California Attorney General Kamala Harris Promises to Scrutinize Prop 65 Settlements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Conkle Firm is Featured in April 2014 Beauty Industry Report

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel is proud to again be the subject of a feature interview in the industry-leading publication, Beauty Industry Report (BIR).  BIR is a monthly 24-page executive newsletter for professionals that focuses on the emerging trends affecting the beauty industry.  CK&E’s feature interview assessed the latest legal trends, based on CK&E’s decades of experience in the industry.  Topics covered included trademark and brand protection, both international and domestic, regulatory compliance issues such as California’s Proposition 65 and the Safe Cosmetics Act, issues in manufacturer-distributor relationships, and more.

The attached article includes links to topical blog posts and websites referenced in the interview.  CK&E wishes to thank BIR’s Mike Nave for taking the initiative to disseminate information about these important industry issues.  BIR proved again that working in the beauty industry without reading BIR is like working in finance without reading The Wall Street Journal.

BIR Feature Interview of CK&E

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The Conkle Firm Teaches International Entrepreneurs in BIMA Program

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys Mark Kremer and Amy Burke have been honored to participate in and contribute to the revolutionary Beauty Industry Market Access (BIMA) program through the Center for International Trade Development (CITD).  The BIMA program was developed and is led by beauty industry guru Patty Schmucker and international trade expert Cesar Arellanes, the Director of CITD in Long Beach.   BIMA is a five week intensive international trade and business education program taught by leading health and beauty industry experts. BIMA participants focus on key program principles distinct to conducting business overseas, receive bi-monthly objectives for assessing their business, and ultimately produce an export growth plan exclusive to their business. Participants also have access to upcoming trade missions to the world’s largest emerging market beauty trade shows – effective venues for executing learned principles and business plans.

Amy and Mark contribute to the BIMA educational program by teaching modules on domestic and foreign intellectual property protection, domestic regulatory compliance, and international distribution agreements.   Participants are particularly interested in cost-effective methods of protecting their intellectual property internationally, such as international trademark registrations through the Madrid System.  The Madrid System offers a centralized application process for trademark registration in over 90 countries based on a brand owner’s domestic application or registration.  Participants are also interested in CK&E’s practical approach to domestic regulatory compliance, including California’s evolving green chemistry initiative, Safe Cosmetics Act and Proposition 65.  Participants have also benefited from CK&E’s tips for forging fruitful business relationships with distributors, based on decades of experience representing clients in the personal care products industry.

Amy will accompany Patty Schmucker and several graduates of the BIMA educational program to Cosmoprof Worldwide in Bologna in April 2014.  Amy and Mark look forward to the next BIMA session, which begins on June 26, 2014.  Click for further information about joining the BIMA program: BIMA_Summer-Fall_2014

 

 

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DTSC Announces Proposed Priority Products Subject to California Green Chemistry Initiative

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The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has identified the first three groups of products that may become “Priority Products” subject to reporting and alternatives assessments requirements under California’s strict new Safer Consumer Products (SCP) Regulations.

The three groups of products on this initial list of proposed “Priority Products” are:

  • Children’s foam padded sleeping products containing the flame retardant Tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP or Tris)
  • Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) systems containing unreacted diisocyanates
  • Paint and varnish strippers and surface cleaners containing methylene chloride

Rulemaking on the proposed “Priority Products” list is expected to begin in late June 2014, with the final “Priority Products” list to be finalized by the following year by adoption of regulations.

If the product-chemical combinations announced by DTSC end up on the list of final “Priority Products,” manufacturers and other responsible entities (including importers, assemblers and even retailers) of these products will be required to notify DTSC and either remove the product from sale, reformulate to remove or replace the chemical of concern in the product, or perform a complex “Alternatives Analysis” to retain the chemical in the product.

As widely expected, the initial “Priority Products” list targets children’s foam padded sleeping products containing the flame retardant Tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP or Tris), such as nap mats and pads in soft-sided portable cribs, infant travel beds, portable infant sleepers, playards, play pens, bassinets and nap cots.

In addition, the initial “Priority Products” list targets all paint and varnish removers, paint and varnish strippers and surface cleaners that contain methylene chloride.  Spray polyurethane foam systems containing diisocyanates, both professional and consumer grade, are also proposed to be subject to regulation.  Such products are used for insulation, roofing, sealing and filling of voids and gaps.

TDCPP, methylene chloride, and toluene diisocynate are known carcinogens and exposures to the chemical to Californians above the no significant risk level require a warning under Proposition 65.  TDCPP was recently listed in October 2011 as a chemical regulated by Proposition 65.

The announcement of these three product groups as proposed “Priority Products” does not trigger any duty on product manufacturers until the DTSC finalizes the list of priority products by adopting regulations.  However, manufacturers of children’s foam padded sleeping products containing TDCPP, spray polyurethane foam systems containing diisocyanates, and paint and varnish strippers and surface cleaners containing methylene chloride are well advised to be proactive and take steps to determine whether the chemical can be removed from their products or replaced with a safer alternative chemical.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel regularly assists businesses to develop plans to ensure compliance with California’s ever-changing regulations, including the Safer Consumer Products Regulations and Green Chemistry Initiative.

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The Conkle Firm Presents Hot California Regulatory Compliance Issues in New York

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney John A. Conkle was the featured speaker at a special presentation given on February 11, 2014 in New York, New York to business executives and lawyers.

The presentation, entitled “Are Your Products California-Bound?  Dealing With California’s Unique Regulatory Schemes,” provided valuable information about and insight into such California regulatory laws and initiatives as:

  • Proposition 65 (California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986)
  • California Safe Cosmetics Act
  • California Green Chemistry Initiative (the Safer Consumer Products Regulations)
  • California Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Regulations
  • California Organic Products Act (COPA)
  • California Consumer Legal Remedies Act (CLRA)

California’s vast and ever-changing regulations pose a challenge for businesses no matter where they may be located.  Any business manufacturing, distributing or selling products into California needs to comply with California’s regulatory schemes to stay out of difficulty with the California Attorney General, regulatory agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), bounty hunters, putative class action plaintiffs and even competitors.

CK&E was honored to team with the New York-based law firm Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman, P.C., which specializes in intellectual property, to provide this presentation. CK&E has worked with the Gottlieb firm for nearly 25 years on matters of common intrest to our clients. CK&E’s active regulatory compliance practice has helped clients in numerous industries – including  such diverse areas as personal care products, alcoholic beverages, construction and recreational equipment.

 

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Safe Cosmetics Act Database to Go Public in 2014: Watch for More Lawsuits

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In a previous blog post, we referred to the Safe Cosmetics Act as a “sleeper” because it has been in existence for several years but has been little noticed and seldom used.  That is likely to change in 2014.

The Safe Cosmetics Act was enacted in 2005 and became effective January 1, 2007.  Businesses manufacturing cosmetics sold in California were required to make their initial report to the California Department of Public Health by December 15, 2009.  Reporting must be made on a continuous basis, such as when formulation changes add a “suspect” chemical to an existing cosmetic product.  The Safe Cosmetics Act is so little-known that many manufacturers may have missed the reporting requirements, or complied as to some products but failed to update their reporting as product formulations changed.  So far, those omissions have rarely had any significant impact on manufacturers, but that is likely to start changing now.

The relative quietude may change in 2014 because by December 31, 2013 the CDPH must make a publicly accessible database available on its website containing all of the information collected pursuant to the Safe Cosmetics Act.  The information included in the database could be used by enterprising Prop 65 bounty hunters searching for products that contain chemicals that are subject to the warning requirements of Prop 65.  And the failure to report required information timely or accurately may be the basis for future unfair competition lawsuits by private parties, including consumers and competitors.

As a harbinger of the potential consequences for manufacturers, in January 2012 the California Attorney General’s Office announced the first law enforcement action taken under the Safe Cosmetics Act against a manufacturer of “Brazilian Blowout” products.  But the manufacturer’s failure comply with the Safe Cosmetics Act’s reporting requirement was only one of many business acts and practices alleged to violate California’s Unfair Competition Law.  The Attorney General also alleged violations of California’s False Advertising Law and Proposition 65.  The end result was a consent judgment that required the manufacturer to pay $300,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs and an additional $300,000 civil penalty for violation of Prop 65.  The manufacturer was also subject to numerous injunctions, including a requirement that it report in compliance with the Safe Cosmetics Act.  Private claimants such as Prop 65 bounty hunters are likely to take notice of the newly available information and any failures to comply.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel stays up to date on regulatory compliance matters to provide continued expert legal guidance to clients.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel has decades of experience representing clients in the personal care products and cosmetics industry, and understand the unique regulatory compliance concerns facing manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

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Prop 65 Notices and Lawsuits Target Cocamide DEA

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Cocamide DEA (coconut oil diethanolamine condensate) is a common ingredient in personal care products.  It is a viscous liquid used as a foaming agent in shampoo and soap products and as an emulsifying agent in cosmetics.  It can be found in shampoos, liquid soaps, body washes and bubble baths, among other products.  In June 2012 Cocamide DEA was added to the list of Proposition 65 chemicals, and warning requirements took effect one year later, on June 22, 2013.  To date, Notices of Violation concerning cocamide DEA exposure have been served on more than 350 businesses, and public enforcers have filed at least 16 lawsuits, most of them naming numerous defendants.  Lawsuits have been filed in both Los Angeles and Alameda Counties.

Proposition 65 is California’s right-to-know statute that requires businesses to provide clear and reasonable warnings before exposing Californians to a wide range of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm or both.  Proposition 65 requires a 60-day Notice of Violation to be served before public enforcers may file a lawsuit for alleged violation of the law.  The public enforcers who have served Proposition 65 Notices of Violation with respect to exposure to cocamide DEA include Center for Environmental Health, Shefa LMV LLC and ProtectConsumers LLC.  In addition, a number of individuals have become involved in Proposition 65 enforcement actions concerning cocamide DEA.  These individuals – Mark Lewis, Crystal Gerard, Mark Bates, Natisha Meloncon and Latonia Edge – are all represented by The Law Offices of Morse Mehrban.

2013 has been a particularly difficult year for manufacturers, distributors and sellers of personal care products.  In addition to cocamide DEA, other chemicals commonly found in personal care products and cosmetics became subject to Proposition 65 enforcement in 2013, including benzophenone and diethanolamine.

Businesses should carefully review the contents of the products they manufacture or distribute to determine whether those products may contain cocamide DEA.  Notices of Violation followed by prompt lawsuits have become the norm for alleged exposure to cocamide DEA.  Businesses must be proactive in protecting themselves from Prop 65 bountyhunters.  CK&E regularly helps clients with Prop 65 compliance issues.  If a Notice of Violation is received, CK&E handles responses to Notices of Violation and defense of businesses in Prop 65 actions to help resolve claims as efficiently and economically as possible.

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Happy Anniversary: 1,3-Dinitropyrene Becomes Subject to Prop 65 Enforcement on November 2, 2013

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Starting November 2, 2013, Proposition 65 enforcement actions may be taken against businesses for exposure to the chemical 1,3-dinitropyrene without a clear and reasonable warning.  1,3-dinitropyrene was added to the Prop 65 list of chemicals on November 2, 2012 as a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer.  Under Prop 65, enforcement actions may not be taken for one year after the listing, so as the anniversary arrives on November 2, 2013 this chemical will become subject to enforcement actions.  1,3-dinitropyrene is an environmental contaminant that has been measured in engine exhaust and emissions from kerosene heaters and gas burners.

Also starting November 2, 2013, alpha-methyl styrene is actionable as a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer, based on its November 2, 2012 listing.  Alpha-methyl styrene is used in the manufacture of plasticizers, resins and polymers.  However, for all practical purposes, the addition should not affect businesses’ obligations to warn about exposure to alpha-methyl styrene, as it was already listed in 2011 as a chemical known to cause reproductive toxicity.

The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has not established any specific safe harbor levels for either 1,3-dinitropyrene or alpha-methyl styrene.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel routinely counsels clients on regulatory compliance, including compliance with Proposition 65.  We monitor the latest developments to Prop 65 in order to provide expert guidance to companies doing business in California.

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Navigating Civil Regulatory Issues: CK&E Presentation Highlights Key Regulations for Beauty Companies Doing Business in California

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney Amy Burke was a featured speaker at the Beauty Industry West presentation “Navigating in Challenging Regulatory Waters:  Updates on California and Federal Compliance.”  About 150 entrepreneurs, consultants, executives and beauty industry professionals attended the event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel LAX in Los Angeles on October 15, 2013, which included a valuable networking session and a post-presentation Q&A.

Ms. Burke’s presentation about legal regulatory issues for personal care product companies doing business in California included an overview of the California Organic Products Act (COPA), Proposition 65 (California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act) and California’s Green Chemistry Initiative including the new Safer Consumer Products Regulations.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel’s materials from the BIW event, including the “Navigating Civil Regulatory Issues” presentation and its “Resource Guide for Regulatory Compliance,” are available for download on CK&E’s Regulatory Compliance web page.

Co-presenter Donald Frey, an industry veteran, regulatory expert and product development and innovation consultant, presented on key regulatory issues from the business perspective, including how to effectively deal with regulators. Mr. Frey has generously agreed to share his presentation, available for download here.

Among the questions and answers covered after the presentation were the addition of titanium dioxide (airborne, unbound particles of respirable size) to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals, responsible entities for purposes of compliance with the Safer Consumer Products Regulations, and the determination of organic ingredients under the National Organic Program standards.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are frequent speakers at events of interest to the beauty industry due to their expertise in representing manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers and salons in all aspects of their business, including the challenges of regulatory compliance.

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