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

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,


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

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


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.


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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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, is one that has traditionally been regarded as properly within the scope of the states' rights." Taylor v. General Motors Corp., 875 F.2d 816, 823 (11th cir.1989) 1 (citation omitted). Thus, express preemption clauses must be construed narrowly. Taylor, 875 F.2d at 823-24.

Defendants first contend that Plaintiff's design-defect claim is expressly preempted by the preemption clause of the Act. That clause makes this statement:

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....

49 U.S.C. § 30103(b)(1) (formerly 15 U.S.C. § 1392(d)). But, the Act also contains a savings clause which provides that "[c]ompliance with a motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter does not exempt a person from liability at common law." 49 U.S.C. § 30103(e) (formerly 15 U.S.C. § 1397(k)). Thus, "[t]he question of express pre-emption is properly analyzed only after considering both § 1392(d) and § 1397(k)." Pokorny, 902 F.2d at 1120 (citing American Textile Mfrs. Inst., Inc. v. Donovan, 452 U.S. 490, 512-13, 101 S.Ct. 2478, 2492, 69 L.Ed.2d 185 (1981)).

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In Taylor, after reading these two sections together, we determined that the conflict between them made the preemption of common-law claims ambiguous. Thus, the presumption against preemption controlled; and no express preemption could be found. Taylor, 875 F.2d at 825.

We also considered express preemption for the Federal Boat Safety Act ("FBSA"), in Lewis v. Brunswick Corp., 107 F.3d 1494. The FBSA contains language similar to that of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, containing both a preemption clause and a savings clause. 2

Again we (as in Taylor ) read the preemption clause narrowly and said that the FBSA's preemption clause did not cover common-law claims. Lewis, 107 F.3d at 1501. Taylor and Lewis point to the same conclusion for this case. 3 So, Plaintiff's defective-design claim is not expressly preempted by the Act.

B. Implied Preemption

Conflict preemption exists where state law actually conflicts with federal law, making it impossible to comply with both, or where the state law "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Lewis, 107 F.3d at 1500 (internal quotations and citation omitted).

The existence of an express preemption clause does not necessarily preclude the presence of implied preemption. Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick, 514 U.S. 280, 286-90, 115 S.Ct. 1483, 1487-88, 131 L.Ed.2d 385 (1995). Thus, if Plaintiff's state law claim conflicts with FMVSS 208 or if her claim would hinder Congress's objectives in passing the Act, the state law will be preempted.

FMVSS 208 directly addresses the kinds of restraint systems permitted to be used by car...

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