Saturday, June 5, 2010

Would you like some cadmium with your soft drink?

Yesterday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in conjunction with fast-food giant McDonald’s®, voluntarily recalled about 12 million Shrek Forever After™ collectible drinking glasses sold or awaiting sale at McDonald’s® locations throughout the U.S. after someone in Representative Jackie Speier's (D-CA) office alerted the CPSC that the movie-character illustrations on the glasses contained cadmium, prolonged exposure to which may pose a serious long-term health risk.

Millville, NJ-based Durand Glass Manufacturing Co. (DGMC), a subsidiary of Arques, France-based Arc International, manufactured the movie-themed glasses, which another Arc International subsidiary, Millville-based Arc International North America, distributed exclusively to McDonald's. McDonald's locations nationwide sold the glasses in May and early June 2010.

McDonald's web site addresses the recall through a series of FAQs (and answers). (For the benefit of those with short attention spans, every answer to which the statement would be germane includes the statement "the CPSC has said the glassware is not toxic.") Arc International deployed a press release. Representative Speier posted a statement on her web site, which also includes a link to a Los Angeles Times article about the recall. Only DreamWorks™ appears to be mum on the subject -- so far, at least. (Perhaps the Shrek-iverse's creators didn't retain all of the product licensing-rights like George Lucas did, not so long ago and not so far away, with the original Star Wars™ trilogy or they made McDonald's pay a non-refundable lump sum to market the glassware.) Rumors of a replacement glass featuring an image of McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner that transmogrifies into a Shrek-alike when filled with any non-Coca-Cola® brand soft or sport drink appear to be completely unfounded.

All fun aside, why is a commercial law blog interested in allegedly cadmium-contaminated glassware products introduced into the stream of commerce without any warning about or disclaimer regarding the possibility that they might contain an alleged carcinogen?

If this were a tort law or products liability blog, we might opine about the inevitable class-action product liability lawsuit against some combination of McDonald's, Arc International, Arc International North America, Durand Glass Manufacturing Co., the as-yet undisclosed supplier(s) of the cadmium-contaminated paint or other ingredient Durand used to commemorate Shrek™, Fiona™, Donkey™, and Puss in Boots™ (okay, Puss is probably not trademarked, given that the character's name dates from the late Seventeenth century, but we want to minimize our exposure to IP liability because most of us teach at public universities and neither we nor our employers can afford, in the current fiscal climate, to defend any infringement claim that survives a Rule 12(b)(6) motion) on the glassware (and, perhaps, DreamWorks -- for making a movie about which McDonald's predicted sufficient interest that it undertook to procure the offending glassware for resale).

If this were a civil procedure blog we might weigh whether the terms and conditions (no doubt, conveniently located somewhere on the Internet) purportedly governing McDonald's sale of the collectible glassware unconscionably compel non-class arbitration (assuming facts not in evidence) in light of the Supreme Court's recent grant of certiorari in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, No. 09-893 (cert. granted May 24, 2010), about which my friend and UNLV colleague Jean Sternlight and my friend and ContractsProf Blog colleague Meredith Miller have recently blogged here and here, respectively.

If this were a consumer law blog, we might wring our hands or cluck our tongues at yet another clear example of Corporate America's crass exploitation of our children and squeeze-the-last-penny sellers who outsource production of low-priced, lower-cost consumer goods to Third World outposts like ... New Jersey. (Just kidding, Jay.)

But, again, what's the commercial law angle on collectible glassware manufactured for and sold to McDonald's for resale to McDonald's retail customers?

It should go without saying that the most interesting legal issues arising out of this scenario involve (1) what express and implied UCC Article 2 warranties each seller in the chain from DGMC (or DGMC's ingredient supplier) to McDonald's made to anyone who purchased or used the glassware; (2) to what extent, if any, each seller in that chain may have disclaimed some or all of its warranty liability, limited the remedies available to the buyer, user, or other person affected by the glassware's use, or both; (3) whether one or more warranty-making sellers breached one or more warranties to one or more buyer, user, or other person affected by the glassware's use; and (4) what remedies Article 2 affords any person to whom any seller is liable for breach of warranty.

For those wanting to add some international spice to the mix, the CBC reports here that the recall has spread to include all Canadian McDonald's restaurants. Information from the Associated Press and Reuters, reported here, indicates that recalling the glassware sent to Canadian McDonald's restaurants raises the total number of recalled glasses to 13.4 million. Both the U.S. and Canada are parties to the U.N. Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG). To the extent that the Canadian McDonald's restaurants purchased their Shrek Forever After™ collectible glassware from New Jersey-based DGMC or New Jersey-based Arc International North America, that transaction constituted a sale of specially-manufactured goods (CISG art. 3(1)), purchased for resale, rather than personal, family, or household use (CISG art. 2(a)), by a buyer located in one CISG "contracting state" from a seller located in a different "contracting state" (CISG art. 1(1)(a)). Therefore, unless the Canadian McDonald's buyers and New Jersey-based DGMC or New Jersey-based Arc International North America effectively opted out of the CISG (CISG art. 6), any breach of warranty claim the Canadian buyers might have (CISG art. 35), the extent to which any U.S. seller disclaimed any warranty or limited its liability for breaching any warranty (CISG arts. 6 & 35), and the available remedies (CISG arts. 45-52 & 74-78), will be matters for the CISG to resolve.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I am a middle school teacher in NC and came across your site while researching some information about the periodic table for my chemistry class this year. I just wanted to thank you for the great information.

We would love it if you could write a few articles for us, but I understand if your busy so a link to some of the current articles would be very helpful as well to help us spread trusted resources to other teachers. I have included a link to our page about cadmium and its toxic effects in case you would like to help us out by linking to it, tweeting it, or adding it to your Facebook profile.

Thanks and keep the great resources coming

Bre Matthews