Federal, State Actions Come as Part of Crackdown During May's 'Better Sleep Month'
Two used mattress retailers, Mega Furniture, Inc. and Nueva Furniture, Inc., both based in Brooklyn, New York, have agreed to enter into court settlements with the Federal Trade Commission as a part of a joint federal-state crackdown on the deceptive sale of "rebuilt" mattresses. Timed to follow up on May's "Better Sleep Month," today's announcement launches "Project Rest Easy," a law enforcement initiative and consumer education campaign aimed at cleaning up the renovated mattress industry and helping consumers spot mattress scams.
Efforts by the FTC and the states of Arizona, California and Florida have resulted in 12 law enforcement actions against manufacturers and retailers of used mattresses, either for selling used mattresses as if they were new or failing to properly sanitize the used mattresses they sell. In the case of the FTC's actions, both Mega Furniture and Nueva Furniture represented to consumers that their used mattresses were "rebuilt" and "comprised of all new materials except for the springs," when in fact, they were simply old mattresses recovered with new mattress ticking.
"With 'Project Rest Easy,' we believe that the old adage, 'don't let the bed bugs bite,' won't become a reality for consumers in the market for bedding," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The state cases involve Assurances of Voluntary Compliance (AVCs) entered into by the Florida Attorney General's Office against two mattress manufacturers who were fined for representing to consumers that the used mattresses they sold were new. In addition, the Florida respondents are required to offer full refunds to all consumers who purchased a used mattress from them believing it was new, and must affix labels to all used bedding they sell that clearly and conspicuously indicate the amount of used materials the bedding contains.
The Consumer Protection Division of Arizona's Attorney General's Office obtained one consent judgment with an individual who was manufacturing and selling mattresses he represented to be new that were, in fact, used. The defendant was fined, and is prohibited from manufacturing mattresses, whether new or used, in the state of Arizona unless he is employed by a legitimate mattress business.
The California cases involve six "withhold-from-sale" orders issued by California's Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation against manufacturers of used mattresses in the Los Angeles area. Targeted manufacturers were cited with violations of the California Business and Professions Codes, including failure to remove or clean secondhand mattress covers, failure to sanitize articles of bedding that contain secondhand materials, and failure to keep their premises free from refuse, dirt contamination, insects or vermin.
In a separate California action, one manufacturer pled no contest to criminal charges stemming from his failure to keep his business free from contamination and failure to sanitize the soiled mattresses he sold. According to the terms of his plea agreement, he must cease operations no later than June 2, 2000, and cannot engage in bedding manufacturing during his three-year probationary period. In addition, as a result of violating a previous related conviction, this manufacturer was sentenced to 120 days in the county jail or 90 days of freeway cleaning.
The FTC actions prohibit the defendants from misrepresenting the extent to which any of the mattresses they sell contain used materials. In addition, Mega Furniture and Nueva Furniture cannot use the term "rebuilt," or any other term that implies that their used mattresses have been subject to some re-processing, unless they also disclose -- clearly and conspicuously at the time the representation is made -- the extent to which such mattress is used. The companies also will offer full refunds, amounting to nearly $50,000, to all consumers who purchased used mattresses from them between January 1, 1999 and the present. State public health officials address issues concerning sanitization and the potential health concerns about used bedding, while the FTC's focus is on ensuring that consumers receive truthful and appropriate disclosures about the bedding they buy.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the complaints and stipulated orders was 5-0. The orders were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on June 13, 2000. They will become final when signed by the judge.
FTC Consumer Education
The FTC has issued alerts in both English and Spanish to help consumers distinguish between new and used mattresses when they are shopping for bedding. The alerts are titled: "More Than Once Upon a Mattress: Used Bedding Labeling Rules" and "Quien ha Dormido en su Colchon: Reglamentos Sobre Etiquetas Para Colchones Usados." In most states, used mattresses can be resold as long as they meet certain labeling and processing requirements. The bottom line: look for a tag indicating whether the mattress is new or used - and consider shopping elsewhere if the mattress does not carry one.
NOTE: Stipulated Orders for Permanent Injunction are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission of law violations. Stipulated Orders for Permanent Injunction have the force of law when signed by a judge.
Copies of the FTC's complaints, Stipulated Orders for Permanent Injunction, and consumer alerts are available from the FTC's website at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
Mitchell J. Katz
Office of Public Affairs
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Northeast Region - New York
Pati Urias, Public Information Officer
Office of the Attorney General, State of Arizona
Jay Van Rein, Information Officer
California Dept. of Consumer Affairs
Robert J. Buchner, Assistant Attorney
General State of Florida, Dept. of Legal Affairs
(FTC File Nos. 002-3051 and 002-3052;
Civ. Action Nos. CV 00 3464 and CV 003465)