Chinese Drywall Update: Federal Court Presses Quick Action

U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon, who is overseeing combined Federal class action lawsuits relating to defective Chinese-made drywall, made good last week on his stated intention to maintain speedy process in the case. On Thursday, September 24, Judge Fallon ordered attorneys for all parties to act quickly to share documents and evidence in the cases, reports the Miami Herald (" Parties in drywall case urged to proceed quickly," by the Associated Press). At the same hearing, Judge Fallon dropped the gavel on one tardy defendant: He held Chinese drywall maker Taishan Gypsum Co., Ltd., in default for failing to respond to the lawsuit, reported the Brandenton Herald (" Judge rules against Chinese drywall maker," by Duane Marsteller). The ruling will prevent Taishan from offering any defense as the case proceeds; however, it is unclear how any monetary damages could be recovered if Taishan refuses to cooperate. The issue is likely to cloud U.S.-Chinese international relations in coming years. Judge Fallon has also pushed for quick inspections of homes involved in the cases. On August 27, the judge issued a detailed order for inspection of 30 representative houses from Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and the Carolinas. The order, which prescribes sampling and inspection methods, as well as record-keeping and reporting requirements, is posted on the court's website. Some Florida homes have already been inspected under the judge's orders, reports the Fort Myers News-Press (" Estero community gets first drywall inspections," by Mary Wozniak). Information on Fallon's management of the drywall case is more readily available than in typical Federal lawsuits: the court regularly updates its public web page on the case. Federal administrative agency action in the case, meanwhile, has been less proactive than Judge Fallon's aggressive judicial moves. Virginia Senator Mark Warner sent a letter to Consumer Products Safety Commission Chairwoman, Inez Tenenbaum, criticizing the agency for delay and missed deadlines, reported the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot (" Sen. Warner scolds federal agency studying Chinese drywall," by Josh Brown). But CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson defended the agency, saying delays were caused by a broadening and intensification of the commission's investigation, not by lack of effort. And Tenenbaum assured legislators that the CPSC would "vigorously pursue its investigation," promising to issue a report in late October, reported the Miami Herald (" U.S. to probe tainted drywall," by Lesley Clark). But the release date for a study on air sampling of 50 homes has been pushed back to November, reports the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and no date has been set for a report on fire and electrical hazards in houses with Chinese drywall (" Quicker pace urged in tackling drywall problems," by Aaron Kessler). Tenenbaum got a first-hand look at the problem on September 21, reports television station WINK, touring the Cape Coral, Florida, home of Richard Kampf ("Head of Consumer Product Safety Commission Visits Local Home With Chinese Drywall"). "I think it's terrible that people have to live in these conditions and have the health problems," said Tenenbaum. "My heart goes out to the Kampfs and to the other people." But Tenenbaum has asked lawmakers to be patient with her agency, reports the Associated Press (" CPSC pledges swift probe of Chinese drywall," by Jennifer C. Kerr), calling the investigation "extremely complex," and saying, "there probably will not be a quick fix."