Kwikset `U.S.-made' items not made here, court rules

Consumer's suit aimed at Black & Decker unit

March 19, 2002|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,SUN STAFF

A California court has tentatively ruled that a Black & Decker subsidiary wrongly labeled 25 of its products as American-made and has ordered the company to allow California retailers and distributors to exchange mislabeled products for those with corrected packaging.

Superior Court of California, which released its decision last week, said the violation was not so deceptive or false as to warrant a refund program or other restitution. Both sides in the case have 10 days to respond before the decision becomes final.

Black & Decker spokeswoman Barbara Lucas said the Towson-based company will await the court's final decision before deciding whether to appeal.

The March 11 ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed in early 2000 by California consumer James Benson with the help of Made in the USA Foundation, a Bethesda-based group that promotes purchases of U.S. products to protect jobs in the United States . The case went to trial in December.

Benson claimed that Kwikset Corp., a California subsidiary of Black & Decker, had labeled its locks and related hardware with "Made in USA," "All American Made" and similar designations indicating that they were American-made when some of the products were partly manufactured or assembled in Mexico.

The court made its decision about a year after Black & Decker reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission about Kwikset's "Made in the USA" labels. To make such a claim, the federal agency said, "all or virtually all" of a product's parts must be made in the United States, and most of the labor must be American.

The settlement prevents Kwikset and Black & Decker from misrepresenting the extent to which their products are made in the United States, according to court documents. No fine was assessed.

The California court noted that Kwikset stopped using the U.S. designation on the products in April 2000. The court prohibited the companies from using "All American Made" or similar wording on labels of products sold in California if the products contain parts that are made outside the United States.

The court said some retailers and distributors have products on their shelves with improper labeling.

It ordered Kwikset and Black & Decker to notify their California retailer, dealer and distributor customers that they can return any mislabeled products for similar items with proper labels. The companies also have the option of refunding to customers their original purchase price.

The court did not require the companies to make restitution or refunds to consumers.

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