (7th Cir. 1995) (“A renewed
or successive summary judgment motion is appropriate, especially if one of the following
grounds exists: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new
evidence or an expanded factual record; and (3) the need to correct a clear error or
prevent manifest injustice.”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Ordinarily, to constitute “new evidence,” the moving party must show not only that the
evidence was newly discovered, but also that it could not have been timely discovered
“with reasonable diligence.” See, e.g., Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole v. CBI Indus., Inc.,
90 F.3d 1264, 1269 (7th Cir. 1996); Exec. Ctr. III, LLC v. Meieran, 823 F. Supp. 2d 883,
897 (E.D. Wis. 2011) (“In other words, it is not enough to show only that one has
obtained new evidence; rather, the party moving the Court for reconsideration must also
show that the evidence was not reasonably available at the time the original summary
judgment motion was pending.”).
Spectrum claims that the reason for its late assertion of new evidence is that the
government’s initial response to interrogatory number five “led Spectrum to believe that
some documentation of the Commission’s consideration of the civil penalty factors
actually existed, but that the Government was not producing it at that time.” (Def.’s Br.
in Supp. of Additional Mot. for Summ. Judg. (dkt. #140-2) at 1 n.1.)
Spectrum claims, only after the government filed its brief in opposition to its motion to
compel and Kaye’s declaration did “Spectrum finally learn that there is no record of the
Commission’s collective consideration of the civil penalty factors and that, indeed, the
individual Commissioners apparently considered the civil penalty factors ‘individually.’”
(Id. (emphasis in original).)
Spectrum’s claim of misdirection is dubious at best. The government’s offer to
“explain the basis of [its] requested monetary penalty” in the event that defendant was
found liable for violating section 15(b) in no way suggests that it would (or even could)
consideration of the civil penalty factors.” If anything, it confirms that in referring the
matter for prosecution, the Commission authorized the Department of Justice to seek
whatever penalty it saw fit up to the statutory maximum, depending on the facts adduced
at trial. Regardless, Spectrum’s asserted “new evidence” turns out to be neither new, nor
undiscoverable before the dispositive motions deadline. Indeed, Spectrum already knew
all it needed to bring its motion timely. The court, therefore, denies defendant’s motions
for leave to file additional evidence and an additional motion for summary judgment.
Even if the court were to consider this “new” evidence, along with Spectrum’s
additional motion for summary judgment, the result would be the same. Spectrum’s
essential argument appears to be that the CPSC could not refer this matter for
prosecution without a formal, recorded presentation of evidence and deliberations that
Spectrum could challenge in court. The statutory language on which Spectrum bases this
argument is found in 15 U.S.C. § 2069(b):
In determining the amount of any penalty to be sought upon
commencing an action seeking to assess a penalty for a
violation of [the section 15(b) reporting requirements], the
Commission shall consider the nature, circumstances, extent,
and gravity of the violation, including the nature of the
product defect, the severity of the risk of injury, the
occurrence or absence of injury, the number of defective
products distributed, the appropriateness of such penalty in
relation to the size of the business of the person charged,
including how to mitigate undue adverse economic impacts
on small businesses, and such other factors as appropriate.
Spectrum similarly points to the regulation issued by the CPSC interpreting the factors
to be considered, which also includes the same “upon commencing” language. 16 C.F.R.
Spectrum first emphasizes that the words “shall” and “will” connote mandatory
(i.e., not optional) tasks, but it is axiomatic that “[t]he legislature’s use of terms such as
‘shall’ and ‘must,’ rather than ‘may,’ does not automatically require that the provision be
construed as mandatory, much less jurisdictional.” Milwaukee County v. Donovan, 771
F.2d 983, 990 (7th Cir. 1985). Instead, “[a] variety of factors should be considered in
determining the effect to be given the statute, including whether a mandatory
construction would yield harsh or absurd results.” Bartholomew v. United States, 740 F.2d
526, 531 (7th Cir. 1984) (citing Ralpho v. Bell, 569 F.2d 607, 627-28 (D.C. Cir. 1977)).
Moreover, the CPSC credibly represents that the commissioners considered the civil
penalty factors, albeit individually, based on a memo prepared by its Office of General
Counsel, which included an analysis of those factors. (Pl.’s Opp’n Br. (dkt. #135) at 3.)
Nevertheless, Spectrum cries foul -- not with respect to the commissioners
considering the required factors, but rather the manner in which they did so -- arguing
that the commissioners’ consideration of the evidence, deliberations and reasoning had to
be contemporaneously recorded. (See Def.’s Opening Br. (dkt. #78) at 21 (“Moreover,
when the matter was presented to the five Commissioners for a decision as to whether
there was a violation warranting penalties, they did not generate any written record
explaining and justifying their decision to seek penalties.
Apparently the only
documentation of the final decision is the set of minutes recording the Commissioners’
votes.”).) Similarly, Spectrum takes issue with the lack of specificity with which the
Commission determined the civil penalty amount to be sought in this case, arguing that
it is not sufficient for it to authorize an action up to the maximum penalty and give the
DOJ discretion to seek some lower amount.
However, nothing in the CPSA or the regulations mandates how the Commission
should consider the civil penalty factors, nor expressly limits the civil penalty amount
ultimately sought by the Department of Justice, and Spectrum’s policy arguments in
support of its interpretation are certainly not enough to persuade the court that dismissal
is required. Far from it, Spectrum is effectively arguing for robust due process rights with
regard to the Commission’s decision to prosecute, including binding the Department of
Justice to seeking a specific monetary penalty regardless of the evidence at trial, while
having all its rights to again dispute liability and the amount of any penalty before this
court. Rarely would a party be extended such sweeping due process rights in a civil
administrative proceeding without at least some deference given in any subsequent,
judicial challenge, yet the defendant here is certainly seeking de novo review and all its
due process rights before this court.
Defendant nevertheless argues that reading in a statutory requirement for the
commissioners to deliberate publicly over the civil penalty factors before referring a
matter for civil action would insure that the CPSC “exercise[s] judgment about the
seriousness of each alleged violation,” since otherwise “every manufacturer of appreciable
size will be potentially liable for the $15 million maximum penalty.” (Def.’s Br. in Sppt.
of Additional Mot. for Summ. Judg. (dkt. #140-2) at 3.) Of course, most prosecutorial
decisions, including seeking the gravest criminal penalties, are done in private, just as
they were here.
Even a grand jury’s deliberations are conducted in private without
anyone present, including a court reporter.
Other than pointing to large monetary
penalties, which pale in comparison to life in prison or capital punishment, Spectrum
offers little basis for invading that discretion here, especially since the actual decision as
to the appropriate penalty is not left to the CPSC, but rather to the courts, and then only
after the Department of Justice has presented sufficient evidence that Spectrum (or any
other manufacturer) is deserving of the penalty sought.
Finally, nothing about the
commissioners’ votes to authorize the DOJ to seek up to the maximum penalty in this
case reflects a failure to appreciate the relative severity of the alleged violations.
Spectrum also argues that the commissioners’ consideration of the factors works
hand-in-hand with 16 C.F.R. § 1119.5, which calls for written notice to a manufacturer
of the CPSC’s intention to seek a civil penalty. But Spectrum again fails to explain how
consideration in the manner suggested is statutorily required or materially different than
receiving: (1) the CPSC staff’s detailed letter notifying defendant of its intention to
recommend a civil penalty action to the commissioners (Decl. of James Hemmings Ex. G
(dkt. #34-7)); or (2) the two settlement offers the government made before litigation.
(Def.’s Opp’n Br. (dkt. #135) at 5.) Again, the only difference is that Spectrum wants
an opportunity to reduce its downside risk administratively before disputing both its
liability and any monetary penalty at trial in this court.
Spectrum next argues that Congress required the CPSC to issue a regulation
providing further detail about its interpretation of the civil penalty factors to promote
transparency. Again, neither the statute nor the regulations demand this. As the CPSC
explains in its published final interpretive rule regarding the civil penalty factors, the
requirement in the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (“CPSIA”) for
the Commission “to interpret the civil penalty factors gives transparency to the regulated
community about the framework the Commission will use to guide its penalty calculations
in the enforcement process and may provide incentives for greater compliance.” 75 Fed.
Reg. 15993-01 (Mar. 31, 2010) (emphasis added). Obviously, transparency with respect
to the factors the CPSC uses as a framework to determine what amount of civil penalties
to seek is a far cry from transparency in the form of detailed, written records chronicling
the commissioners’ actual decision-making in any particular referral for a civil
Finally, none of the cases Spectrum cites suggest that dismissal is required because
the government here “failed to satisfy a mandatory statutory precondition on bringing
suit,” or acted arbitrarily and capriciously in violation of the Administrative Procedure
Act (“APA”). (See Def.’s Mot. for Leave to File Additional Evid. (dkt. #131) at 3-4;
Def.’s Br. in Sppt. of Additional Mot. for Summ. Judg. (dkt. #140-2) at 5-8.) Spectrum
principally refers this court to a decision by the U.S. Court of International Trade in
United States v. Robert E. Landweer & Co., 816 F. Supp. 2d 1364 (Ct. Int’l Trade 2012).
In that case, U.S. Customs and Border Protection failed to perfect civil penalties assessed
administratively against a customs broker before seeking enforcement in court.
particular relevance, as the government acknowledged in that case, Customs failed to
allege the specific violations of its regulations in the meticulously detailed, pre-penalty
notice and process expressly required by that statute, 8 and so the court could not
conclude that the defendant was aware of its potential liability for those violations. Id. at
In other words, the Court of International Trade would not permit recovery of the
civil penalty (originally imposed administratively) because the defendant was not
afforded the notice and process demanded by statute as part of the administrative
penalty proceeding below. Id. at 1375; see also United States v. Optrex Am., Inc., Court No.
02-00646, 2005 WL 3447611, at *4 (Ct. Int’l Trade 2005) (“The statute was designed
to give an importer the opportunity to fully resolve a penalty proceeding before any
action in this Court[.]”). Thus, the doctrine articulated by the Court of International
Trade in Optrex and followed in Landweer bears little relationship to that before this court,
[T]he appropriate customs officer shall serve notice in writing upon any customs broker to show
cause why the broker should not be subject to a monetary penalty not to exceed $30,000 in total
for a violation or violations of this section. The notice shall advise the customs broker of the
allegations or complaints against him and shall explain that the broker has a right to respond to
the allegations or complaints in writing within 30 days of the date of the notice. Before imposing
a monetary penalty, the customs officer shall consider the allegations or complaints and any
timely response made by the customs broker and issue a written decision. A customs broker
against whom a monetary penalty has been issued under this section shall have a reasonable
opportunity under section 1618 of this title [(“Remission or mitigation of penalties”)] to make
representations seeking remission or mitigation of the monetary penalty. Following the
conclusion of any proceeding under section 1618 of this title, the appropriate customs officer
shall provide to the customs broker a written statement which sets forth the final determination
and the findings of fact and conclusions of law on which such determination is based. 19 U.S.C.
where the CPSC is not empowered to impose civil penalties administratively, but rather
must refer a matter to the Department of Justice for possible enforcement in district
court. See Athlone Indus., Inc. v. Consumer Prod. Safety Comm’n, 707 F.2d 1485, 1490-92
(D.C. Cir. 1983).
In contrast to the detailed, statutorily mandated process afforded
customs brokers, the CPSA sets forth a set of pre-enforcement factors for the CPSC to
consider internally before filing suit, not unlike the factors a state prosecutor might
consider before making a charging decision. In either case, the court will not interfere
with its decision-making process. 9
Defendant’s APA challenges fail for similar reasons. The defendant argues that by
failing to record the reasons for seeking civil penalties, the CPSC cannot demonstrate
that “the decision was the process of ‘reasoned decisionmaking.’” Owner-Operator Indep.
Drivers Ass’n v. Fed. Motor Carrier Safety Admin., 656 F.3d 580, 588 (7th Cir. 2011)
(quoting Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n of the U.S. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S.
29, 52 (1983)).
In Owner-Operator, the Seventh Circuit vacated as arbitrary and
capricious the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s final rule regarding
monitoring devices for commercial vehicles after holding a single, conclusory sentence
representing that the agency “ha[d] taken the statutory requirement into account
The other two cases defendant cites involve clearing statutory bars to bringing a lawsuit, which is
also not present under the CPSA. See Hallstrom v. Tillamook County, 493 U.S. 20, 26 (1989)
(dismissing case brought under the citizen suit provision of the Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act of 1976 for failure to follow the statute’s provision prohibiting suits unless
commenced a certain period after required notice); United States ex rel. Chovanec v. Apria Healthcare
Grp. Inc., 606 F.3d 361, 361-62 (7th Cir. 2010) (affirming dismissal of qui tam suit as barred by
statute prohibiting a “person other than the Government [from] interven[ing] or bring[ing] a
related action based on the facts underlying the pending action” because two other pending qui
tam actions against the same defendant alleged the same type of violation).
throughout the final rule” was insufficient to satisfy Congress’s mandate that the agency
“shall ensure that the devices are not used to harass vehicle operators.” Owner-Operator,
656 F.3d at 588 (alterations in original).
Moreover, in Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the
National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration acted “arbitrarily and capriciously”
by revoking its rule requiring automobile manufacturers to install passive restraints
without first considering an airbags-only requirement, which was a known technological
alternative already found by the agency to produce significant safety benefits.
Vehicle Mfrs., 463 U.S. at 49-51.
Similarly, in another case cited by defendant, the
district court held that the defendants, including the U.S. Department of Transportation,
acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to explain adequately their conclusions as to
the environmental impact of the planned construction of a new toll road. Sierra Club, Ill.
Chapter v. U.S. Dep’t of Transp., 962 F. Supp. 1037, 1043-44 (N.D. Ill. 1997).
In contrast to the CPSA and its enabling regulations, which fail to prescribe the
manner in which the CPSC must consider the enumerated § 2069(b) factors, each of the
statutes in the above cited cases do just that. See State Farm, 463 U.S. at 43 (noting after
summarizing the well-established standard for arbitrary and capricious review under the
APA, that “[f]or purposes of these cases, it is also relevant that Congress required a
record of the rulemaking proceedings to be compiled and submitted to a reviewing court,
15 U.S.C. § 1394, and intended that agency findings under the Act would be supported
by ‘substantial evidence on the record considered as a whole’”) (citations omitted);
Owner-Operator, 656 F.3d at 588 (“The Agency concedes that it would be arbitrary and
capricious not to consider this factor or fail to explain its conclusion about the risk of
harassment.”); Sierra Club, 962 F. Supp. at 1043 (“[T]his court merely holds that
information about the growth inducing impact of tollroad construction is crucial to a
reasoned conclusion as to alternatives and that the final impact statement was at least
required to explain in some meaningful way why such a study was not possible.”).
Finally, another district court already rejected a similar challenge to “the
Government’s failure to consider certain specific factors in determining the amount of
penalty to be sought upon commencement of the action,” explaining that: (a) the CPSA
did not require the CPSC to specify the amount of penalty sought “as a jurisdictional
prerequisite”; and (b) it was difficult for the defendant to show prejudice because “the
amount of the penalty will ultimately be a matter for the Court.” United States v. Advance
Mach. Co., 547 F. Supp. 1085, 1094 (D. Minn. 1982). While defendant argues that the
district court erred in analyzing whether the determination was a “jurisdictional
prerequisite,” rather than a “statutory precondition on bringing suit,” Congress did not
disrupt the Advance Machine court’s interpretation of the CPSA’s civil penalty factors in
enacting the CPSIA, even though the CPSIA required the CPSC to issue additional
guidance on the meaning of those factors. See Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U.S. 575, 580-81
(1978) (“Congress is presumed to be aware of an administrative or judicial interpretation
of a statute and to adopt that interpretation when it re-enacts a statute without change.”)
(internal citations omitted). Likely, this is because the court’s basic reasoning in Advance
Machine held up to scrutiny by Congress, just as it does before this court. The CPSA
does not describe the manner in which the CPSC must analyze the factors with the
specificity defendant desires. 10
Lacking any indication that Congress intended to
demand a transparent, deliberative process before the CPSC can file suit, the court finds
defendant’s motions for leave to challenge that process to be meritless.
Other procedural arguments
In two related, but not identical arguments, defendant also moves for summary
judgment on plaintiff’s civil penalty claims on the grounds that: (1) imposing a civil
penalty on Spectrum would violate its due process rights; and (2) the CPSC’s decision to
seek a civil penalty was arbitrary and capricious. Both arguments border on the frivolous.
First, with respect to due process, defendant principally argues that the CPSA’s
reporting requirements are so vague that they violate due process. Defendant further
contends that the CPSC’s inconsistency in determining whether defects and injuries
similar to the ones involved in this case qualify as requiring a report is violative of its due
process right to fair notice. This insufficient guidance, defendant argues, violates both
due process concerns protected by the void for vagueness doctrine: “first that regulated
parties should know what is required of them so they may act accordingly; second . . .
In United States v. Athlone Industries, Inc., 746 F.2d 977 (3d Cir. 1984), the Third Circuit
reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment on the grounds that a lawsuit under the
CPSA for civil penalties was “barred by the res judicata effect of [the government’s] earlier
declaratory and injunctive imminent hazard suit” against the defendant. Id. at 981. In
remanding the case, the Third Circuit rejected the defendant’s argument that the district court
should be affirmed because “the Commission failed to fulfill its statutory duty of determining the
amount of penalty before commencing the civil suit,” since the limited factual record did not
resolve the possible “genuine dispute whether the Commission made the required determination.”
Id. at 982 n.1 (also rejecting the defendant’s statute of limitations argument for affirmance, given
the absence of any “factual findings on the record as to this issue”). In contrast with Athlone, as
already discussed, the record here contains evidence that the commissioners considered the civil
penalty factors and authorized the DOJ to seek civil penalties up to the maximum amount.
that those enforcing the law do not act in an arbitrary or discriminatory way.” FCC v.
Fox Television Stations, Inc., 567 U.S. ___, 132 S. Ct. 2307, 2317 (2012).
Defendant’s facial vagueness argument would reduce the CPSA and the
accompanying regulations to the absurd:
First, Spectrum could not have known what was required of
them in 2009 when the CPSC says that Spectrum should
have reported in this case because the Spacemaker coffee
carafe “could” create a “substantial product hazard.” Since
any condition “could” theoretically present a substantial
product hazard, it is a standardless requirement. Under this
standard, makers of envelopes would be required to report
paper cuts because their products may be used by
hemophiliacs and “could” present a “substantial product
hazard’ to those users.”
(Def.’s Opening Br. (dkt. #78) at 9 (footnote omitted).) Contrary to this caricature, the
CPSA and interpretive regulations establish an enforceable standard for a “substantial
product hazard” -- defined as a “substantial risk of injury to the public.” See 15 U.S.C. §
2064(a); 16 C.F.R. § 1115.12(g) (both listing as considerations the pattern of defect, the
number of defective products distributed in commerce, the severity of the risk and “other
considerations”). 11 A ready response to defendant’s complaint that this guidance leaves
Indeed, even with the defendant’s envelope example, the regulations anticipate defendant’s
argument, explaining with respect to the “severity of the risk” factor that “[i]n considering the
likelihood of any injury the Commission and the staff will consider the number of injuries
reported to have occurred, the intended or reasonably foreseeable use or misuse of the product,
and the population group exposed to the product (e.g., children, elderly, handicapped).” 16
C.F.R. § 1115.12(g)(iii). Considering these factors, a manufacturer of envelopes could readily
discern that it has no reporting obligation even to hemophiliacs. Of course, paper cuts pose no
risk of a “serious” injury to hemophiliacs generally. See id. (“A risk is severe if the injury which
might occur is serious and/or if the injury is likely to occur.”); National Hemophilia Foundation,
/walk/docs/NHFFAQs.pdf (“In people with bleeding disorders, the mechanism that controls
clotting does not work properly, making any bleed last longer in duration. If the cut is not very
deep, such as a paper cut or scrape, the bleeding can stop by itself.”). Hopefully, this kind of
it uncertain as to the scope of its reporting obligation is obvious: when in doubt, report.
Contrary to defendant’s suggestion, the statute, the CPSC and the courts are not talking
about existential doubt, but rather about concrete, quantifiable doubt born out of the
existence of the factors identified in the statute and regulations, including the potential
hazard created, the number of reported defects and injuries, and the number of
potentially defective products that are in commerce. 15 U.S.C. § 2064(a)(2); 16 C.F.R. §
While defendant would prefer a more specific, unambiguous standard,
defined and enforced by the CPSC itself, Congress chose not to take that route, perhaps
out of concern that the governing agency could be coopted over time, or perhaps out of
the realization that the manufacturers and distributors were the ones with inexpensive
and ready access to the information that is required for a meaningful analysis of those
factors. See generally Neil K. Komesar, Imperfect Alternatives: Choosing Institutions in Law,
Economics, and Public Policy (1994). While Congress erred on the side of overreporting by
leaving the ultimate consideration of whether a violation should be found and penalties
assessed under a more general standard, the alternative is to adopt a more exacting
standard that shifts the burden of underreporting to unwary consumers wholly
uninformed as to the larger risk. Indeed, the common law, state and federal statutes and
regulations are all replete with such so-called “vague” standards that shift the burden to
the party with the most information, which in this case, is the manufacturer.
hyperbolic rhetoric will end at summary judgment. Such argument not only poisons those
remaining arguments that may have merit, but will open up defendant’s counsel to sanctions.
Regardless, adopting defendant’s argument that the CPSA and the CPSC’s
interpretive regulations violate due process principles because they fail to provide
sufficient clarity as to what constitutes a “substantial” or “unreasonable” risk of injury,
would also render many criminal statutes -- never mind commercial regulations -- void for
vagueness. See, e.g., Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2551, 2561 (2015)
(“As a general matter, we do not doubt the constitutionality of laws that call for the
application of a qualitative standard such as ‘substantial risk’ to real-world conduct; ‘the
law is full of instances where a man’s fate depends on his estimating rightly . . . some
matter of degree.’”) (alteration in original) (quoting Nash v. United States, 229 U.S. 373,
377 (1913)); Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611, 616 (1968) (upholding criminal statute
prohibiting picketing “in such a manner as to obstruct or unreasonably interfere with free
ingress or egress”) (emphasis added); United States v. Article of Drug Labeled “White
Quadrisect”, 484 F.2d 748, 749 (7th Cir. 1973) (rejecting vagueness challenge to “current
good manufacturing practice” provision of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act).
Finally, defendant attempts to cast its challenge of the CPSA’s standards as
involving “compelled speech” in hopes of implicating the First Amendment, and thereby
avoiding an obvious bar to its facial vagueness argument. See, e.g., United States v. Pitt Des
Moines, Inc., 168 F.3d 976, 986 (7th Cir. 1999) (“When, as here, a statute or regulation
does not implicate the First Amendment rights of a defendant, its vagueness is
determined on an ‘as applied’ basis.”) (citations omitted). 12 Again, however, defendant’s
argument proves too much.
Courts have consistently allowed impingement on
As explained in more detail below, defendant’s vagueness argument also falls short when
applied to the facts of this case.
commercial speech where a significant public policy exists. See, e.g., Jordan v. Jewel Food
Stores, Inc., 743 F.3d 509, 515 (7th Cir. 2014) (“[C]ommercial speech is constitutionally
protected but governmental burdens on this category of speech are scrutinized more
leniently than burdens on fully protected noncommercial speech.”).
2. Due process
Defendant also contends that imposing civil penalties violates the Due Process
Clause of the Constitution, at least without fair notice of its duty to report information
to the CPSC.
Specifically, defendant argues that “prior to this litigation, the
Commission consistently found there to be no substantial product hazard in numerous
coffeemaker cases that involved a number of thermal burns with severities comparable to
or worse than the minor injuries reported here,” establishing a “track record” upon which
defendant was entitled to rely.
(Def.’s Reply Br. (dkt. #119) at 7.)
defendant points to two previous CPSC investigations into “Home Café” coffeemakers
manufactured by Applica, neither of which ultimately resulted in a finding of a
substantial product hazard or civil penalty enforcement action, “even though those
products had reportedly caused burns more severe than those caused by the Carafe
Handle Issue, and in similar or greater numbers[.]” (Id. at 8.) Defendant further likens
the CPSC’s decision to seek civil penalties against Spectrum, after its decision to take no
action against the Home Café coffeemakers, to the FCC’s seeking sanctions against
television networks for broadcasting “fleeting expletives and momentary nudity” after
taking no similar action against such content or displays in the past. See Fox Television
Stations, 132 S. Ct. at 2320. In Fox, however, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the FCC
sanction because the networks “lacked notice at the time of their broadcasts that the
material they were broadcasting could be found actionably indecent under then-existing
Here, the defendant’s primary argument is that the CPSC lacked an established
policy regarding the types of defects and injuries associated with coffeemakers that would
require a section 15(b) report, at least with respect to Spectrum’s situation. The parties
are in essential agreement about the facts surrounding the investigations themselves. In
February of 2005, the CPSC notified Applica that it had received information about at
least two incidents of its HCC100 coffeemaker expelling hot steam and coffee,
potentially causing burns. (Def.’s Reply PFOF (dkt. #120) ¶¶ 44-45.) At that time,
Applica submitted a section 15(b) report in response. (Id. at ¶ 46.) By 2008, there were
531 product failures resulting in multiple injuries to children, and forty-five burns,
including multiple second-degree burns. (Id. at ¶¶ 48, 51-52, 54-56.)
The CPSC sent Applica a letter dated February 7, 2008, advising that “the nature
and degree of the risk of injury presented by [the HCC100 coffeemaker did not]
necessitate action by the Commission under Section 15 of the CPSA.” (Decl. of James
Hemmings Ex. 8 (dkt. #76-8) at 1.) The CPSC compliance officer who handled the
investigation recommended a finding of no “substantial product hazard” because the
product presented an “unlikely risk,” and her supervisor accepted that recommendation.
(Def.’s Reply PFOF (dkt. #120) ¶ 59-60.)
Similarly, after receiving reports of the coffeemaker spraying hot water, steam and
coffee on consumers, the CPSC opened an investigation into another Home Café
coffeemaker, model GT300, in March of 2007. (Def.’s Reply PFOF (dkt. #120) ¶ 62.)
Injuries associated with the GT300 coffeemaker also included multiple reports of
second-degree burns. (Id. at ¶¶ 64-67.) Nevertheless, the investigation into the model
GT300 coffeemaker again resulted in no further action against Applica, and though the
CPSC did not formally inform Applica that the investigation was closed, Applica assumed
as much in light of the passage of time. (Id. at ¶ 68.) Defendant now argues that it was
entitled to rely on this lack of action regarding Home Café coffeemakers in deciding not
to report the failures of the SpaceMaker coffeemakers, particularly since the Home Café
coffeemakers caused similar, if not more severe, safety risks. 13
In response, plaintiff argues that defendant reads too much into the Home Café
investigations, both because: (1) the threshold for reporting a potential defect is lower
than the standard that the CPSC applies to determine whether a defect rises to a
substantial product hazard; and (2) the results of those investigations should not be
interpreted as establishing any particular “policy.” As to the first argument, plaintiff
argues that manufacturers are required under section 15(b) to report “information which
Defendant acknowledges that “product manufacturers never know the true basis for the
Commission’s decisions to close a matter or request a product recall involving other
manufacturer’s products,” but points to at least nine other CPSC investigations into allegedly
defective coffeemakers presenting “comparable risks of burns or scalding . . ., including three
involving handle failures” to support its claim that the results of the Home Café investigations
were “not outliers.” (Def.’s Opening Br. (dkt. #78) at 16-18.) Indeed, the CPSC concluded in all
but one that no substantial product hazard existed. (Id.) On the other hand, plaintiff cites the
CPSC’s notice of settlement with West Bend Housewares, LLC, that was published in the federal
register in 2006. 71 Fed. Reg. 26,754-01 (May 8, 2006). The West Bend settlement resolved the
CPSC’s allegations that the manufacturer failed to immediately report “at least 169 reports of
[carafe] handle breakage and at least two (2) reports of minor burns and/or cuts as a result of the
handle breakage,” as well as its analyses of two returned carafes and an engineering change it
implemented. (Id.) Plaintiff argues that the published notice of this settlement should have
alerted defendant to its obligation to report similar information with respect to the SpaceMaker
reasonably supports the conclusion that [a consumer] product . . . contains a defect which
could create a substantial product hazard.” 15 U.S.C. § 2064(b) (emphasis added). On
its face, this is a lower standard than whether a substantial product hazard actually exists.
See 16 C.F.R. § 1115.12(1). As plaintiff also points out, this difference is confirmed in
practice, as less than 20% of non-fast track section 15(b) reports result in the CPSC
finding that a substantial product hazard exists. (Decl. of Robert Jackson Howell, Jr.
(dkt. #98) ¶ 11).
Finally, plaintiff directs the court to the Third Circuit’s decision in United States v.
Mirama Enterprises, Inc., 387 F.3d 983 (9th Cir. 2004), which rejected a manufacturer’s
argument that the government must prove that a product is actually defective before
obtaining civil penalties for a notice violation under § 2064(b):
Where a manufacturer fails to report a potential defect, but it
turns out that no actual defect exists, the Commission may
decide not to seek a penalty. That does not mean, however,
that there was no violation of section 2064(b).
It makes sense for Congress to have imposed fines for
reporting failures even when a product turns out not to be
defective. Information about a possible defect triggers the
duty to report, which in turn allows the Commission either to
conclude that no defect exists or to require appropriate
corrective action. Congress’s decision to impose penalties for
reporting violations without requiring proof of a product
defect encourages companies to provide necessary
information to the Commission.
Id. at 988-89.
In reply, defendant argues that there must be some minimum standard of risk
below which a company need not report and emphasizes that the CPSC’s “Recall
Handbook” informs companies that the CPSC “undertakes the same product hazard
analysis as that requested of firms” by first assessing whether there is a defect, and then
“assess[ing] the substantiality of the risk presented to the public, using the criteria listed
in section 15.” (Def.’s Reply PFOF (dkt. #120) ¶ 22.) But this just begs the question as
to what that floor is, and defendant offers no support in the language of the statute, case
law or policy that it should be the same, or even a similar, standard.
Plaintiff does not contend that companies must report all potential defects
regardless of their seriousness.
Moreover, the passage from the handbook merely
encourages companies to analyze the section 15 factors before deciding whether to
report; it does not contradict § 2064(b), which expressly requires a company to report
even when no substantial product hazard may actually exist, and certainly does not
render the CPSC’s decision to seek a civil penalty for defendant’s failure to report the
SpaceMaker carafes a violation of Spectrum’s due process rights for lack of fair notice.
Defendant’s other argument that the Home Café investigations established a
“policy” governing injuries caused by defective coffeemakers is no more persuasive. Even
crediting defendant’s premise that the CPSC staff’s closures of investigations may
establish CPSC policy over time regarding certain types of defects or injuries, the CPSC
determines on a case-by-case basis whether a defective product presents a substantial
product hazard by applying several, general factors. Therefore, even if multiple cases
involve products of a similar type or design and present similar risks of injury, a number
of factors, including the nature of the defect, as well as the number and severity of
injuries, could reasonably lead to different results in analogous cases.
16 C.F.R. §
1115.12 (noting that any one factor could create a substantial product hazard).
Here, the CPSC compliance officer assigned to investigate the HCC100
coffeemaker based her “no substantial product hazard” recommendation on at least two
material factors that do not apply to the SpaceMaker coffeemakers:
(1) “based on
independent testing by Exponent laboratories, the failure scenario is not likely to be
forceful and energetic enough to justify [a finding] that an injury is likely to occur”; and
(2) “it does not appear likely that a consumer would be in close proximity of the product
at the time of failure.” (Def.’s Resp. Supp. PFOF (dkt. #121) ¶ 26.) Accordingly, in
contrast to the fleeting expletive and momentary nudity that appeared consistent with
long-standing regulatory policy in Fox Television Stations, 132 S. Ct. at 2318, Spectrum
can point to no established CPSC policy regarding a threshold for a substantial hazard
involving defective coffeemakers that the SpaceMaker carafes plainly did not meet, much
less relieving it of a duty to report the possible defects in the carafes’ handles. 14
Defendant also makes a related argument invoking the APA, contending the
“Commission’s conclusion that Spectrum violated Section 15(b) of the CPSA is arbitrary
and capricious, both because the Commission did not (1) ground its analysis in terms of
the Act and the governing regulations, and (2) explain why it was deviating from its
consistent prior decisions deeming burn hazards posed by coffeemakers like the
Spacemaker not to be substantial product hazards or unreasonable risks of serious injury
under Section 15(b).” (Def.’s Opening Br. (dkt. #78) at 20 (emphasis in original).)
With respect to the first argument, defendant contends that the CPSC’s decision to refer
Also, defendant’s fair notice arguments generally lack force given the absence of evidence that
defendant actually relied on the CPSC’s supposed “policy” regarding coffeemakers in deciding not
to make a section 15 report.
this case to the DOJ was arbitrary and capricious because the commissioners “did not
generate any written record explaining and justifying their decision to seek penalties” and
failed to follow “basic, well-accepted risk assessment principles.” (Id. at 21.) Recasting
its argument under the APA does not change the result for reasons already discussed -neither the CPSA or the CPSC’s regulations require the commissioners to reduce their
consideration of the factors for seeking a civil penalty to a formal writing, nor do those
same authorities require the CPSC to apply the particular standards and procedures
defendant would implement. 15
The court likewise rejects defendant’s second assertion that the CPSC’s failure to
explain its “departure” from the results of the Home Café investigations renders its
referral of Spectrum for prosecution arbitrary or capricious. As already discussed, the
Home Café decisions do not amount to contrary or controlling “precedent” with respect
to Spectrum’s decision not to give the CPSC notice of the defect in the handle of
SpaceMaker coffeemakers. 16
Again, the cases defendant cites for the proposition that the CPSC must memorialize the
commissioners’ consideration of the civil penalty determination factors involve agency actions
that directly affect a party’s rights, unlike the CPSC’s referral for prosecution to the DOJ here.
See, e.g., Motor Vehicle Mfrs., 463 U.S. at 42-43 (noting that an agency that rescinds a rule
promulgated under formal rulemaking “must examine the relevant data and articulate a
satisfactory explanation for its action including a rational connection between the facts found and
the choice made”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Rapoport v. SEC, 682 F.3d 98,
108 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (stating that in an administrative penalty action, “the SEC must provide
some meaningful explanation for imposing sanctions”).
While the court will grant the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturer’s (“AHAM’s”)
motion for leave to file an amicus curiae brief (dkt. #91), it largely retreads defendant’s arguments
regarding Spectrum’s reliance on CPSC investigations into similar products and defects in
deciding whether to submit a section 15(b) report. Thus, for the multiple reasons discussed
above, the court is not persuaded that AHAM’s brief compels a different result in any respect.
Statute of limitations
Defendant further moves for summary judgment on plaintiff’s civil penalty claims
as time-barred. The parties agree that since the CPSA does not have its own statute of
limitations, the default statute of limitations for civil penalty enforcement actions
requires plaintiff to file suit “within five years from the date when the claim first
accrued.” 28 U.S.C. § 2462.
Under section 15(b), a manufacturer, retailer or distributor of a consumer product
is obligated to “immediately” inform the CPSC of a defect “unless” it has “actual
knowledge that the Commission has been adequately informed of such defect[.]” Based
on this language, defendant argues, “the obligation to report under section 15(b) first
accrues or arises upon receipt of information from which one could reasonably conclude
the existence of a substantial product hazard or an unreasonable risk of serious injury or
death.” (Def.’s Opening Br. (dkt. #30) at 4.) Since plaintiff contends that defendant
should have filed a section 15(b) report by May of 2009, then defendant argues that
plaintiff’s civil penalty claims, filed on June 17, 2015, are a year too late. In contrast,
plaintiff interprets this same language from § 2064(b) as meaning that defendant’s
violation of section 15(b) began when it failed to report information it was obligated to
report but “continued ‘unless’ Spectrum had actual knowledge the CPSC was adequately
informed.” (Pl.’s Opp’n Br. (dkt. #40) at 9.) In other words, plaintiff contends that
“Spectrum’s reporting violation was ongoing.” (Id.)
In support of its statute of limitations argument, defendant cites two cases for the
proposition that the general five-year statute of limitations is to be applied without
tolling by the “continuing violations” doctrine. In Gabelli v. SEC, 568 U.S. ___, 133 S.
Ct. 1216 (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit’s application of
the discovery rule to toll § 2462’s statute of limitations in an action for civil penalties
brought by the SEC for violations that “sounded in fraud.” 133 S. Ct. at 1220, 1224. In
reaching that conclusion, the Court noted several “good reasons why the fraud discovery
rule has not been extended to Government enforcement actions for civil penalties,”
including that the government: (1) has investigative tools not available to private parties;
(2) seeks penalties rather than recompense; and (3) can assert several privileges to make
it difficult to determine what knowledge it had at any given time. Id. at 1221-24.
In the second case cited by defendant, United States v. Midwest Generation, LLC,
720 F.3d 644 (7th Cir. 2013), the Seventh Circuit similarly rejected the government’s
argument that the defendant’s failure to obtain a construction permit before modifying
its coal-fired power plants in violation of the Clean Air Act created a “continuing
violation.” Id. at 646. In particular, the court concluded that defendant did not commit
“fresh violations” every day the plants operated because the plain text of the act required
a plant operator to act “before constructing or modifying” a plant. Id. at 647. In other
words, the particular violation of the Clean Air Act alleged was “complete when
construction commence[d] without a permit in hand,” since the relevant provision of the
act only concerned “conditions precedent to construction or modification.”
reaching its holding, the Seventh Circuit explained that Gabelli “teaches us not to read
statutes in a way that would abolish effective time constraints on litigation.” Id.
In response, plaintiff cites two cases of its own. In Advance Machine, the district
court rejected a manufacturer’s argument that the lawsuit was time-barred. See 547 F.
Supp. at 1089. The court concluded that a cause of action under section 15(b) of the
Act “first accrues” when the manufacturer fails to timely report, but further explained
that “[a]s this is a continuing duty, however, the statute of limitations does not start
running until a report is filed or the manufacturer acquires actual knowledge that the
Commission is adequately informed.” Id. at 1091. Similarly the district court in United
States v. Michaels Stores, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-1203, 2016 WL 1090666 (N.D. Tex. Mar. 21,
2016), denied defendants’ motion to dismiss the government’s CPSA civil penalty claims
as time-barred, agreeing with the government that “the violations first began when
Michaels obtained the information regarding the vases’ defect in the expert report and
continued until Michaels obtained actual knowledge that the Commission was
adequately informed of the defect or risk of injury.” Id. at *2.
The court is persuaded that plaintiff’s interpretation is correct. Although Gabelli
and Midwest Generation require courts to avoid extending the § 2462 statute of limitations
where inconsistent with the text of the statute and sound policy, neither require the
plaintiff to file suit before the alleged violation is “complete.” With respect to the SEC
enforcement action in Gabelli, the Court stated that “[t]he question is whether the
five-year clock begins to tick when the fraud is complete or when the fraud is discovered,”
holding that the former triggered the statute of limitations. 133 S. Ct. at 1219 (emphasis
Similarly, the Seventh Circuit declared in Midwest Generation that “[t]he
violation [of the preconstruction permitting requirement] is complete when construction
commences without a permit in hand.” 720 F.3d at 647 (emphasis added).
In contrast, a company’s violation of section 15(b) is not “complete” if it fails to
immediately report a defect; instead, it is complete once the company actually submits a
late report or “has actual knowledge that the Commission has been adequately informed
of such defect[.]” 17 Id. Certainly, defendant would not argue that its section 15(b)
obligation to report a possibly defective product expires twenty-four hours after that duty
first arises. See 16 C.F.R. § 1115.14 (defining “immediately” in section 15(b) as “24
Although both cases defendant cites require careful application of the continuing
violations doctrine, neither precludes its application to the causes of action at issue here.
Indeed, after Midwest Generation, the Seventh Circuit posited that the continuing
violations doctrine may apply in the context of a securities disciplinary action.
Birkelbach v. SEC, 751 F.3d 472, 479 n.7 (7th Cir. 2014) (raising but not addressing the
possibility that the continuing violations doctrine may “permit the SEC to consider
untimely violative conduct so long as there was some timely violative conduct and the
conduct as a whole can be considered as a single course of conduct”) (citing Haugerud v.
Amery Sch. Dist., 259 F.3d 678, 690 (7th Cir. 2001)). That is certainly true with respect
to violations of section 15(b), which instructs courts to penalize an ongoing failure to
report as a “related series of violations,” not as a single violation.
15 U.S.C. §
Defendant also argues that the CPSC was adequately informed before May of 2009, and thus it
was not required to submit a section 15(b) report, but the court also rejects this argument for
reasons explained below.
2069(a)(1). Moreover, it is consistent with Seventh Circuit principles underlying the
continuing violations doctrine to consider plaintiff’s claims timely here. In the Title VII
context, the Seventh Circuit has explained that “[t]he continuing violations doctrine
allows a court to consider as timely all discriminatory conduct relevant to a claim, so long
as there is sufficient evidence of a pattern or policy of discrimination.” Hagerud, 259
F.3d at 690 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Here, plaintiff’s § 2064(b)
claims are based on a single pattern or course of conduct. Additionally, in the context of
the Eighth Amendment, the Seventh Circuit has stated that “[a] violation is called
‘continuing,’ signifying that a plaintiff can reach back to its beginning even if that
beginning lies outside the statutory limitations period, when it would be unreasonable to
require or even permit him to sue separately over every incident of the defendant’s
unlawful conduct.” Heard v. Sheahan, 253 F.3d 316, 319 (7th Cir. 2001).
As for section 15(b), it would be nonsensical to require plaintiff to bring a separate
suit for each product in the stream of commerce (or whatever smaller unit of
measurement than the complete course of conduct) that it alleges should have been
See Mirama, 387 F.3d at 986-88 (holding that the distributor committed
“30,000 to 40,000 reporting offenses,” or one for each of the products in the stream of
commerce it failed to report, and not only twenty-three offenses for the units about
which it received customer complaints). Nor does it make sense to preclude the CPSC
from holding a company liable for a continuing failure to report a product defect that
continues to manifest itself and injure simply because the first time that failure ripened
to a cause of action arguably fell outside the applicable five year statute of limitations,
particularly where the egregiousness of the company’s failure to report increases with an
exponential increase in reports of the products’ failures, if not injuries, as is true here.
Accordingly, the court agrees with Advance Machine and Michaels that a cause of
action under § 2064(b) for a company’s alleged failure to make a timely section 15(b)
report accrues not when the company first fails to report, but rather when its reporting
obligation ends -- that is, when it eventually reports or gains actual knowledge that the
government is adequately informed.
This interpretation of the accrual of § 2064(b)
claims is not only consistent with the CPSA’s purpose to encourage early reporting of
defects to protect the public. See Advance Machine, 547 F. Supp. at 1090 (observing that
the defendant’s interpretation of the statute of limitations would incentivize companies
to “obfuscate rather than inform”). It also satisfies the line-drawing concerns expressed
by the Supreme Court in Gabelli. See 133 S. Ct. at 1223 (reasoning that courts should
avoid interpreting statutes of limitations in a manner that would “leave defendants
exposed to Government enforcement action not only for five years after their misdeeds,
but for an additional uncertain period into the future” or would “hinge on speculation
about what the Government knew, when it knew it, and when it should have known it”).
Plaintiff’s claim for the imposition of civil penalties is, therefore, still timely. 18
Even if the accrual date for purposes of the five year statute of limitations began with the
earliest possible date that Spectrum had a duty to report, the court is not necessarily persuaded
that date is May 9, 2008. As discussed below, while this is the date the CPSC argues the duty to
report ripened, the court does not find this to be true as a matter of law. If the CPSC were to
persist in its assertion as a matter of fact that Spectrum’s duty arose as of that date, and Spectrum
was right on the accrual date, we would have the perverse situation where Spectrum would insist
its duty to report was non-existent, but if it existed dated back to the date the CPSC asserts.
II. Substantive Merits
With defendant’s myriad procedural defenses out of the way, the court turns to
the merits of the parties’ dispute: whether defendant violated the reporting requirement
set forth in section 15(b).
A. Duty to report
As an initial matter, defendant argues that it never had any duty to report the
carafe failures because the CPSC was adequately informed of the risk by the time any
arguable obligation to report arose. In support, defendant cites a customer’s complaint to
the CPSC, dated March 31, 2009, of a possible defect in a carafe, which then prompted
an investigation by the CPSC. Spectrum received the results of that investigation on July
In response, plaintiff argues that the statutory “safe harbor” for reporting a defect
under the CPSA is availing only when the company knows that the CPSC has been
“adequately informed,” which is defined in the relevant regulation as either: (1) the
company has submitted a section 15 report; or (2) the CPSC has “informed the subject
firm that [it] is adequately informed.” 16 C.F.R. § 1115.3(a). Plaintiff also cites United
States v. Mirama Enterprises, Inc., 185 F. Supp. 2d 1148 (S.D. Cal. 2002), in which a
district court reasoned that “a letter from the [CPSC] to a company about a consumer
complaint does not itself relieve a company of the reporting requirement, unless the only
information the company holds is the same as the information the Commission
possesses.” Id. at 1163.
Defendant argues that this narrow definition of “adequately informed” in the
interpretive regulations lacks the force of law, as well as persuasive force, since it
essentially reduces the reporting exception to no exception at all. While not entirely
true, since an inquiry of the CPSC as to the need to report might result in a response that
it is “adequately informed,” the defendant makes a fair point. However, this still leaves
the test adopted in the Mirama decision, which strikes this court as sensible -- the
company and CPSC have the same material information. While defendant argues that
the CPSC knew more about the nature of the defect and injuries here than it did in
Mirama, the district court found that the CPSC was not adequately informed in Mirama
despite the defendant’s report of a potential defect in a juicer it manufactured. Id. at
This is because at the time of the manufacturer’s report, it was aware of 23
incidents of the juicer shattering, causing at least 22 injuries, while the CPSC only knew
of seven such incidents. Id.
Applying the Mirama test, the question here is again whether the CPSC is
adequately informed about the potential defect. This depends not only on the degree of
knowledge that the CPSC has about the particular defect and injuries associated with the
product, but on the extent to which the CPSC’s knowledge overlaps with the
This overlap avoids the otherwise distinct possibility that the CPSC’s
To be strictly exempted from the section 15(b) reporting requirement under Mirama, the
CPSC’s knowledge must not only adequately overlap with the company’s, but the company must
arguably have “actual knowledge” of that overlap. 185 F.3d at 1163 (explaining that a letter
regarding a consumer complaint from the CPSC to a manufacturer may actually trigger the
reporting requirement, because “[w]hen a consumer contacts the Commission, the consumer may
not communicate the same information that is communicated to the company”). This court need
not go so far, nor is it persuaded that the safe harbor under section 15(b) requires it, though
limited knowledge of a single or even a few consumer complaints might lead it to
attribute the complaints as resulting from anomalous accidents, while a company having
received hundreds of complaints, some including burns and cuts, would likely lead to a
wholly different conclusion.
Under this definition, the section 15(b) safe harbor is
admittedly a high bar, but it is one that is readily reached by a company disclosing the
full extent of its knowledge with respect to the possible defect, the number of suspected
failures, and the range of injuries experienced. Of course, such a fulsome disclosure may
well run counter to the instincts of a company’s executives, and even its outside counsel,
but then the company only loses its claim to the safe harbor under section 15(b). As the
Mirama court found, this interpretation of the safe harbor is also consistent with the
CPSA’s structure and purpose to make the reporting requirement one of the CPSC’s
“most potent weapons.” 387 F.3d at 986.
The following table 20 illustrates the gap between the number of complaints and
injuries of which Applica/Spectrum had at least imputed knowledge compared to the
knowledge the CPSC had each time it sent notifications of individual consumer
complaints it had received:
obviously a manufacturer who wants to assume the safe harbor applies is well advised to ensure
the CPSC’s knowledge overlaps with its own.
The values in the table are derived from the table found in plaintiff’s declaration (Decl. of
Christopher J. Paparo (dkt. #57) ¶ 9), which summarizes a spreadsheet produced by Spectrum
during discovery and contains information about all the consumer reports Applica and Spectrum
received regarding carafe failures, supplemented by the parties’ undisputed facts regarding the
CPSC letters. (Pl.’s Reply PFOF (dkt. #114) ¶¶ 138, 164, 165, 166, 167.)
noting a burn, scald,
Date of CPSC letter
(Awareness of total
# of complaints;
awareness of total #
Jan. 1, 2009
Feb. 28, 2009
Mar. 31, 2009
Apr. 30, 2009
May 31, 2009
June 30, 2009
June 30, 2009 (1; 1)
Jan. 1, 2010
Feb. 26, 2010 (3; 1)
Mar. 31, 2010 (5; 2)
June 30, 2010
Jan. 1, 2011
Sep. 30, 2010 (6; 3)
Dec. 31, 2010 (8; 3)
Jan. 1, 2012
Apr. 2, 2012
Applying the Mirama “overlapping knowledge” test to these undisputed facts,
Spectrum is plainly not entitled to section 15(b)’s safe harbor. For example, when the
CPSC first wrote on June 30, 2009, to inquire about an individual complaint, Spectrum
already knew of seventy-nine more carafe failures than did the CPSC, as well as three more
instances of injuries, one of which required medical attention. In addition, the CPSC
was unaware that Applica was already aware of a defect in the carafe handles and working
on a remedial solution. By the time the CPSC sent additional notifications on February
26 and March 31, 2010, Applica and Spectrum were aware of at least 300 more reports
of carafe failures and twelve more injuries. By the CPSC’s September 30 and December
31, 2010, notifications, Applica and Spectrum knew of over a thousand more failures and
dozens more injuries than did the CPSC. Even at the time Spectrum finally filed its
section 15 report in April of 2012, the CPSC was still not told that Applica had changed
the design of the carafes in 2009 in an attempt to remedy the defect, nor that Spectrum
had voluntarily recalled the carafes in March of 2012! Accordingly, the undisputed facts
demonstrate that the CPSC was not “adequately informed” about the carafe failures, and
no reasonable jury could find otherwise. As a result, Spectrum cannot rely on the 15(b)
safe harbor from its obligation to report timely.
B. Application of duty to report
The remaining question is whether either party is entitled to summary judgment
as to Spectrum’s obligation to submit a section 15 report for its Black & Decker
coffeemakers before April of 2012. Again, the relevant facts are not in material dispute.
Applica first received a customer complaint regarding a broken carafe handle in
November of 2008.
By February of 2009, it had received fifteen more complaints,
including a report of a customer’s hand being burned. Applica conducted two “returned
product analyses” on broken carafes returned in March and April of 2009, both of which
described similar conditions affecting the broken handles. By May of 2009, Applica had
begun selling carafes with design changes it had asked the manufacturer to propose and
implement. Applica first learned that the CPSC had received a complaint regarding a
carafe handle by letter dated June 30, 2009, which described the customer’s report of a
broken handle and minor burns. The CPSC sent Spectrum additional notifications about
seven more complaints received in 2010, but as reflected in the table, Spectrum knew by
then that those few complaints and reported injuries were just the tip of the iceberg,
something the CPSC would not learn until Spectrum finally filed its report in 2012.
On these facts, no reasonable jury could find that defendant “immediately”
informed the CPSC about “information which reasonably supports the conclusion” that
the carafes “contain[ed] a defect which could create a substantial product hazard.”
15 U.S.C. § 2064(b). Nevertheless, the defendant stresses that the actual injuries about
which it had received reports were not serious, but that fact alone hardly changes the
court’s findings. First, by its plain language, the section 15(b) reporting obligation is
triggered under either § 2064(b)(3) or (4) not by a company becoming aware of an
actual, serious injury involving its products, but rather its awareness of a substantial
hazard or risk of serious injury. Second, under § 2064(b)(3), the injury need not be
“serious.” See 15 U.S.C. § 2064(a)(2) (defining a “substantial product hazard” as “a
product defect which (because of the pattern of defect, the number of defective products
distributed in commerce, the severity of risk, or otherwise) creates a substantial risk of
injury to the public”); see also 16 C.F.R. § 1115.12(g) (stating that the § 2064(a)(2)
factors are “set forth in the disjunctive,” meaning that “the existence of any one of the
factors could create a substantial product hazard”). Third, there is no evidence on this
record that Spectrum ever followed up on the complaints or injuries to verify their true
severity, nor that it made any independent survey to determine if other catastrophic
failures were occurring without complaint to Spectrum. 21
Even more to the point, the CPSC’s interpretive regulations explain that a
significant degree of exposure of the possibly defective product to the public, or the
likelihood that it will cause injury, can give rise to a substantial product hazard regardless
of whether there is a risk of a serious injury. 16 C.F.R. § 1115.4(e) (“Most defects could
present a substantial product hazard if the public is exposed to significant numbers of
defective products or if the possible injury is serious or is likely to occur.”). That same
provision amplifies the driving principle of the CPSA’s reporting requirement: companies
are strongly encouraged not to wait to report until a potential defect causes a serious
injury, but rather to report when they first appreciate that their product may contain a
defect that could injure people, even when the risk of serious injury is in doubt. 22 Id.
Although only one of the approximately thirty consumer complaints cited in plaintiff’s
proposed findings of fact indicates that the consumer sought medical attention for an injury
caused by a broken handle, reports from several consumers reflected the risk that the burns they
did sustain could easily have been worse (i.e., a March 3, 2010, report from a consumer who
“poured hot coffee all over him[self]”) or that serious burns were narrowly avoided (i.e., a March
17, 2009, report from a consumer who “slightly” burned his hand, but also stated that “luckily he
did not have a full pot of coffee or he would have been seriously injured”). (Pl.’s Reply PFOF
(dkt. #114) ¶¶ 99, 159.) Thus, Spectrum’s proclaimed confidence that no risk of serious injury
was presented by the carafe failures appears overly optimistic, at best, and the result of Spectrum
burying its head in the proverbial sand reflected by the superficial reporting of its own customer
service representatives at worst. Of course, the likelihood of serious injuries and the seriousness
of the injuries actually caused by the product may well be relevant to the amount of civil penalties
that should be assessed against a company for failing to make a section 15(b) report timely.
To further encourage reporting, a company submitting a section 15(b) report is deemed not to
be an admission of liability. 16 C.F.R. 1115.12(a) (“A subject firm in its report to the
Commission need not admit, or may specifically deny, that the information it submits reasonably
supports the conclusion that its consumer product is noncomplying, contains a defect which could
create a substantial product hazard within the meaning of section 15(b) of the CPSA, or creates
an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.”).
(“Since the extent of public exposure and/or the likelihood or seriousness of injury are
ordinarily not known at the time a defect first manifests itself, subject firms are urged to
report if in doubt as to whether a defect could present a substantial product hazard.”).
Defendant’s argument that it had no duty to report the carafe handles because none of
the reported injuries rose to any particular level of seriousness, therefore, fails.
Certainly, by May of 2009, defendant had information supporting the conclusion
that a defect in the carafe handles constituted a substantial product hazard. By that
time, defendant: (1) was aware of 60 reports of broken handles and four burns; (2)
identified a similar cause of the breakages in two separately returned carafes; and (3)
implemented design changes in an attempt to remedy the handle issue. See 16 C.F.R. §
1115.12 (in deciding whether to report under section 15(b), a firm should evaluate
“safety-related production or design change(s)”). Even if a reasonable jury were to find
that the defendant could still have doubts as to the pervasiveness of the defects or the
risk of injury, no reasonable jury would find that any of defendant’s doubts were justified
by June 30, 2010, when defendant was aware of some 714 failures and thirty-five injuries,
including one requiring medical attention. 23 That additional information unquestionably
triggered defendant’s obligation to report. Since defendant had actual knowledge of the
information that required a report, it “knowingly” failed to do so, and no reasonable jury
While either party is arguably entitled to a jury trial on the limited issue of determining the
specific date Spectrum’s reporting obligation arose, this court will consider those arguments in
determining the appropriate civil penalty. As a practical matter, however, there would appear to
be little reason why either party would want to undertake the expense of trying that single,
narrow issue to a jury.
could find otherwise. See 15 U.S.C. § 2069(d) (“[T]he term ‘knowingly’ means (1) the
having of actual knowledge, or (2) the presumed having of knowledge deemed to be
possessed by a reasonable man who acts in the circumstances, including knowledge
obtainable upon the exercise of due care to ascertain the truth of representations.”).
Accordingly, the court will grant summary judgment on liability to plaintiff as to Count
III. Motion to Dismiss Claim for Injunctive Relief
Defendant also moved to dismiss one count of the complaint as a matter of law,
arguing that plaintiff’s allegations and the CPSA do not support the award of injunctive
relief. (Dkt. #6.) Although defendant provides reason to doubt plaintiff’s ability to
show that the scope of injunctive relief prayed for in the complaint is warranted, there is
a dearth of case law supporting dismissal in this context at the pleadings stage, making
dismissal of the prayer for injunctive relief premature at best. For much the same reason,
the court finds the same to be true at summary judgment, although defendant makes a
more persuasive argument that injunctive relief may be unnecessary.
“A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the
sufficiency of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
Diamond Ctr., Inc. v. Leslie’s Jewelry Mfg. Corp., 562 F. Supp. 2d 1009, 1013 (W.D. Wis.
2008). A plaintiff need not provide detailed factual allegations, but must provide enough
facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face and “allow the court to infer more than
Since the court has found defendant liable under 15 U.S.C. § 2064(b)(3), there is no need to
address its liability under § 2064(b)(4).
the mere possibility of misconduct.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). “A
pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do.’” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). When evaluating a complaint’s sufficiency, the court construes it in the light
most favorable to the party not seeking dismissal, accepts well-pled facts as true, and
draws all inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Reger Dev., LLC v. Nat’l City Bank,
592 F.3d 759, 763 (7th Cir. 2010).
Defendant moves to dismiss Count IV of the complaint, in which plaintiff seeks
injunctive relief, alleging “a reasonable likelihood that Defendant will continue to violate
the CPSA reporting requirement and the CPSA prohibition on the sale, offer for sale,
distribution in commerce, or importation into the United States of recalled products[.]” 25
(Compl. (dkt. #1) ¶ 58.) In the “Relief Requested” section of the complaint, plaintiff
seeks for the court to:
Award the United States injunctive relief against Defendant
as set forth in Count IV, in accordance with 15 U.S.C. §
2071(a)(1), that would: (1) require Defendant to comply
with the reporting requirements of the CPSA and its
accompanying regulations; (2) require Defendant to comply
with the CPSA’s prohibition on the sale, distribution, or
importation of recalled products; (3) assure such compliance
by requiring Defendant to establish internal recordkeeping
and monitoring systems designed to provide timely reports to
the CSPC whenever Defendant obtains information which
reasonably supports the conclusion that any of their products
contain a defect which could create a substantial product
hazard or creates an unreasonable risk of serious injury or
death to consumers, and designed to prevent the sale,
Counts I and II of the complaint seek civil penalties for violations of the CPSA based on the
facts described above, and Count III seeks civil penalties for Spectrum’s sale or distribution of the
coffeemakers after the CPSC announced their recall, in violation of § 2068(a)(2)(B) of the Act.
distribution, or importation of recalled products; (4) provide
for liquidated damages in the event that Defendant fails to
comply with the reporting requirements of the CPSA and the
CPSA prohibition on the sale, distribution, or importation of
recalled products; and (5) require Defendant to establish an
escrow account containing funds that could be used to pay any
liquidated damages imposed by the Court.
(Compl. (dkt. #1) ¶ II (emphasis added).)
Defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff’s prayer for injunctive relief on the basis that
the Act does not authorize the CPSC to seek the forms of relief requested in the
Specifically, defendant argues that dismissal of Count IV is appropriate
because: (1) plaintiff seeks an improper “obey the law” injunction; (2) the CPSA does
not authorize plaintiff to seek a prospective injunction, liquidated damages or the creation
of an escrow account; and (3) even if the CPSA permits plaintiff to seek the injunctive
relief requested, the allegations in the complaint are insufficient to support such relief.
Each of these grounds for dismissal fails for largely the same reason: defendant presents
strong arguments to doubt the merits of entering the various forms of injunctive relief
described in the complaint, but has not convinced the court that such relief is so plainly
prohibited by law as to justify dismissal of Count IV at the pleadings stage, before further
development of the facts.
In relevant part, the CPSA grants district courts the jurisdiction to:
(1) Restrain any violation of [15 U.S.C. § 2068 (“Prohibited
(2) Restrain any person from manufacturing for sale, offering
for sale, distributing in commerce, or importing into the
United States a product in violation of an order in effect
under [15 U.S.C. § 2064(d)].
(3) Restrain any person from distributing in commerce a
product which does not comply with a consumer product
15 U.S.C. § 2071(a) (emphasis added).
The parties disagree whether the plain language of § 2071(a)(1) -- namely, the
“restrain any violation” language -- limits the court to enjoin only “a violation that is
presently occurring.” (Def.’s Opening Br. (dkt. #8) at 5.) Defendant argues primarily
that the language of the CPSA contrasts with both the Securities Act of 1933 and the
Exchange Act of 1934, which permit the SEC to seek an injunction when it appears that
“any person is engaged or is about to engage in acts or practices” violating the securities
laws. 15 U.S.C. § 77t(b) (emphasis added); 15 U.S.C. § 78u(d)(1) (emphasis added).
Because the CPSA does not include language similar to the “about to engage” language in
those statutes, defendant argues, Congress plainly did not intend for the CPSC to seek
forward-looking injunctions. With respect to plaintiff’s request for liquidated damages
and the creation of an escrow account, defendant makes essentially the same arguments:
because the CPSA does not expressly provide for those remedies, they are not available to
As an initial matter, the case law defendant cites in support of its argument that
the court should essentially evaluate the wording of a possible permanent injunction or
the forms of injunctive relief requested at the motion to dismiss stage is thin, particularly
in the context presented here. In United States v. Toys “R” Us, Inc., 754 F. Supp. 1050
(D.N.J. 1991), the district court concluded that the CPSC had failed to show a sufficient
likelihood that the defendant would commit future violations of the CPSA only after
reviewing a developed factual record. Id. at 1059-61; see also United States v. Zen Magnets,
LLC, 170 F. Supp. 3d 1365, 1378 (D. Colo. 2016) (granting the CPSC’s motion for
summary judgment and for a permanent injunction under § 2071(a)(1) recalling
products that the CPSC alleged were hazardous, having denied earlier the CPSC’s motion
for a preliminary injunction recalling the products, see United States v. Zen Magnets, LLC,
104 F. Supp. 3d 1277, 1283 n.5 (D. Colo. 2015)). Accordingly, the court will wait for
the parties to further develop the facts before analyzing what particular types of
injunctive relief are appropriate. This is especially prudent since plaintiff has yet to even
propose the wording of any permanent injunction. 26
Regardless, defendant has failed to show at the pleadings stage that the CPSA
does not permit the court to grant injunctive relief in the form of a prospective
injunction, liquidated damages or the creation of an escrow account. In particular, the
court does not agree with defendant that the plain language of the CPSA precludes
entering an injunction limiting conduct that is not “presently occurring,” since the
language authorizing the court to “restrain any violation” of the CPSA is relatively broad,
nor does language of the Securities Act and the Exchange Act demonstrate that Congress
intended to limit injunctive relief available under the CPSA to the extent defendant
By way of example, the CPSC would arguably be authorized to “restrain any
violation” of the CPSA by seeking to enjoin certain conduct for a certain period of time,
if the CPSC could show to a sufficient degree of likelihood that a violation may occur
Broadly speaking, all that plaintiff included, or needed to include, in the complaint is the forms
of injunctive relief it may seek in the event it ultimately prevails on the merits.
absent the injunction, even if the conduct was not necessarily occurring at the moment
the injunction was entered. See Zen Magnets, 170 F. Supp. 3d at 1377 (noting that “the
term ‘restrain’ . . . arguably implies that any remedy should be limited to future or
ongoing violations”) (citing United States v. Rx Depot, Inc., 438 F.3d 1052, 1058 (10th
Cir. 2006)). Moreover, as plaintiff points out, “remedial legislation should be construed
broadly to effectuate its purposes.” Tcherepnin v. Knight, 389 U.S. 332, 336 (1967).
The court is, therefore, persuaded on balance that rather than dismissing
plaintiff’s claim for injunctive relief at the pleading (or even summary judgment) stage,
the more appropriate course of action is to evaluate proposed language for a permanent
injunction under the familiar legal standard and a further development of the facts. “In
an action for a statutory injunction, once a violation has been demonstrated, the moving
party need only show that there is a reasonable likelihood of future violations in order to
obtain relief.” SEC v. Holschuh, 694 F.2d 130, 144 (7th Cir. 1982) (evaluating claim for
injunctive relief under 15 U.S.C. § 77t(b) and 15 U.S.C. § 78u(e)) (footnote omitted)
(citing Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n v. Hunt, 591 F.2d 1211, 1220 (7th Cir. 1979));
see also Toys “R” Us, 754 F. Supp. at 1058 (“The purpose of injunctive relief awarded
pursuant to statutory authority is not to punish a violator, but to deter the violator from
committing future violations.”). In determining the likelihood of future violations, courts
must consider the totality of the circumstances. See Holschuh, 694 F.2d at 144; Toys “R”
Us, 754 F. Supp. at 1058-59 (listing factors, including the degree of the defendant’s
scienter and whether the infraction was isolated or recurrent).
Of course, the court cannot consider the totality of the circumstances surrounding
the facts alleged by plaintiff until the factual record is further developed. Therefore, the
consideration of any proposed permanent injunction, including whether an “obey the
law” injunction is warranted, will be postponed. See EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., 707 F.3d
824, 841-44 (7th Cir. 2013) (requiring remand to the district court to “impose a
reasonable time limit” on “the EEOC’s proposed obey-the-law injunction” but otherwise
upholding it “in light of the evidence showing AutoZone’s intransigence at quite senior
levels of management”).
With respect to the remainder of defendant’s present motion, the court simply
disagrees that plaintiff has not stated a plausible claim to injunctive relief. Under the
facts alleged, defendant engaged in knowing, arguably outrageous, conduct by failing to
notify the CPSC about substantiated complaints that carafes were breaking due to design
defects and harming individuals for over two years. Furthermore, even after issuing a
recall notice for those defective carafes, Applica sold more of them, necessitating another
recall. These facts are enough to plausibly plead a claim for injunctive relief.
IT IS ORDERED that:
1. Defendant Spectrum Brand’s motions for partial summary judgment (dkt. ##30,
73) are DENIED.
2. Defendant’s motion for leave to file additional evidence in support of its motion
for summary judgment (dkt. #131) and motion for leave to file an additional
motion for summary judgment (dkt. #140) are DENIED.
3. Plaintiff the United States of America’s motion for summary judgment (dkt. #51)
is GRANTED as to defendant’s liability on Count I.
4. Defendant’s unopposed motion for entry of judgment as to its liability on Count
III (dkt. #144) is GRANTED.
5. Defendant’s motion to dismiss (dkt. #6) is DENIED.
6. AHAM’s motion for leave to file an amicus curiae brief (dkt. #91) is GRANTED.
7. The parties’ pending motions related to scheduling and exclusion of witnesses and
argument at a jury trial (dkt. ##141, 166, 171, 172, 173) are DENIED as moot.
8. The court RESERVES on the parties’ remaining motions (dkt. ##102, 105, 117,
150, 167, 168, 169, 170).
9. The court will hold a scheduling a conference over the phone at 10:00 am on
Friday, November 18, 2016, to set a schedule for the civil penalty determination
and injunctive relief phase of this case.
Entered this 17th day of November, 2016.
BY THE COURT:
WILLIAM M. CONLEY
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