The Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County v. Volkswagen Group of America, Inc., No. 18-15937 (9th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
This appeal stemmed from Volkswagen's installation of defeat devices in new cars for the purpose of evading compliance with federally mandated emission standards, and subsequent updating of the software in those cars so the defeat devices would do a better job of avoiding and preventing compliance. After Volkswagen settled EPA's criminal and civil actions for over $20 billion dollars, two counties sought to impose additional penalties for violation of their laws prohibiting tampering with emission control systems. The district court concluded that the claims were preempted by the Clean Air Act (CAA).
The Ninth Circuit held that, although the CAA expressly preempts state and local government efforts to apply anti-tampering laws to pre-sale vehicles, the CAA does not prevent the two counties here from enforcing their regulations against Volkswagen for tampering with post-sale vehicles. Furthermore, the panel rejected Volkswagen's assertions that the counties' anti-tampering rules were preempted under ordinary preemption principles. In this case, the panel saw no indication that Congress intended to preempt state and local authority to enforce anti-tampering rules on a model-wide basis. Furthermore, the CAA's cooperative federalism scheme, its express preservation of state and local police powers post sale, and the complete absence of a congressional intent to vest in the EPA the exclusive authority to regulate every incident of post-sale tampering raised the strong inference that Congress did not intend to deprive the EPA of effective aid from local officers to combat tampering with emission control systems.