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YOUNG v. ROBERTSHAW CONTROLS CO.

March 7, 1983

Gail E. YOUNG, Administratrix of the Goods, Chattels and Credits of John A. Young, Deceased, and Gail E. Young, Individually, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERTSHAW CONTROLS COMPANY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MINER

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

 MINER, District Judge.

 I

 This action is brought pursuant to § 23 of the Consumer Product Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2072, *fn1" to recover for the personal injuries and subsequent death of plaintiff's decedent. Jurisdiction in this Court is invoked pursuant to the provisions of Title 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Alternatively, defendant contends that punitive damages are not available in this action and seeks to limit plaintiff's recovery to compensatory damages only.

 II

 On August 4, 1977, an explosion and fire occurred in the home of plaintiff's decedent, John Young. As a result, Mr. Young suffered extensive burns and died approximately two weeks later, survived by his wife (plaintiff) and three infant children. Plaintiff contends that the fire and explosion resulted from a defective water heater control device manufactured by defendant.

 During the period 1955-1957, defendant (hereinafter "Robertshaw") manufactured several million of these water heater control devices ("Unitrols"). In 1957, and again in 1960, Robertshaw effected certain design changes in the Unitrol controls, and, some time after 1957, Robertshaw attempted to modify those Unitrols actually produced during the 1955-1957 period. Plaintiff contends that Robertshaw made these design changes and modifications when it became apparent that the Unitrol controls were dangerously defective. *fn2"

 By letter dated April 19, 1974, pursuant to the mandatory disclosure requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Act of 1972 (hereinafter "Act"), 15 U.S.C. § 2064, *fn3" Robertshaw informed the Consumer Product Safety Commission (hereinafter "Commission") of the potential hazards associated with the Unitrol controls. Specifically, Robertshaw informed the Commission that, "after May 14, 1973, [Robertshaw] has been informed of one fatality and one injury possibly connected with the potential product hazard." (Exhibit B to plaintiff's opposition to motion to dismiss, p. 2). Based upon this information, the Commission acquiesced in Robertshaw's proposed program to "locate the controls for inspection and modification or replacement at no cost to the consumer." (Id.)

 Eventually, however, the Commission filed an administrative complaint *fn4" alleging that

 
Robertshaw knowingly and willfully filed inaccurate information with the Commission on April 18 and 19, 1974, and further, since the time of its notification, Robertshaw has failed to apprise the Commission of other incidents associated with the referenced controls, which incidents were known by Robertshaw to have involved severe personal injury or death and should have been made known to the Commission.

 (Letter from David Schmeltzer to Joseph A. Howell, Jr.; Ex. C to plaintiff's opposition). The Commission further alleged that Robertshaw's failure to provide this information constituted a violation of § 19(a)(4) of the Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2068(a)(4). *fn5"

 The parties herein do not dispute that a failure to disclose information pursuant to § 2068(a)(4) entitles the Commission to recover civil penalties from the violator. 15 U.S.C. § 2069. *fn6" However, defendant contends that a failure to disclose information in accordance with the Commission's regulations does not entitle a private party to maintain a civil action against the recalcitrant manufacturer. In support of this contention, defendant argues that the seemingly broad language of § 2072 is not intended to encompass the violation of a mere disclosure rule of the Commission. Defendant also contends that, since the Commission has been empowered expressly to impose penalties on a non-disclosing manufacturer, a comparable right should not be implied on behalf of an injured consumer. Finally, defendant argues that to allow a private action against a manufacturer before the Commission determines that the manufacturer's product contains a defect which creates a substantial product hazard is a denial of the manufacturer's right to due process of law.

 In contrast, plaintiff argues that the language of § 2072 should be given its plain meaning. Moreover, plaintiff argues that her decedent's death could have been prevented had Robertshaw promptly provided full and accurate information to the Commission. More specifically, plaintiff contends that the Commission would have instituted more effective measures to protect the public against injury had it been aware of the true extent of the dangers presented by the Unitrol controls. ...


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