Manufacturers Watching Preemption Cases at Supreme Court

The October term of the U.S. Supreme Court  opens today, and Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal previews the session, “On the High Court’s Fall Docket, Few Blockbusters — but Plenty to Watch.” Among the issues of importance in business cases is federal preemption, that is, whether federal regulation of items in interstate commerce supersedes state regulation and litigation in state courts.

Four pre-emption challenges, including: two involving torts, Williamson v. Mazda Motor (auto safety standards) and Bruesewitz v. Wyeth (National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act); one restricting employers hiring undocumented aliens (Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting), and one challenging class action arbitration waivers (AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion).

The National Association of Manufacturers last week joined other business groups in filing an amicus brief in Williamson v. Mazda Motors. As our Manufacturing Law Center entry summarizes, preemption analysis is a settled and vital component of our nationwide system of health, safety and economic regulation:

This case involves whether an automobile manufacturer may be sued in state court for installing lap-only seatbelts in certain rear seating positions when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) specifically rejected such a requirement and gave manufacturers the freedom to choose either a lap-only or a lap/shoulder seatbelt configuration. The agency was delegated the authority to establish a coordinated national safety program, by issuing standards that take into account safety as well as the availability of technology and economic costs. It chose to offer manufacturers two design options, but this lawsuit would require a jury to re-examine the same safety, technological feasibility and cost-effectiveness issues that NHTSA balances under its rulemaking authority.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here. Joining the NAM in the brief are the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Lawyers for Civil Justice, and the American Tort Reform Association.

Coyle previously addressed the preemption issue in the article, “Big names, high stakes in quartet of pre-emption cases,” noting that new Justice Kagan will recuse herself because she argued three of the four cases as solicitor general for the Obama Administration. The Washington Post highlights the Kagan recusals in its court story today.

The trial lawyers’ trade association, the American Association for Justice, has lobbied extensively against federal preemption in Congress and Executive Branch agencies. The AAJ is pleased with its successes in expanding the venues for its product liability lawsuits.

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