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.

A Proposition 65 Reform Bill Becomes Law: California Health & Safety Code Section 25249.7 Amended by AB 227

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On October 5, 2013, Governor Brown signed into law a bill that makes immediate changes to Proposition 65.  The amendments, which passed the California Legislature last month, impose a number of restrictions on private enforcers seeking to enforce Prop 65 against businesses that allegedly fail to provide a warning as required by Prop 65.  The bill that became law is Assembly Bill 227 (AB 227), introduced by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (Forty-Third District of California) in February 2013, and discussed in our March 13, 2013 blog post.

However, as AB 227 was enacted, only limited types of businesses are likely to benefit.  The amendments are very narrow, covering only certain exposures to alcohol or food-related chemicals, vehicle exhaust and tobacco smoke.  Thus, the only businesses that are likely to benefit from the amendments are bars, restaurants, parking garages, and those who own or operate premises where smoking is permitted.

In general, the amendments establish a new “safe harbor”:  AB 227 prohibits a Prop 65 lawsuit from being filed by a private enforcer over an alleged failure to provide a warning concerning one of the specified exposures, if the business takes specified action within 14 days of receipt of the notice of violation.   The targeted business can escape a Prop 65 action if, within 14 days, the business:  (1) actually corrects the alleged violation; (2) agrees to pay a civil penalty of $500 per facility or premises within 30 days; and (3) submits a “Proof of Compliance” notifying the private enforcer that the violation has been corrected.  If the business takes the so-called “safe harbor” action in response to the notice of violation alleging failure to warn about exposure to alcohol or food-related chemicals, vehicle exhaust or tobacco smoke, the private enforcer is precluded from filing a lawsuit or collect additional civil penalties or attorneys’ fees from the business.

These types of piecemeal amendments to Prop 65 may increase public demand and political pressure for additional reform.  In May 2013, Governor Brown proposed sweeping, substantive reform to Prop 65, intended to end decades of “frivolous ‘shake-down’ lawsuits” by Prop 65 bounty hunters and their lawyers.  But by September 2013, those efforts stalled as stakeholders involved in the reform effort were unable to reach the consensus needed to generate the two-thirds majority approval that is required for any amendment of Prop 65 in the Legislature.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel constantly tracks the latest developments in Prop 65 in order to provide expert guidance and counseling to clients.  This latest amendment is a demonstration that businesses who receive a Prop 65 warning should immediately seek qualified legal counsel to help them avoid liability and unnecessary payments to Prop 65 claimants and their lawyers.  In fact, businesses are well advised to consult qualified legal counsel to review their compliance with Prop 65 before an immediate response becomes necessary.

Prop. 65 Reform — Is a Safe Harbor from Bounty Hunters on the Horizon?

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California’s now-infamous Proposition 65 (Prop. 65, Cal. Health & Safety Code § 25249.5) allows a private citizen to file a lawsuit against any business that fails to post adequate warnings about the presence of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm.  The private enforcer may seek an injunction, penalties of up to $2500 per violation, per day, and an award of attorneys’ fees.

Assembly Member Mike Gatto (43rd District of California)  recently proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 227, that would reform Prop. 65 by providing a “safe harbor” in the form of a 14-day period for businesses to correct alleged violations.  If enacted as proposed, a business who receives a demand under Prop. 65 would have a brief opportunity to demonstrate its compliance with Prop. 65 requirements to the California State Attorney General, or the responsible city attorney or district attorney.  If the business takes advantage of that “safe harbor” then the claimant would be barred from filing a lawsuit against that business.

While the purpose of Prop. 65’s private enforcement provision is to allow private citizens to act on behalf of the public to ensure warnings are properly posted, supporters of AB 227 criticize Prop. 65 as a “bounty hunter” statute that primarily benefits plaintiff’s attorneys.  In 2011, businesses paid a total of nearly $16 million to settle lawsuits brought by  private citizens, of which almost $12 million was paid to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.  In fact, nearly half of the attorneys’ fees were paid to a single firm: The Chanler Group.

AB 227 would give businesses the opportunity to come into compliance with Prop. 65 warning requirements without paying exorbitant settlement fees to prevent costly litigation.  But businesses would have to take swift action.  As CK&E attorneys John A. Conkle, Amy Burke and Mark Riedel discussed in their November 2012 presentation to the Personal Care Products Council, What’s Your Game Plan?, it is important for businesses to develop strategies for ensuring regulatory compliance and for handling notices of violation quickly and efficiently.  AB 227, if signed into law, would be another reason that businesses should prepare contingency plans for the day that they receive a notice of violation from plaintiffs seeking to take advantage of Prop. 65 — a business could avoid being sued at all if it responds quickly and correctly to take advantage of the safe harbor.  CK&E advises clients in regulatory compliance, responding to warning and demand letters, and developing an individualized game plan to suit each client’s needs.