942 F.2d 48 (1st Cir. 1991), 90-1291, Pedraza v. Shell Oil Co.

Docket Nº:90-1291, 90-1402.
Citation:942 F.2d 48
Party Name:Cruz PEDRAZA, Alejandrina Pedraza, Roberto Pedraza and Mary Ellen Pedraza, Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. SHELL OIL COMPANY, Defendant, Appellant. Cruz PEDRAZA, Alejandrina Pedraza, Roberto Pedraza and Mary Ellen Pedraza, Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. SHELL OIL CO., Defendant, Appellee.
Case Date:August 13, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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942 F.2d 48 (1st Cir. 1991)

Cruz PEDRAZA, Alejandrina Pedraza, Roberto Pedraza and Mary

Ellen Pedraza, Plaintiffs, Appellees,


SHELL OIL COMPANY, Defendant, Appellant.

Cruz PEDRAZA, Alejandrina Pedraza, Roberto Pedraza and Mary

Ellen Pedraza, Plaintiffs, Appellants,


SHELL OIL CO., Defendant, Appellee.

Nos. 90-1291, 90-1402.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 13, 1991

Heard Sept. 14, 1990.

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John B. Stewart, with whom Edward V. Leja and Moriarty, Donoghue & Leja, P.A., Springfield, Mass., were on brief, for plaintiffs-appellees.

Burt Ballanfant, Houston, Tex., with whom Robert L. Leonard and Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy, Springfield, Mass., were on brief, for defendant-appellant.

Before TORRUELLA and CYR, Circuit Judges, and BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge.

CYR, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Cruz Pedraza commenced a civil action in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleging that he developed respiratory ailments from workplace exposure to Epichlorohydrin ("ECH"), a toxic chemical manufactured by defendant Shell Oil Co. ("Shell"). The district court dismissed the action on the ground that the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 29 U.S.C. § 655 et seq.

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("OSHA"), preempts state law. Pedraza appeals. Shell cross-appeals a district court order disallowing Shell's motion for summary judgment under the applicable statute of limitations. We vacate the order of dismissal, dismiss the cross-appeal, and remand for further proceedings.



The material facts are not in dispute. From 1972 through 1981, Pedraza was employed by United Technologies Corporation in Rocky Hill, Connecticut. During 1977, he was assigned to a chemical mixing operation which exposed him to ECH. Within a few weeks Pedraza experienced asthma symptoms for the first time. Although Pedraza was reassigned in late 1977 to work duties which did not entail ECH exposure, over the course of the next several years he continued to experience acute asthma symptoms.

On November 4, 1985, Pedraza brought the present diversity action, asserting an assortment of tort and warranty claims predicated on Connecticut law. Following discovery, defendant Shell moved for summary judgment on the ground that Pedraza's claims were time-barred and, alternatively, that Shell had discharged its duty to warn under the so-called "sophisticated user" defense. A United States magistrate judge recommended denial of summary judgment. Shell objected to the recommended disposition and argued, additionally, that OSHA and the related regulations promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration preempt Connecticut law. The district court directed entry of summary judgment for Shell on the preemption ground.



  1. Pedraza's Appeal

    We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, employing the same standards utilized by the trial court. See Siegal v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 921 F.2d 15, 17 (1st Cir.1990); Petitti v. New England Tel. & Tel. Co., 909 F.2d 28, 30-31 (1st Cir.1990). Thus, in the present appeal we consider a pure issue of law: whether OSHA preempts state law.

    The district court correctly observed that OSHA regulations establish federal restrictions on workplace exposure to ECH 1 and require employers to provide protective equipment for employees who work with hazardous substances. 2 The court concluded that the provisions of Connecticut common law and statutory law on which Pedraza's causes of action against Shell are predicated constitute state regulation in the field of occupational safety and health which must yield to OSHA. Pedraza v. Shell Oil Co., 729 F.Supp. 187, 188-89 (D.Mass.1990). 3

    The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution operates to preempt state laws which unduly interfere with federal law or policy. U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2. See also Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 211, 6 L.Ed. 23, 73 (1824); Securities Industry Ass'n v. Connolly, 883 F.2d 1114 (1st Cir.1989), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 2559, 109 L.Ed.2d 742 (1990). As we were reminded again recently, however, our preemption analysis begins 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.' " Wisconsin Public Intervenor v. Mortier, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 2476, 115 L.Ed.2d 532 (1991) (quoting Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Co., 331 U.S. 218, 230, 67 S.Ct. 1146, 1152, 91 L.Ed. 1447 (1947)). The tort rules and kindred state law provisions invoked by Pedraza are well within Connecticut's "traditional authority to provide tort remedies to [its] citizens...." Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee

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    Corp., 464 U.S. 238, 248, 104 S.Ct. 615, 621, 78 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984); see also International Paper Co. v. Ouellette, 479 U.S. 481, 503, 107 S.Ct. 805, 817, 93 L.Ed.2d 883 (1987). Consequently, we will not find federal preemption in the present case unless there is "an unambiguous congressional mandate to that effect." Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132, 146, 83 S.Ct. 1210, 1219, 10 L.Ed.2d 248 (1963). See also Hillsborough County v. Automated Medical Laboratories, Inc., 471 U.S. 707, 715, 105 S.Ct. 2371, 2376, 85 L.Ed.2d 714 (1985); Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519, 525, 97 S.Ct. 1305, 1309, 51 L.Ed.2d 604 (1977).

    Preemption "always boils down to a matter of congressional intent." Connolly, 883 F.2d at 1115. See also Louisiana Public Service Comm'n v. FCC, 476 U.S. 355, 369, 106 S.Ct. 1890, 1899, 90 L.Ed.2d 369 (1986) ("The critical question in any pre-emption analysis is always whether Congress intended that federal regulation supersede state law."); Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts, 471 U.S. 724, 747, 105 S.Ct. 2380, 2393, 85 L.Ed.2d 728 (1985) ("in any pre-emption analysis, '[t]he purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone.' ") (citations omitted); Associated Industries of Massachusetts v. Snow, 898 F.2d 274, 278 (1st Cir.1990) (same). The task of interpretation is simplified substantially, of course, whenever "Congress has made its intent known through explicit statutory language." English v. General Electric Co., --- U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 2270, 2275, 110 L.Ed.2d 65 (1990).

    Absent express preemption, the challenged state law must yield when it

    regulates conduct in a field that Congress intended the Federal Government to occupy exclusively. Such an intent may be inferred from a 'scheme of federal regulation ... so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it,' or where an Act of Congress 'touch[es] a field in which the federal interest is so dominant that the federal system will be assumed to preclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject.'

    English, 110 S.Ct. at 2275 (citations omitted). Finally, preemption will be inferred where the state law "actually conflicts with federal law." Id. Such a conflict arises where it is physically impossible to comply with both the federal and the state law or where "state law 'stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.' " Id. (citation omitted). See also International Paper Co., 479 U.S. at 491-92, 107 S.Ct. at 811; Louisiana Public Service Comm'n, 476 U.S. at 368-69, 106 S.Ct. at 1898-99; Hillsborough County, 471 U.S. at 713, 105 S.Ct. at 2375.

    Shell contends that OSHA preempts all the state-created rights and remedies underpinning Pedraza's claims, since the adjudication of private rights arising under state law would result in the imposition of prospective normative constraints on the manufacture and distribution of ECH. We address Shell's preemption claim by first examining in context the language of the OSHA preemption provisions. A sound statutory interpretation must encompass the relevant text as well as the structure and context of the enactment. We will " 'not be guided by a single sentence or member of a sentence, but look to the provisions of the whole law....' " Philbrook v. Glodgett, 421 U.S. 707, 713, 95 S.Ct. 1893, 1898, 44 L.Ed.2d 525 (1975) (quoting United States v. Heirs of Boisdore, 49 U.S. (8 How.) 113, 122, 12 L.Ed. 1009 (1849)). See also Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 11, 82 S.Ct. 585, 591-92, 7 L.Ed.2d 492 (1962) ("a section of a statute should not be read in isolation from the context of the whole Act.").

    The scope of OSHA preemption is outlined in two sections: (i) section 18, 4 which

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    represents a general statement of preemptive intent, and (ii) section 4(b)(4), the "savings clause," which excepts from preemption a spectrum of state laws.

    (i) Section 18

    At its outer reaches section 18 preemption does not obtain unless there is an unapproved assertion of "jurisdiction under State law over any occupational safety or health issue" as to which a federal "standard" is already in place. See 29 C.F.R. 1901.2 ("Section 18(a) of the Act is read as preventing any State agency or court from asserting jurisdiction under State law over any occupational safety or health issue with respect to which a Federal standard has been issued under section 6 of the Act.") (emphasis added); Associated Industries of Massachusetts, 898 F.2d at 278 (Section 18 "provides that if a federal standard on an occupational safety or health issue is in effect, a state cannot promulgate an occupational safety or health standard relating to that issue, unless it first submits the state plan to OSHA for approval."). See also Puffer's Hardware Inc. v. Donovan, 742 F.2d 12, 16 (1st Cir.1984); National Solid Wastes Management Ass'n v. Killian, 918 F.2d 671, 677-78 (7th Cir.1990).

    Section 3 in turn defines...

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