136 F.3d 764 (11th Cir. 1998), 97-8021, Irving v. Mazda Motor Corp.

Docket Nº:97-8021.
Citation:136 F.3d 764
Party Name:Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 1117 Juliette IRVING, as Guardian of the Persons and Property of Bryana Bashir, and as Administratrix of the Estate of Bonita L. Irving, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MAZDA MOTOR CORP. a.k.a. Mazda Motors Corp. f.k.a. Toyo Kogyo, Ltd., Mazda (North America), Inc., et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 05, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 764

136 F.3d 764 (11th Cir. 1998)

Fla. L. Weekly

Fed. C 1117

Juliette IRVING, as Guardian of the Persons and Property of

Bryana Bashir, and as Administratrix of the Estate

of Bonita L. Irving, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

MAZDA MOTOR CORP. a.k.a. Mazda Motors Corp. f.k.a. Toyo

Kogyo, Ltd., Mazda (North America), Inc., et al.,

Defendants-Appellees.

No. 97-8021.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 5, 1998

Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied May 4, 1998.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Robert M.N. Palmer, Wendy L. Wooldridge, William G. Petrus, Springfield, MO, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Lanny B. Bridgers, Andrew Thomas Bayman, King & Spalding, Atlanta, GA, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before HATCHETT, Chief Judge, and EDMONDSON and COX, Circuit Judges.

EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment for Defendants. The district court decided that Plaintiff's state law claims were preempted by federal law. We conclude that Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard ("FMVSS") 208, 49 C.F.R. § 571.208, (enacted under the authority of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq.) does preempt Plaintiff's state law claims. And, we affirm the grant of summary judgment.

Background

Plaintiff Juliette Irving filed suit against Defendant Mazda Motor Corporation on behalf of her daughter, Bonita Irving. Bonita was killed in a single-car accident while driving a 1990 Mazda MX-6. After her daughter's death, Plaintiff filed this suit claiming that the seat belts in the MX-6 were defectively designed and that Mazda failed to warn consumers adequately of the risks of not utilizing all portions--particularly the manual lap belt portion--of the safety belt system.

The safety belt system used in the Mazda MX-6 included a two-point passive shoulder restraint (automatic shoulder belt) with a manual lap belt. This kind of restraint system was one of three options provided to car manufacturers by FMVSS 208. Plaintiff contends the design represented by this option was defective.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that FMVSS 208 both expressly and impliedly preempts state law (including common-law) claims and that no recovery can be had on a claim based on the use of a design permitted by the federal standards. The district court granted this motion and--concluding that Plaintiff's failure-to-warn claim was dependent upon the design-defect claim--also dismissed Plaintiff's failure-to-warn claim.

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Discussion

Whether Plaintiff's state law claims are preempted under the federal law is reviewed by this Court de novo. Lewis v. Brunswick Corp., 107 F.3d 1494, 1498 (11th Cir.), cert. granted, --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 439, 139 L.Ed.2d 337 (1997).

I. Preemption: Defective-Design Claim

The Supremacy Clause of the United States' Constitution provides that the laws of the United States "shall be the supreme Law of the Land; ... any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." U.S. Const. art. VI. Thus, state law that conflicts with federal law is "without effect." Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 516, 112 S.Ct. 2608, 2617, 120 L.Ed.2d 407 (1992) (citing Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 744-46, 101 S.Ct. 2114, 2128, 68 L.Ed.2d 576 (1981)). And, "common law liability may create a conflict with federal law, just as other types of state law can." Pokorny v. Ford Motor Co., 902 F.2d 1116, 1122 (3d Cir.1990); see also CSX Transp., Inc. v. Easterwood, 507 U.S. 658, 662-64, 113 S.Ct. 1732, 1737, 123 L.Ed.2d 387 (1993).

Whether federal statutes or regulations preempt state law is "a question of congressional intent." Perry v. Mercedes Benz of North America, Inc., 957 F.2d 1257, 1261 (5th Cir.1992); see also Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U.S. 470, ---- - ----, 116 S.Ct. 2240, 2250, 135 L.Ed.2d 700 (1996) ("The purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone in every preemption case.") (internal quotations and citation omitted). Congress--through federal laws and regulations--may effectively preempt state law in three ways: (1) express preemption; (2) field preemption (regulating the field so extensively that Congress clearly intends the subject area to be controlled only by federal law); and (3) implied (or conflict) preemption. Defendants claim that the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 ("the Act") both expressly and impliedly preempts Plaintiff's state law claims.

A. Express Preemption

"[A] strong presumption exists against finding express preemption when the subject matter, such as the provision of tort remedies to compensate for personal injuries...

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