A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the very disturbing legal war being waged by the Consumer Product Safety Commission against Craig Zucker, CEO of a company that made Buckyballs, the adult magnetic-balls desk toy. After the CPSC decided to ban his product, Zucker fought back in the arena of public opinion, aiming satirical barbs at the commission and individual commissioners. CPSC then proceeded to pull him into the action personally as a party, seeking (on the basis of legal theories rarely if ever used in the past) to tag him with recall liability that the agency estimated at $57 million.
This weekend the Wall Street Journal came out with a big feature on the case, including an interview with Zucker by the Journal’s Sohrab Ahmari. Some highlights:
* At a time when sale of Buckyballs was still quite lawful pending adjudication, “and before Maxfield & Oberton [Zucker’s firm] had a chance to tell its side of the story,” the agency sent letters to major retailers asking that Buckyballs be pulled from shelves; most did, wishing to avoid trouble.
* The “responsible corporate officer” doctrine, which the CPSC cites as grounds for holding Zucker personally liable, has been very seldom invoked in the past, and the circumstances here (including the lack of reference to officer liability in the CPSC’s enabling statute) suggest that the Buckyballs case doesn’t fit. [More on that poor fit in this recent paper, previously linked in this space.]
* As for motives to go after Mr. Zucker, he provided a lot of them. During his attempt to fight the ban, his online “ads pointed out how, under the commission’s reasoning, everything from coconuts (‘tasty fruit or deadly sky ballistic?’) to stairways (‘are they really worth the risk?’) to hot dogs (‘delicious but deadly’) could be banned. Commission staff were challenged to debate Mr. Zucker, and consumers were invited to call Commissioner Inez Tenenbaum’s ‘psychic hotline’ to find out how it was that ‘the vote to sue our company was presented to the Commissioners on July 23rd, a day before our Corrective Action Plan was to be submitted.'” The thing is, you’d think, or hope, that the First Amendment to the Constitution would protect the right of a regulated party to talk back in this way, even disrespectfully.
Buckyballs were a Godsend to our son, Johnny, last summer as he laid in a hospital bed recovering from a serious brain injury. He couldn’t watch TV or look at any type of screen because it hurt his eyes too much. He couldn’t read because it gave him headaches. But he could play with the Buckyballs that we purchased at the HOSPITAL gift store. They made a long stay in the ICU much more tolerable. Ironically, the same week he was in the hospital, an overreaching government agency banned the sales of Buckyballs — even to adults. Read this interview to get the full story on the Buckyballs saga. This is what happens when personal injury lawyers and their allies make the rules. We slowly lose our freedoms.
Buckyballs are highly popular supermagnetic desktop toys for adults and labeled against use by kids. Nonetheless, some kids obtain the tiny balls and swallow them, with harmful or even lethal results. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has responded with an unusually aggressive show of legal muscle to force the product off the market: while suing the manufacturer, it strong-armed retailers into suspending Buckyball sales, thus cutting off the manufacturer’s revenue while a court decides whether the commission had an adequate basis in law and fact for its action. [Nick Farr, Abnormal Use; manufacturer statement; Time; ABA Journal; Michelle Malkin; Point of Law]
More: “CPSC wants to put a child-proof cap on your life.” [@radleybalko]
A Tenth Circuit panel has sent the Consumer Product Safety Commission back to the drawing board in its attempt to ban tiny magnet sets intended for adult use as a desk toy or creative outlet accessory. It ruled that the commission had not conducted an adequate cost-benefit analysis of the ban in line with the requirements of its enabling statute. We covered the CPSC’s legal vendetta against the defiant maker of BuckyBalls; the last surviving company to sell the product is Zen Magnets, which now is allowed to resume operations while the Commission goes back to the drawing board, assuming it decides to do so. [Nancy Nord] And: Nov. 29 statement from Zen Magnets; Abby Schachter, Weekly Standard; Brian Doherty, Reason.
- “On what planet is it remotely constitutional to *raid someone’s home* and forbid them from speaking about it?” [Julian Sanchez on new at-length National Review account of Wisconsin John Doe raids; my earlier writing on the raids at Cato and here; Scott Shackford, Reason; Walker opponents still defending John Doe proceeding, to praise from (updated) left-leaning national Alliance for Justice and Center for American Progress]
- Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoes bill to provide more transparency in state’s hiring of outside counsel [Legal NewsLine]
- BuckyBalls gone, Zen Magnets still standing: “Two Cheers for 10th Circuit’s Temporary Stay of CPSC’s New Magnet Safety Standard” [Mark Chenoweth, WLF]
- Arkansas governor vetoes “right of publicity” bill [Volokh]
- NY Times profiles prolific privacy lawsuit filer Jay Edelson, whose class action firm we’ve met before;
- Recusal motion gamesmanship from trial lawyers at Illinois Supreme Court [Richard Samp, WLF]
- Law faculty diversity: Republican women “were — and are — almost missing from law teaching.” [James Lindgren, SSRN via TaxProf; more from Lindgren]