COVID-19 Product Distributor Says Vendors Sold Faulty Masks

By Grace Dixon
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Law360 (October 13, 2020, 7:57 PM EDT) -- A distributor of personal protective equipment to safeguard against the coronavirus sued two mask importers in California federal court, saying that it received $210,000 of worthless and defective KN95 medical masks from China.

Pacific Medical Products LLC, which serves the Washington state medical and health care industry, says in a Friday complaint that California Coco Tree Inc., Seven Bubbles Inc. and Wei Zhou, the vendors' shared president, provided it with possibly counterfeit certification documents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and misrepresented the origin of the masks, which allegedly had faulty nose clips.

"Due to the defective nature of the KN95 masks, the masks could not be sold," the complaint said. "Instead, the FDA advised [Pacific Medical] that it could be prosecuted if it sold the defective KN95 face masks."

In April, Pacific Medical purchased 90,000 KN95 masks from the vendors after assurances that the two manufacturers for the shipment met FDA standards, backed by a copy of the FDA Medical Device Registration for their masks.

Yet when a hospital client received a portion of the mask shipment the following month, it rejected 20,000, citing a discrepancy between the promised product with a sewn-in metal nose clip and the actual product with a glued-on nose clip that was easily removed, according to the complaint.

At the same time, the maker of another 40,000 masks purchased by Pacific Medical was added to a list of 65 Chinese manufacturers banned from exporting face masks by the FDA when a test run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed only a 47% filtration rate, Pacific Medical said.

"[Pacific Medical] bought the masks with the understanding they could be used in the medical field," Jennifer Pruski of Trainor Fairbrook, counsel to Pacific Medical, said to Law360. "The masks were not as represented, they were not conforming to what [the vendors] had advertised."

Representatives for Seven Bubbles and California Coco Tree declined to comment Tuesday.

The vendors immediately disputed the defect claims, according to the suit, arguing that Pacific Medical could not prove that the metal clips had simply fallen off and saying that "the FDA's judgment is wrong."

Soon after, the suit says, it became evident that the vendors may have misrepresented the origin of both shipments based on discrepancies in the packaging and after one manufacturer directly confirmed they had not shipped the KN95 face masks in question.

While the vendors initially offered to repurchase the defective masks at a discount, they later switched course and asserted that the manufacturer would not accept any returns, the suit says.

Pacific Medical leveled claims of breach of contract, breach of warranty, fraud, negligence, product liability, contract law and violation of California business practices against Seven Bubbles and California Coco Tree.

The suit is one among a spate of mask-related suits filed since April. Several Chinese manufacturers are facing claims they sold misbranded and defective masks with false FDA certification documents. The Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general have also lodged a bevy of price-gouging claims against online retailers.

Pacific Medical Products LLC is represented by Jennifer Pruski and Dustin Amrein of Trainor Fairbrook.

Counsel information for Seven Bubbles Inc. and California Coco Tree Inc. was not immediately available.

The case is Pacific Medical Products LLC v. California Coco Tree Inc. et al., case number 2:20-cv-09323, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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