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Press Release

Judge Orders Recall of Dangerous Magnets

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A federal judge yesterday ordered a Colorado company to recall powerful, small magnets that can cause fatal injuries when swallowed, the Justice Department announced. 

U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello of the District of Colorado had previously issued a preliminary injunction that prohibited Zen Magnets LLC and its owner, Shihan Qu, from further sale of the magnets.  On Tuesday, Judge Arguello made the injunction against the sale of the magnets permanent, ordered Zen Magnets to conduct a recall in which the company must provide refunds to consumers who return the magnets and directed Zen Magnets to destroy the remaining magnets in the company’s inventory.

The court found that Zen Magnets purchased approximately 917,000 small magnets at a substantial discount from another company that one week later agreed to recall the magnets as part of an agreement with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  Judge Arguello ruled that Zen Magnets violated the Consumer Product Safety Act when it subsequently resold the magnets.

“We are pleased that the district court recognized that putting a dangerous consumer product in a different box and calling it a different name does not permit a company to circumvent a recall,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Department of Justice will continue to work with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect consumers—especially children—by enforcing recalls of dangerous products.”

The company had argued that by placing the magnets in different packaging and selling the magnets under different names, the magnets were no longer covered by the recall.  Judge Arguello rejected that argument, saying that Zen Magnets’ interpretation “would allow manufacturers and importers of consumer products to simply circumvent (and effectively disarm)” the Consumer Product Safety Act “by merely repackaging recalled products as they saw fit.”

Judge Arguello noted that Qu knew when his company purchased the magnets in July 2014 that the seller was about to enter into an agreement with the CPSC to recall the magnets and that it was likely that it would soon be illegal to sell the magnets.  Nonetheless, Zen Magnets ignored repeated warnings by the CPSC and continued to sell the magnets until the court issued the preliminary injunction last year.  Judge Arguello stated that allowing consumers to return the magnets “will reduce the likelihood that such consumers are injured by those products” and would deter future violations of the law by forcing Zen Magnets to issue refunds.

“Thanks to the hard work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys from Colorado and Department of Justice Trial Attorneys, a dangerous product has been successfully removed from the market,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh for the District of Colorado.  “This product is known to harm children, and based on that fact alone, the litigation to remove it was critical to protect consumers.”

“Today’s decision puts the rule of law and the safety of children above the profits sought by Zen Magnets,” said Chairman Elliot F. Kaye for CPSC.  “Far too many children have been rushed into hospital emergency rooms to have multiple, high-powered magnets surgically removed from their stomachs.  Young children have suffered infections and one child tragically died from swallowing loose magnets that often look like candy.  The ruling is a major victory for the safety of consumers.  Our pursuit of this case makes clear we will not tolerate the sale of recalled goods in any form.  I am pleased that Judge Arguello ordered Zen to issue refunds to consumers, and I urge anyone who purchased these magnets to immediately seek a refund from Zen.”

The magnets at issue are typically sold in sets of hundreds and are commonly marketed and sold as “sculptural” desk toys.  According to the CPSC, when a person ingests more than one of the powerful small magnets, the magnets are attracted to each other in the digestive system, creating the potential for serious damage to the intestinal tissue trapped in between or even death. 

Zen Magnets is separately challenging a rule issued by the CPSC that prohibits the sale of magnets or magnet sets that are small enough to be swallowed and that have a high degree of magnetic attraction.  That rule went into effect and applies only to magnets sold after April 1, 2015.  That case remains pending on appeal. 

The case is being handled by Senior Litigation Counsel Patrick Jasperse of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jamie Mendelson and Jacob Licht-Steenfat of the District of Colorado. 

Updated March 23, 2016

Consumer Protection
Press Release Number: 16-339