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Highlight Updates The Clean Air Act’s Emission Controls

The Clean Air Act has an unusually broad preemption provision stating that “[n]o State or political subdivision thereof shall adopt or attempt to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines subject to this part.”337 A number of courts have held that this provision does not preempt warranty, fraud, and other claims alleging that the manufacturer used a “defeat device” to prevent a vehicle’s non-compliance with federal emissions standards from being detected.338

The Clean Air Act also requires manufacturers to warrant to the ultimate purchaser and each subsequent purchaser that the vehicle or engine is designed, built, and equipped so as to conform at the time of sale with applicable emissions regulations and to be free from defects in materials and workmanship which cause it to fail to conform with those regulations.339 The warranty period must comply with EPA regulations.340 The specific reference to the ultimate purchaser and the warranty period make it clear that this warranty is intended to be enforceable by buyers like any other warranty. However two courts have disagreed, holding that as the warranties were not voluntary their enforcement by consumers would run afoul of the prohibition341 against states or political subdivisions enforcing emissions standards.342


  • 337 {337} 42 U.S.C. § 7543(a). See Jackson v. Gen. Motors Corp., 770 F. Supp. 2d 570 (S.D.N.Y. 2011) (interpreting this provision to preempt a variety of claims based on injuries sustained due to vehicle exhaust fumes), aff’d, 472 Fed. Appx. 80 (2d Cir. 2012).

  • 338 {338} Bledsoe v. FCA US L.L.C., 378 F. Supp. 3d 626 (E.D. Mich. 2019); Counts v. Gen. Motors, L.L.C., 237 F. Supp. 3d 572, 588–590 (E.D. Mich. 2017) (deception and breach of contract claims based on manufacturer’s installation of defeat device not preempted when they do not seek to enforce federal emissions standards); Felix v. Volkswagen Grp. of Am., Inc., 2017 WL 3013080 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. July 17, 2017); In re Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Litig., 94 Va. Cir. 189 (Va. Cir. Ct. 2016).

  • 339 {339} 42 U.S.C. § 7541(a)(1).

  • 340 {340} 42 U.S.C. § 7541(i).

  • 341 {341} 42 U.S.C. § 7543(a).

  • 342 {342} In re Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep Ecodiesel Mktg., Sales Practices & Products Liab. Litig., 295 F. Supp. 3d 927, 1024–1026 (D. Mass. 2018); In re Caterpillar, Inc., C13 & C15 Engine Products Liab. Litig., 2015 WL 4591236, at *13 (D.N.J. July 29, 2015) (warranty claim preempted because it would be an attempt to enforce federal emissions standards).