A case recently decided in Michigan could help new mattress stores persuade building code officials to exempt them from costly fire sprinkler requirements that apply to retailers of upholstered furniture.
In early April, the Michigan Construction Code Commission overruled a decision by the city of Lansing that a new Sleep Doctor mattress store selling only mattresses must install—at a cost of over $100,000—a fire suppression system required by local fire codes for new stores that sell upholstered furniture. The decision turned on whether mattress-only retailers are excluded from sprinkler requirements for upholstered furniture retailers set in 2009 amendments to the International Code Council’s International Building Code, which Michigan has adopted in its state fire code.
The store’s developer, Wolverine Development Corp. of East Lansing, Mich., represented by the Lansing law firm Loomis, Ewert, Parsley, Davis & Gotting P.C., persuaded the commission that the mattress and upholstered furniture industries are distinct in terms of which companies manufacture these products, and how they are regulated by federal and state agencies for purposes of product flammability risks.
The developer also demonstrated that when the 2009 IBC amendments were considered, mattress retailers expressly were excluded from a proposed code requirement, in recognition of the fact that mattresses are subject to two significant flammability standards administered by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, while no federal flammability standards apply to upholstered furniture. The commission found that the IBC’s delegates were aware that mattresses and upholstered furniture pose different fire risks and intentionally omitted mattresses from the 2009 IBC provisions being applied against the Sleep Doctor store. Therefore, when the new IBC sprinkler rule mentioned only upholstered furniture retailers, the commission found that the IBC had intended to exclude mattresses from that provision.
Finally, the commission considered 2012 IBC amendments to the same provision as further justification for its decision (although the 2012 amendments are not yet in effect in Michigan). The 2012 amendments set fire sprinkler requirements for all stores that sell upholstered furniture or mattresses, but only those that occupy more than 5,000 square feet of display space. The commission reasoned that since the IBC expanded the sprinkler rule in 2012 to include mattresses only after adding an important size restriction, and the Sleep Doctor store would be exempt from the 2012 rule because its display space is less than 5,000 square feet, it would be unfair to interpret the 2009 rule to include mattresses.
Mattress industry trade group, the International Sleep Products Association, with headquarters in Alexandria, Va., provided information to assist the owner’s lawyers in reversing the city of Lansing’s action.
At this time, it is unclear whether the city will appeal the commission’s decision.
For more information about this case, contact Colin Maguire of the Loomis law firm at firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to Michigan, the Loomis firm has offices in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.