The Inquirer's parent company and one of its reporters have sued the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, accusing the agency of withholding public records that could shed light on its investigation into deadly Ikea dresser tip-overs and the negotiations that led to a historic recall of 29 million dressers.
The complaint, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, says the agency has not responded to requests for public documents from reporter Tricia L. Nadolny.
Since February 2015, the newspaper has reported on deaths of toddlers from unstable Ikea dressers that toppled onto them and has sought safety commission records under the Freedom of Information Act regarding its investigations and talks with Ikea, according to the complaint.
Citing the deaths, the agency and Ikea announced a repair program in July 2015 to give dresser owners hardware to fasten their dressers to a wall. After another child died months later from a tipped dresser, they resumed talks, and in June 2016 recalled 29 million Ikea dressers.
Following the recall, Nadolny submitted several requests for documents and information about the commission's response, says the claim, filed by lawyers for her and Philadelphia Media Network.
It alleges that the agency ignored seven of 10 FOIA requests made in August 2016 and has not said which records it intends to produce for two of the other three requests.
"Plaintiffs hoped that CPSC would be more forthcoming than it had been previously, given the enormity of the recall and the fact that public scrutiny regarding what happened with the Ikea dressers could help the agency better address similar situations in the future," the complaint says.
Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the commission, said Tuesday that the agency was taking the lawsuit seriously.
"We are an agency that strives to work in the sunshine," he said. "So we are reviewing the suit at this time and certainly will be responsive to it."
(Also on Tuesday, a day after the complaint was filed, the agency sent Philadelphia Media Network responses acknowledging receipt of its outstanding records requests and indicating that there might be a delay in processing them.)
Lawyers for the company have asked a judge to order the commission to produce the records and pay its costs and legal fees.
Reporting on fatal tip-overs is "a matter of the utmost public importance," William K. Marimow, editor of the Inquirer, said in a statement. "When toddlers and babies have been killed or seriously injured, it's the job of a news organization like ours to determine the extent of the tip-over problem, the effectiveness of Ikea's corrective actions, and what the Consumer Product Safety Commission has done to address the issue."