United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
BURRIS RICHARD STOVALL, as Guardian of Richard Joshua Stovall, an Incapacitated Adult PLAINTIFF
MACK TRUCKS, INC.; INDIANA MILLS & MANUFACTURING, INC.; and JOHN DOES 1-10 DEFENDANTS
OPINION AND ORDER
LEON HOLMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Joshua Stovall was injured while driving a Mack truck that
was not equipped with airbags. He is now incapacitated.
Burris Richard Stovall, Richard's guardian, alleges that
Mack Trucks, Inc., negligently and defectively designed the
truck because, amongst other reasons, the Mack truck did not
have an airbag. Mack Trucks has asserted a federal preemption
defense, and Stovall now moves for partial summary judgment
on this defense.
should enter summary judgment if the evidence, viewed in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party, demonstrates
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511,
91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Torgerson v. City of
Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en
banc). A genuine dispute of material fact exists only if the
evidence is sufficient to allow a jury to return a verdict
for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249,
106 S.Ct. at 2511.
Trucks argues that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 208
promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration preempts Stovall's state tort claims based
on the lack of an airbag. The constitution makes federal law
supreme, and any state law that conflicts with federal law is
preempted under the supremacy clause. See U.S.
Const., art. VI, cl. 2; Crosby v. Nat'l
Foreign Trade Council, 530 U.S. 363, 372, 120 S.Ct.
2288, 2294, 147 L.Ed.2d 352 (2000). Preemption of state law
may be expressly provided in a federal statute or implied in
the structure and purpose of the federal statute.
Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 516,
112 S.Ct. 2608, 2617, 120 L.Ed.2d 407 (1992); see also
Fidelity Fed. Sav. & Loan Assn. v. de la Cuesta, 458
U.S. 141, 102 S.Ct. 3014, 73 L.Ed.2d 664 (1982) (federal
regulation can preempt a state law). Conflict preemption is a
form of implied preemption “where it is impossible for
a private party to comply with both state and federal
law” or where “the challenged state law stands as
an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full
purposes and objectives of Congress.” Crosby,
530 U.S. at 372-73, 120 S.Ct. at 2294 (quotations and
citations omitted). Courts “start with the assumption
that the historic police powers of the States were not to be
superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and
manifest purpose of Congress.” Medtronic, Inc. v.
Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, 485, 116 S.Ct. 2240, 2250, 135
L.Ed.2d 700 (1996).
Standard 208 was promulgated pursuant to the authority
granted by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.
49 U.S.C. § 30101 et seq. The Safety Act
contains the following preemption provision:
When a motor vehicle safety standard is in effect under this
chapter, a State or a political subdivision of a State may
prescribe or continue in effect a standard applicable to the
same aspect of performance of a motor vehicle or motor
vehicle equipment only if the standard is identical to the
standard prescribed under this chapter.
Id. § 30103(b)(1). The Act also includes a
savings clause providing that “[c]ompliance with a
motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter
does not exempt a person from liability at common law.”
Id. § 30103(e). The Supreme Court has
interpreted this latter provision of the Act as
“remov[ing] tort actions from the scope of the express
pre-emption clause.” Geier v. Am. Honda
Motor Co., 529 U.S. 861, 869, 120 S.Ct. 1913, 1919,
146 L.Ed.2d 914 (2000). The Geier Court also held
that the savings clause did not preclude “the ordinary
working of conflict pre-emption principles.”
Trucks argues that tort liability for failing to equip the
Mack truck with an airbag would conflict with Safety Standard
208 by standing as an obstacle to the standard's
purposes. Safety Standard 208 sets out various
“performance requirements for the protection of vehicle
occupants in crashes.” 49 C.F.R. § 571.208.S1. The
standard requires at a minimum that trucks like the one
Stovall was driving be equipped with a complete passenger
protection system or a belt system. Id. §
571.208.S4.3.2. Mack Trucks chose the belt system, and it
says that tort liability for failing to equip its truck with
an airbag would nullify the choice that the regulation
provides. Mack Trucks cites Geier to say that such a
result would frustrate the purpose of Safety Standard 208.
Geier, the Court held that a state tort action
alleging that American Honda had designed its 1987 Honda
Accord negligently and defectively because the car lacked a
driver's side airbag was preempted. 529 U.S. at 865, 120
S.Ct. at 1917. After considering Safety Standard 208's
history, the agency's contemporaneous explanation, and
the agency's consistently held interpretive views, the
Geier Court concluded that Safety Standard 208
“deliberately sought variety-a mix of several different
passive restraint systems.” Id. at 878, 120
S.Ct. at 1924. Central to the Court's holding was its
“determination that giving auto manufacturers a choice
among different kinds of passive restraint devices was a
significant objective of the federal
regulation.” Williamson v. Mazda Motor of Am.,
Inc., 562 U.S. 323, 330, 131 S.Ct. 1131, 1136, 179
L.Ed.2d 75 (2011) (emphasis in original).
is inapposite. Its analysis of Safety Standard 208 focused on
passenger cars, not trucks with a gross vehicle weight ratio
of more than 10, 000 pounds. Safety Standard 208 treats such
trucks differently. See 49 Fed. Reg. 28962-01
(explaining that the passive-restraint “requirement
does not apply to other than passenger cars; for example,
trucks, tractors, or multi-purpose vehicles such as jeeps are
not covered by the rule”). The regulatory options truck
manufacturers have more closely resemble the options Safety
Standard 208 grants cars regarding seat belts on rear inner
seats, which the Supreme Court held did not preempt a state
tort action claiming that manufacturers should have installed
lap-and-shoulder belts rather than lap belts.
Williamson, 562 U.S. at 327-28, 131 S.Ct. at 1135.
Trucks bears the burden of showing that Congress intended to
preempt Arkansas tort law in this area. See Silkwood v.
Kerr-McGee Corp., 464 U.S. 238, 255, 104 S.Ct. 615, 625,
78 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984); see also Medtronic, Inc. v.
Lohr, 518 U.S. at 485, 116 S.Ct. at 2250 (state law
presumed applicable). Unlike in Geier where the
Court found “clear evidence of a conflict, ” Mack
Trucks has not presented clear evidence that Stovall's
tort action would stand as an obstacle to a significant
purpose of Safety Standard 208.
foregoing reasons, Burris Richard Stovall's motion for
partial summary judgment is GRANTED. Document #113.