On July 10, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) determined that Buckyballs and Buckycubes, executive office desk toys made for adults, were defective. The CPSC pressured retailers to stop selling these products, and on July 25, 2012, the CPSC’s staff brought an administrative action against Maxfield and Oberton Holdings LLC, the company that produced Buckyballs and Buckycubes, initiating a proceeding to order the company to stop selling all of its products and to conduct a total recall of all of its products already sold. On February 11, 2013, the CPSC amended its complaint to add Craig Zucker, the former General Manager of Maxfield and Oberton Holdings LLC, as a respondent, to hold him personally liable to conduct a CPSC-estimated $57 million recall of Buckyballs and Buckycubes. On November 12, 2013, Mr. Zucker fought back, claiming that the CPSC overreached by bringing an administrative remedial action against Maxfield and Oberton, a limited liability company, as well as him personally. Mr. Zucker challenges the CPSC’s personal jurisdiction over him, claiming he is neither a manufacturer nor a distributor of Buckyballs or Buckycubes and that, instead, the CPSC is exercising undelegated adjudicative authority over individual corporate officers. The CPSC justifies its authority under the Park doctrine, after United States v. Park, 421 U.S. 658 (1975), which has been applied to hold responsible corporate officers personally liable for criminal violations by the companies they oversee. The CPSC has made no findings of legal violations by Craig Zucker, nor has it sought to impose a criminal sentence, fine, or other monetary liability or penalty against him, instead using the responsible corporate officer doctrine for purposes of having him pay for a product recall. Here, the CPSC has asserted the responsible corporate officer doctrine without a predicate violation of the law by a corporate entity. Is the CPSC’s asserted authority justified? More broadly, the panelists sought to discuss the role and importance of the responsible corporate officer doctrine and whether the courts will recognize an expanding application of the responsible corporate officer doctrine in the future.
- Prof. Kathleen M. Boozang, Associate Dean and Professor of Law, Seton Hall University School of Law
- Sheila A. Millar, Partner, Keller & Heckman LLP
- Moderator: Dean Reuter, Vice President and Director of Practice Groups, The Federalist Society