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Clean Air Act Preemption Claims Not Preempted in Diesel Cheat Device Class-Action

A Michigan district court judge determined that the Clean Air Act did not preclude plaintiffs from bringing 53 state law fraudulent concealment and consumer protection claims against General Motors LLC and its suppliers for developing and installing devices on GM diesel trucks to cheat emissions tests. Fenner v. Gen. Motors, LLC, 2018 WL 949856 (E.D. MI. February 20, 2018).

Consumers of GM diesel vehicles with Duramax motors sued GM and developers of an emissions control device installed in their vehicles. Id. The class-action suit characterized the defendants as conspirators who fraudulently developed and installed an emissions control device, leading the vehicles to not perform as represented. Id. Plaintiffs sought damages for the approximately $9,000 premium they paid for the diesel motors compared to comparable vehicles with gas motors. Id. Defendants argued that, among other things, the plaintiffs’ suit was precluded and preempted by the Clean Air Act.

Defendants first argued that plaintiffs’ sought impermissible conditions precedent to the sale of motor vehicles by requiring defendants to disclose information regarding their emission control devices.  The Clean Air Act prohibits states from requiring “certification, inspection, or any other approval relating to the control of emissions . . . as a condition precedent to the initial retail sale of a new motor vehicle,” See 42 U.S.C. § 7543(a). Defendants contended that the disclosure requirement was a violation of § 7543(a). Id. The court disagreed and held that “it appears impossible that consumers could impose any ‘condition precedent to the initial retail sale’ of a vehicle.” Id. at 12. Rather the plaintiffs merely sought compensation for GM’s fraudulent concealment.

The defendants also argued that the plaintiffs’ claims were disguised suits for noncompliance with EPA emission standards. Id. at 12. While the court acknowledged that such a suit would be preempted, the court held that the plaintiffs’ claims were not preempted because the claims did not require proof of noncompliance with EPA emission standards to be successful. Id. at 15.

The third argument hinged on implied preemption. Plaintiffs accused GM of failing to publicly disclose specific information about the emission devices. The defendants contended that the claim was preempted because the EPA imposed regulations regarding what automakers must disclose to the public about emissions devices. Id. at 16. The court disagreed, holding the plaintiffs’ claims will in no way interfere with EPA’s regulatory scheme or the Congress’s purpose in passing the Clean Air Act. Id.

© 2020 Beveridge & Diamond PC National Law Review, Volume VIII, Number 131


About this Author

Dylan J. King Environmental Litigation Attorney Beveridge & Diamond Boston, MA

Dylan uses his legal and business skills to help clients solve problems.

He maintains a diverse environmental litigation and regulatory practice, working with clients nationwide across industrial sectors. He has developed experience with solid waste facility siting, pipeline and hazardous material transportation regulations, site contamination litigation, and local zoning matters. Dylan joined the firm following his graduation from Vermont Law School with a certificate in Energy Law.

During his time at Vermont Law School, Dylan worked with the Vermont Law School Energy Clinic...