Sriracha: Hot Sauce, Hot Problems

Emergency business litigation does not always arise out of the board room. Sometimes, it can just drift in, like a cloud.

Sriracha, a hot sauce made mostly of chili peppers and vinegar, was originally invented decades ago in Thailand, before being reformulated in America by immigrants in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Over the past few years, however, its popularity in the United States has skyrocketed, to the point where a brand new factory dedicated to making the sauce recently opened in Irwindale, California.

And that is where the troubles began.

As one might expect from a rather large factory that processes massive quantities of chili peppers, garlic, and various other spices, controlling the spread of odors from the factory is essential, lest the town of Irwindale be flooded with the intense smell of pepper and garlic in perpetuity. To that end, the company that operates the plant, Huy Fong Foods, installed a carbon-based filtering system to try and remove the odor from the plant’s emissions. Local residents complained that the smell of chili peppers was still pervasive, and was so intense that it caused health problems, such as burning of the eyes and irritated throats. Responding to their constituents, the city of Irwindale asked Huy Fong Foods to install a more expensive filtration system, estimated to cost the company $600,000. Huy Fong refused, protesting that the residents had exaggerated the intensity of the odor, noting that their factory workers, who were exposed to the unfiltered fumes at much closer proximity, were able to do their work without complaint.

The city of Irwindale countered with a suit alleging that the factory was a public nuisance, and filed for a TRO and a preliminary injunction to shut down the factory while the issue is being litigated. On Thursday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled on the TRO, denying it, and keeping the factory open for the time being.

His reasoning illustrates the one critical difference between a TRO and a preliminary injunction--timing. The city of Irwindale had asked the judge, on very short notice and without the benefit of a full hearing, to shut down an entire factory for an indefinite period of time, which, as the court noted, was a rather extreme request to make on such short notice.  The judge was unwilling to allow such a radical remedy even if, in the case of a TRO, it would only last until the city’s request for a preliminary injunction could be heard later that month.

Instead, the factory will remain open at least until the court can conduct a full hearing on whether or not the emanations from the factory are noxious to the point where an injunction is necessary.

This case just shows how emergency business litigation can come when one least expects it. Knowing how to defend against such litigation can be the difference between a business keeping its doors open, or being shut down for good.

The Patterson Law Firm is experienced in handling cases that need to be dealt with on an emergency basis—Tom Patterson wrote the book on temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions. To learn more about the services we offer visit pattersonlawfirm.com or call 312.223.1699.

 

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