Wednesday, June 9, 2010

CPSIA - More Details on Schylling Penalty Fiasco

The worm continues to turn on the Schylling penalty. Buried DEEP in the "easy to use" CPSC website are documents relating to the timeline of this penalty assessment.

1. First agreement was signed by the CPSC six weeks after Schylling on January 19.

2. The CPSC Commission met on February 3 to ratify the agreement. The vote is 4-1, with Anne Northup voting no. Northup apparently objected because she felt the penalty was out of line with other penalties set by the CPSC (too high).

[Ed. Note: I have been repeating myself of late when I assert that these penalties are PRECEDENT to be used against YOU. Ignore them at your peril - they are an evolving, common law measuring stick for penalties that may be assessed against you. Fact patterns are very difficult to compare but luckily big round numbers are easy to compare. Schylling may be . . . you next time.]

3. On February 5, in a remarkable and unexplained about-face, Tenenbaum, Adler and Northup voted 3-0-2 to rescind the agreement and send it back for to the staff "for further consideration of the financial condition of the company". Nord and Moore didn't vote.

5. On May 25th, the Commission again met to decide the fate of the beleaguered Schylling. By a vote of 5-0, the Commission approved the new, doubled penalty. Here is what the Record of Commission Action says: "The staff alleges that Schylling's importation, sale, or offering for sale, certain consumer products, tin pail toys and spinning tops, entrusted to or for use by children, violated the Lead Paint Ban, and that Schylling committed these prohibited acts "knowingly" as that term is defined in section 20(d) of the CPSA. The settlement agreement also resolves certain possible liabilities of Sections 19(a)(1) and 19(a)(4) of the CPSA for possible CPSA violations with other products. Section 20(a)(1) of the CPSA, 15 U.S.C. § 2069(a)(1), permits the imposition of civil penalties for the violations."

As noted in my prior post, there is a question of whether the Statute of Limitations on penalties permitted the assessment of this punishment. The focus of this document seems to be on lead-in-paint violations, which were probably beyond the reach of the CPSC's legal authority to assess penalties. Schylling paid anyhow.

So what happened? Only Ms. Northup provided a written statement. Her statement begs many questions but does provide fodder for conjecture. Here are some salient quotes:

"As an aside, I personally believe that it is inappropriate and risky for companies to ask political figures—including those who exercise control over the agency via budget or supervisory authority—to try to persuade the Commission to reduce a civil penalty. Our civil penalties are open for public comment for two weeks after publication in the Federal Register, and elected officials can comment upon them at that time. Intervention during the Commission’s quasi-judicial civil penalty decision-making process creates the possibility of conscious or subconscious influence on the fair resolution of cases. It also creates a perception that penalties vary according to the political influence of the violator rather than the severity of offenses. . . . The penalty will deter non-compliance and create the proper incentives to import safe products in the future without crippling the company. I believe Schylling has received a proportionately lower civil penalty than a similarly situated major corporation would receive if it engaged in similar conduct."

Hmmm. Seems to be a case of foot-in-mouth disease on someone's part. I admire that Ms. Northup was offended by the "insider baseball" approach apparently adopted by Schylling. The notion that the CPSC and the federal government is some kind of "good ole' boys" club is both outrageous and not even slightly surprising. Who doesn't imagine that there are people out there who have the ability to make your problems go away with a simple phone call? It's nice to see Ms. Northup to take a stand on this. Quite interesting that it is a Republican ex-Member of Congress who was apparently offended. Surprising only because of the press bias against Republicans these days. Good for you, Ms. Northup!

One can imagine an ill-advised or ham-handed conversation that set off this odd sequence of events. This may also be why a new law firm was appointed by Schylling.

I still get the feeling that anger determines the size of penalties by this CPSC. Think Daiso. Since Ms. Northup speaks in terms of deterrence, I presume she is addressing our company and companies similarly situated (like yours). We are supposed to be influenced by these penalties. I sure will be. I can't try any harder or spend any more time or money on safety. [Consumers, please note our almost unblemished safety record over 26 years - no more time is NEEDED, either.] Unfortunately, we have to spend a few moments every day tending to the OTHER needs of our business, like sales, marketing, product development, order fulfillment, accounting and so on. It's a shame we can't spend every waking moment on safety. What a world that might be.

In any event, I will be influenced by the mega-penalties that the angry CPSC is handing out. Given my conviction that there is no more time or money available for "more" safety, how will we be influenced? Well, we might hire fewer employees, develop fewer products, invest in fewer systems to operate our business better, pay lower bonuses, take money out of the business, enter new markets not subject to the prying eyes of the CPSC, and so on. We haven't decided how to be properly influenced by the incentives so generously provided by the CSPC . . . but it all sounds good, right?

Time will tell.

1 comment:

Esther said...

The more I hear about this, the more angry it makes me. I'm angry that Congress abdicated legislative and judicial powers to an agency led by political appointees. It's just wrong that the appointees at the CPSC are not held accountable to the voters. Of course, this is true with other Federal agencies. Just as an example, the EPA has threatened to fine my town of 3,000 people $1,000/day if we don't build a new sewer treatment plant costing us $12 million dollars. The point is to remove 200 ppm of phosphorus from the water - a mineral naturally found in the soil and makes Idaho potatoes, Idaho potatoes. It's maddening because we are being assaulted on every front. And like you say, we voters will remember in November.