An unconstitutional agency is threatening the future of a family business devoted to child safety

January 19, 2024 | By BRITTANY HUNTER
Mother playing with baby in a Podster

Jamie Leach has dedicated her life to the pursuit of child safety. After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, Jamie worked as a nurse in a pediatric intensive care unit in Ada, Oklahoma, where she lives. She later went on to combine her love of helping others with her natural proclivity toward innovation and started Leachco, a family-run company that creates products that keep babies safe.

In the 35 years since it began, Leachco has built up a loyal clientele of parents who love and swear by its products. But now, the company’s future is being threatened by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is asserting authority it does not have to unjustly blame Leachco for three fatal accidents the company did not cause.

Innovation in her blood

Every great product starts by observing a problem in need of a solution. For Jamie, the problem manifested itself through a defective high chair at a restaurant. Years ago, while she and her husband Clyde were out to dinner, their infant son, Alex, nearly fell out of a high chair, thanks to a broken strap.

Jamie acted quickly and removed the detachable strap from her purse and fashioned it into a makeshift seatbelt. It worked and the wheels in her head began to turn.

Jamie and Clyde were almost never able to get through a meal at home without Alex wiggling around in the high chair. Inspired by her spontaneous solution at the restaurant, Jamie scoured her house for supplies that would help her keep Alex secure, not only in his high chair, but also in a stroller or grocery cart.

Armed with a kitchen towel, dental floss, tape, and Velcro, she got to work creating a homemade safety wrap. The Wiggle Wrap became the first of many infant safety products Jamie invented.

Jamie credits her natural engineering instincts to her father.

“My dad was one of those guys that would make stuff around the house, and he was always inventing things that made life easier for us.”

While there were countless inventions, Jamie lovingly remembers the homemade weightlifting machine he made out of a ladder and dumbbells, the grill made from a recycled candy vat, and his unique shoe-buffering gadget.

Her father’s inventive style instilled in Jamie a need to constantly question whether there was a better way of doing something—an attitude she really began to recognize while she was working in pediatrics in intensive care. She had a habit of identifying when a process or piece of equipment was inefficient, but she admits that at the time, she didn’t have the vehicle or wherewithal to fully understand how to solve the problem.

Once she became a mother, the instinctive need to protect her children inspired her to create tangible solutions to the problems she identified.

She adopted the mindset of “I can do this and it’s for my baby. I’m going to make this for me and make my life more convenient.” This attitude allowed her to make life more convenient for other parents as well.

Whenever she used the product in public, parents would stop her, eager to know where they could find a Wiggle Wrap of their own. “That’s what gave us the idea that ‘Oh, we might have something here.’ So that started our very first product,” Jamie recalls.

After contacting a patent attorney, she learned that her Wiggle Wrap invention was patentable. She and Clyde decided to take the plunge into the risky world of entrepreneurship.

The decision certainly wasn’t easy, and there was a lot at stake for their family. They had both quit their jobs to devote their time to selling the Wiggle Wrap. Without a steady stream of income, their family’s entire financial livelihood was riding on the company’s success.

The couple spent 12 grueling 12-hour days at the Oklahoma State Fair selling the Wiggle Wrap. After selling only a handful of products, Jamie and Clyde were starting to get discouraged. Their luck turned around when Streets, a local department store with about a dozen locations around Oklahoma, ordered Wiggle Wraps for all its stores.

“We just didn’t believe it,” Jamie says. The product became extremely popular, and eventually Leachco created a more affordable version of the Wiggle Wrap, called the Sit & Secure, and sold thousands upon thousands to Walmart.

Even with that initial success, the company was in trouble. At one point, Clyde and Jamie were in such a deep financial hole their accountant advised them to give up. Clyde looked at Jamie and said, “We’re going to keep going.”

Since it began in 1988, Leachco has produced numerous other products that have helped keep babies safe, including the  Podster® infant lounger.

The Podster, which provides caregivers a safe surface to place their infants, launched in 2009 and was wildly popular, with over 180,000 sold.

Jamie’s primary motivation for Leachco is child safety—a goal from which the company has never strayed. Each Podster comes with explicit instructions and warnings that the lounger should be used only when infants are awake and supervised by an attending adult.

To the Leaches’ horror and dismay, a few caretakers have not heeded these clear warnings.

Avoidable tragedy

The Podster was involved in, but was not the cause of, three tragic incidents that resulted in the deaths of two infants. In one instance, a daycare center placed a baby, with a bottle in his mouth, and a Podster in a crib and left the baby unsupervised for more than 90 minutes—contrary to Leachco’s warnings, state regulations, and the daycare’s own rules. The daycare lost its license and was forced to close. In the second incident, a three-week-old infant died after the baby was placed in the Podster and then placed on an adult bed, between the infant’s adult parents, along with bedding and pillows, for co-sleeping—once again, contrary to Leachco’s warnings. Finally, at a home-based daycare, an infant was placed in a Podster in a play-yard and left unattended for 45 minutes—again contrary to Leachco’s warnings.

Even though these tragedies were caused by user error and not by the Podster, Leachco is being blamed and penalized by the CPSC.

The Leaches were completely devastated when they heard about these children.

“I was absolutely gutted,” Jamie said. “I couldn’t function.”

She continued:

My whole professional adult life had been devoted to healing and improving and safety and help. That’s what nurses do. That’s what my training taught me. That’s who I was. And that this happened … it was heartbreaking, and I’m a different person now.

Jamie’s response is human: A child’s death is an unimaginable tragedy. It’s also understandable that, in the wake of tragedy, people are desperate to assign blame and prevent future deaths.

But Jamie Leach’s product is now being blamed for these deaths,  when its label specifically warned parents about these dangers—and Jamie is learning that in the administrative state, “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t exist.

Unjust blame, unjust tribunals

The CPSC claims the Podster is defective because it’s “reasonably foreseeable” that parents and caregivers will ignore expressed warnings and fail to use common sense. If that is really the case, then why have warning labels at all?

And if the CPSC was consistently applying its “reasonably foreseeable” logic across the board, it would have to penalize virtually every product on the market.

The CPSC issued a press release demanding that Leachco recall the Podster and give refunds and reimbursements. Not only is this financially devastating to the small company, but they must now also bear the scarlet letter of a horrific tragedy they did not cause. The damage done to the company’s reputation, combined with the financial penalties imposed by the CPSC, threaten Leachco’s future.

Even worse, the CPSC seeks to impose the recall and penalties through an in-house trial, in which the agency itself acts as prosecutor, judge, jury, and appellate court.

The CPSC’s proceeding violates the Constitution, which guarantees the right of due process and the right to a fair hearing before an independent judge.

But there are also deeper constitutional issues with the structure of the CPSC. Agency officials who are empowered with executive authority answer to the president. Yet the CPSC’s commissioners cannot be removed by the president except for cause, contrary to Supreme Court decisions that have ruled that this kind of removal protection is unconstitutional.

To put it bluntly, the CPSC is an unconstitutional agency conducting an illegal proceeding that violates Leachco’s rights. If the agency is not held accountable for its arbitrary enforcement, it will threaten the livelihood of entrepreneurs and small-business owners who have no way of knowing if or when the federal government could shut them down.

The Leaches decided to fight back.

On behalf of the Leaches, Pacific Legal Foundation filed suit against the CPSC and its unconstitutional in-house tribunal for violating the Leaches’ due process rights, which include the right to a trial before an independent judge and jury. This case is part of PLF’s initiative to end these in-house tribunals, sometimes called agency adjudication, once and for all.

For Jamie, this case isn’t about winning; it’s about restoring justice. “It’s not win or lose. It is being able to experience justice. We want the right things for businesses and individuals who’ve experienced this.”

When asked how she feels about having PLF by her side, Jamie said:

We are more than that grateful for PLF that believes in us and has stood with us …. Without them, without their trust in us and their confidence in us, again, board and nail. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to the powers that be at PLF and supporters and the board for this gift to us that I hope benefits others for a long time.