Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Supreme Court evens the score on preemption; decides claims are not preempted in Williamson v Mazda
We have been following Williamson v Mazda since it was argued before the Supreme Court last year (here, here, here and here. You can listen to the oral argument here). In this case, the Court was asked to decide whether a state claim for damages caused by a car manufacturer's failure to install a three point seat belt in a 1993 car is preempted by federal regulations that allow vehicle manufacturers to install either lap-only or lap/shoulder seatbelts in certain seating positions. Today, the Court announced its decision in the case holding unanimously that the claim brought in state court was not preempted by the federal regulation. Justice Breyer wrote the opinion of the Court. Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion and Justice Thomas concurred only in the judgment. Justice Kagan had recused herself. The text of the opinion is available here. I think Williamson is the most interesting of the torts preemption cases before the Court this term and the result is surprising in a couple of ways. First, there's the holding itself. The last time the Court addressed this issue, in Geier v Honda, it decided the claims were preempted. Second, there's the fact that the decision was unanimous. In Geier, the Court was sharply divided. And, third, the Court did not overrule Geier. I'll have to read the opinion to figure out how they managed that. For more comments on this decision go to SCotUS blog, Public Citizen, and the Drug and Device law blog. UPDATE: go here for links to more comments on the case.