TCG Clients Use Contempt Proceedings to Continuously Enforce Settlement Agreements to Reduce Chemicals and Provide Warnings

Posted: 08/10/2012  browse the blog archive

Beginning in late-2005, Dr. Whitney Leeman, a client of The Chanler Group, began investigating risks to human health from cancer-causing chemicals found in flame-cooked hamburgers sold in restaurants.  When meat is cooked over an open flame, chemicals called polycyclic—pronounced polly ∙ sigh ∙ click—aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs for short, are formed.  PAHs include several different chemicals, including benzo[a]pyrene (“BaP”), one of the most potent PAH chemicals, which is known to the State of California to cause cancer.  PAHs that deposit on the flame-cooked meat during cooking wind up in the body when consumers eat charbroiled hamburgers.  After uncovering PAHs in charbroiled hamburgers sold in several different restaurants, Dr. Leeman initiated Proposition 65 actions against the restaurant owners, ultimately reaching settlements in most cases.  Through the settlements, the restaurant owners either agreed to install a new type of broiler oven which prevents the formation of PAHs, or provide their customers with clear and reasonable warnings about the presence of PAHs in the flame-cooked burgers they sell.  Through the efforts of Dr. Leeman and The Chanler Group, settlements to protect the public against exposure to PAHs in flame-cooked burgers were reached with fast food mega-chains like Burger King and Carl’s Jr.

Even after the restaurants agree to modify their broiler ovens or provide warnings to customers regarding the presence of PAHs in their flame-cooked burgers, Dr. Leeman and The Chanler Group continue to monitor the restaurants to ensure that the public is protected against exposure to PAHs, and that the restaurants comply with these settlements.  In other types of Proposition 65 actions initiated by The Chanler Group clients, when companies are found to be in violation of court-approved settlements, sometimes years after agreeing to remedy the violations of Proposition 65, The Chanler Group’s clients will not hesitate to return to court to enforce the agreements.  When companies have violated Proposition 65 settlements they have agreed to, The Chanler Group's clients have successfully brought what are known as “contempt proceedings.”  

In contempt proceedings, The Chanler Group presents evidence on behalf of its clients showing that the company has entered into a binding settlement agreement, entered by the court as a Consent Judgment, and that subsequently, the company again sold products containing the same chemical known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm, in violation of the agreement.  In one recent case in which The Chanler Group initiated contempt proceedings, the court issued an order to the company selling products in violation of the Consent Judgment, ordering the company to explain why it should not be held in contempt by the court.  Before the court even found the company in contempt, the company entered into a new settlement agreement in which it agreed to reformulate its products to eliminate the presence of lead, agreed to pay additional civil penalties under Proposition 65 for its violations, and agreed to reimburse The Chanler Group for the attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in the proceedings.

Read the settlement agreement below entered into between The Chanler Group’s client, Russell Brimer, and Aramco, after the California Superior Court for Alameda County issued an order requiring Aramco to explain why it should not be held in contempt for selling products in violation of the Consent Judgment. 

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