Olfactory Nerve — Self-accrediting is common in advertising and seldom taken literally, but a diaper-disposal system’s boast of being "Proven #1 in Odor Control" is raising a stink.

The plaintiff in Garcia v. Playtex Products, a putative class action filed in federal court in Newark last Monday, says Playtex Products violated the N.J. Consumer Fraud Act by including that accolade on the packaging of its Diaper Genie II Elite.

Playtex allegedly relied on internal studies that did not look at industry data. In November 2010, the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau called the "Proven #1" claim misleading, terming it "a promise that there is scientific evidence that proves or establishes the truth of the advertiser’s claim, which Playtex does not have."

Last June, Munchkin Inc., the maker of a competing diaper disposer won a $13.5 million verdict in a false-advertising suit against Playtex in federal court in Los Angeles.

Playtex, of New Providence, referred a reporter’s call to its parent company, Energizer Personal Care in Shelton, Conn., which did not return a message.

The plaintiff lawyers are Lisa Rodriguez of Trujillo, Rodriguez & Richards in Haddonfield and Howard Sedran of Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman in Philadelphia.


Craig Sashihara

Motherhood Prevails — Refusing refinancing for a mother-to-be has cost one of the country’s largest mortgage companies $36,000 in a state civil rights proceeding.

Taryn Benacquista, a Hamburg school teacher, applied to Nationstar Mortgage of Lewisville, Texas, in early 2011 to refinance her condominium. She provided one of the two required pay stubs and said she was awaiting a second one in the mail. When the lender asked why she couldn’t just pick one up at work, she replied she was on a six-month maternity leave. The denial followed.

Benacquista filed a complaint with state Division on Civil Rights, which in October 2011 found probable cause of a violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

The company agreed to the settlement in January. Of the cash total, $30,000 goes to Benacquista and $6,000 to the state. Benacquista got her money on Feb. 19 and the state got its money Feb. 15, according to state spokesman Lee Moore.

Nationstar Mortgage also agreed to train employees on the LAD and on fair-housing and credit rules. "Credit-worthiness is one thing, illegal assumptions are another thing altogether," said division director Craig Sashihara in announcing the settlement on Tuesday.

Neither a Nationstar spokesman nor company attorney Martin Bryce of Philadelphia’s Ballard Spahr returned a reporter’s calls seeking comment.


Brian Stack

Arming Tenants — Lawmakers took aim Monday at a common lease provision that mandates fee shifting for successful plaintiff-landlords but is silent as to prevailing tenants.The Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee unanimously approved S-2018, which would require a landlord using such a lease to reciprocate by paying attorney fees if the tenant fended off or successfully litigated the action.

Sponsor Brian Stack — a Hudson County Democrat, onetime tenant advocate and Union City mayor since 2000 — said the bill would promote fairness and discourage frivolous landlord suits. "In many cases, there’s abuse where landlords take tenants to court — the same tenant three, four, five times in a year."

Gregory Diebold, director of litigation for Northeast New Jersey Legal Services Inc., says most leases have a fee-shifting provision favoring landlords. Diebold says, "There are some landlords who … may try to get tenants out with repeated filings." The bill "would make the landlord think twice about bringing a case that doesn’t have any basis."

Bruce Gudin, counsel to the New Jersey Property Owners Association, says it would restrict negotiations and stifle investment in multifamily properties. "To give a tenant a sword … would in effect be giving the tenant a right to a counterclaim," which is prohibited in summary landlord-tenant disputes, says Gudin, a partner at Ehrlich, Petriello, Gudin & Plaza in Newark. He adds there already are statutory and rule safeguards against frivolous suits.


Photo: iStock

Drawing Attention — Several lessons can be gleaned from Adam Block‘s reprimand for practicing law while ineligible due to failure to pay his attorney assessments.

One: If you appear in court despite being ineligible, don’t make yourself conspicuous by missing court dates, requesting unreasonable adjournments, failing to file appropriate paperwork and not complying with court orders. Block did so in a West New York municipal court case in 2010, prompting Judge Charles D’Amico to check on his status and report him to ethics authorities on learning he was suspended.

Block, however, claimed he did not know he was suspended in 2010. He had been ineligible since 2007 and admitted receiving notices about it but claimed that in 2009, he went to work for his father, also a lawyer, who told him he would pay. Lesson two: Never rely on anyone else to pay your assessments, even your dad.

The DRB recommended reducing the discipline to an admonition due to lack of clear proof that Block knew he was ineligible. But it bumped it back up to a reprimand because Block defaulted in the ethics case, which is lesson three: Don’t default.

The Supreme Court issued the reprimand on Thursday.

Block, admitted in 1993 and back on active status, could not be reached for comment. He had no prior ethics history but faces new charges for appearances in other local courts while ineligible.

— By Charles Toutant, Michael Booth, David Gialanella and Mary Pat Gallagher