September 23, 2021

Fishkin Lucks Prevails in Central District of California

The Firm won summary judgment in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, which dismissed all claims brought against our client, a leading manufacturer of protective paints and coatings. Plaintiff’s claims arose out a serious fire that plaintiff had argued was caused by the spontaneous combustion of rags containing our client’s floor stain product. Plaintiff argued that our client’s product was “misbranded” under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) for failing to adequately warn about alleged dangers relating to spontaneous combustion.

Following extensive discovery, the Firm moved for summary judgment, primarily arguing that, although our client’s product bore a clear spontaneous combustion warning, it was not required to because spontaneous combustion is not a “principal hazard” as defined by the FHSA, and the FHSA requires that labels warn only about principal hazards.

The District Court (Hon. Stephen Wilson) issued an interim ruling (i) agreeing with the Firm’s argument that spontaneous combustion is nota “principal hazard” as defined in the FHSA, but (ii) finding that the avoidance of spontaneous combustion nevertheless is a “precautionary measure” that was required to have been addressed on the product label pursuant to a different provision within the FHSA. Thus, the court ordered the parties to file supplemental briefing solely on the discrete issue of whether the spontaneous combustion warning was appropriately “prominent” and “conspicuous,” as is required for “precautionary measures” under the FHSA.

In its supplemental briefing, in addition to addressing the discrete issue identified by the court, the Firm argued (again) that the spontaneous combustion warning was not required in the first place. The Firm cited authority supporting the proposition that “precautionary measures” were required under the FHSA only with respect to avoiding “principal hazards,” which the court had already ruled spontaneous combustion was not.


The court ultimately agreed with the Firm’s arguments and awarded our client summary judgment. Reversing in part its earlier ruling, the court agreed that, although the relevant product had a spontaneous combustion warning, that warning was not required, for the reasons the Firm had argued. The court further held that even assuming a spontaneous combustion warning were required, our client’s product would not be “misbranded” under the FHSA, because its spontaneous combustion warning met or exceeded the FHSA’s prominence and conspicuousness requirements.