Richart v. Ford Motor Co., Civ. No. 86-0926-JB.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
Writing for the CourtBURCIAGA
Citation681 F. Supp. 1462
PartiesWayne M. RICHART, as Personal Representative of the Estates of Norman J. Richart, Deceased, and Jean R. Richart, Deceased, Plaintiff, v. FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.
Decision Date14 January 1988
Docket NumberCiv. No. 86-0926-JB.

681 F. Supp. 1462

Wayne M. RICHART, as Personal Representative of the Estates of Norman J. Richart, Deceased, and Jean R. Richart, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Defendant.

Civ. No. 86-0926-JB.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico.

January 14, 1988.


681 F. Supp. 1463

Montgomery & Andrews, P.A., Walter J. Melendres, Santa Fe, N.M., for plaintiff.

Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin & Robb, P.A., James C. Ritchie, Tracy E. McGee, Albuquerque, N.M., for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

BURCIAGA, District Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment. The Court, having reviewed the pleadings, the evidence of record and the relevant law, finds that Defendant's motion is not well taken and should be denied.

Defendant Ford Motor Company moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's negligence claim that their 1984 Lincoln Towncar was negligently designed and manufactured.1 Defendant characterizes Plaintiff's claim as an "air bag claim" which Defendant contends is preempted by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1420 (1982 & Supp. III 1985) "Safety Act". Defendant argues the express language of the Safety Act preempts Plaintiff's state tort action; alternately, Defendant argues the Safety Act impliedly preempts Plaintiff's action because the recovery of damage awards under state law conflicts with the statutory scheme.

Facts

On October 24, 1984, Mr. and Mrs. Richart were killed in an auto accident in Albuquerque. Mr. Richart was the driver and Mrs. Richart was a passenger in their 1984 Lincoln Towncar when a Chrysler crossed over the highway center line and collided with the Lincoln. Whether the Richarts were killed by the collision with the Chrysler or by secondary collisions between their bodies and the dashboard is in contention by the parties. At the time of the crash the Richarts were wearing combined lap and shoulder belts. Plaintiff alleges Mr. Richart's lap and shoulder belt did not restrain him sufficiently and his head struck the steering wheel and hub causing his death. Plaintiff further alleges Mrs. Richart's head struck the dashboard causing her death.

Plaintiff has sued Ford Motor Company "Ford" claiming the Lincoln Towncar was negligently designed and manufactured because it was not crashworthy. Plaintiff's claim is based on the crashworthiness doctrine of negligence adopted in New Mexico by Duran v. General Motors, 101 N.M. 742, 688 P.2d 779 (1984). Given the safety technology available, Plaintiff alleges Ford was negligent in its failure to design a car which was more crashworthy than the 1984 Lincoln. One of the possible safety features available to Ford was the use of an air bag. Plaintiff does not contend that the Lincoln was per se unreasonably dangerous because of Ford's decision not to employ air bags.

Partial Summary Judgment

Plaintiff's argument that Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not authorize the Court to grant partial summary judgment is without merit. Rule

681 F. Supp. 1464
56(b) explicitly states that a party against whom a claim is asserted may move "for summary judgment in the party's favor as to all or any part thereof." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Moreover, Rule 56(d) states
If on motion under this rule a judgment is not rendered upon the whole case or all the relief asked and a trial is necessary, the court ... shall if practical ascertain what material facts exist without substantial controversy.... It shall thereupon make an order specifying the facts that appear without substantial controversy, including the extent to which ... relief is not in controversy and directing such further proceedings in the actions as are just.

Thus, a trial court can clearly rule summarily on claims or portions of claims.

Safety Act

In 1966, Congress enacted the Safety Act with the declared purpose of reducing traffic accidents and the resulting deaths and injuries. 15 U.S.C. § 1381. The legislation places the primary responsibility for establishing safety standards on the federal government. 15 U.S.C. § 1392(a). Each safety standard must protect the public "against unreasonable risk of accidents occurring as the result of the design, construction or performance of motor vehicles and ... unreasonable risk of death or injury to persons in the event accidents do occur." 15 U.S.C. § 1391(1).

This Court must determine the role of the states in this motor vehicle safety regulatory scheme. The Safety Act addresses this question in two provisions. Section 1392(d) provides in pertinent part:

Whenever a federal motor vehicle safety standard established under this subchapter is in effect, no state or political subdivision of a state shall have any authority either to establish, or to continue in effect, with respect to any motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment, any safety standard applicable to the same aspect of performance of such vehicle or item of equipment which is not identical to the federal standard....

15 U.S.C. § 1392(d). Thus, states may enforce safety standards that are identical to the federal standards. States may also regulate aspects of performance not specifically established by the Safety Act. Chrysler Corp. v. Rhodes, 416 F.2d 319 (1st Cir.1969).2 Non-identical state regulations are precluded when a federal standard deals with a specific aspect of performance. Id. at 325.

The savings clause states:

Compliance with any federal motor vehicle safety standard does not exempt any person from liability under common law.

15 U.S.C. § 1397(c). This clause demonstrates Congress' intent to retain state tort remedies to the extent they do not conflict with the Safety Act.

Regulations, promulgated under the authority of the Safety Act, authorize manufacturers to choose one of three different methods to comply with the minimum safety standards for occupant crash protection. See 42 C.F.R. § 571.208 (1985) "Standard 208". An automobile manufacturer can comply with the regulatory minimum by providing a complete passive-restraint protection system,3 a combination of passive restraints, detachable shoulder harnesses, lap belts and warning system, or a combination of detachable shoulder harnesses, lap belts and warning system. Id. The provisions of Standard 208 were applicable to the 1984 Lincoln Towncar at the time it was manufactured by Defendant.

681 F. Supp. 1465

Express Preemption

To determine whether Congress has preempted an area of law courts start with the presumption that Congress does not intend to displace state law. Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746, 101 S.Ct. 2114, 2128-29, 68 L.Ed.2d 576 (1981). A federal law may, however, preempt state law in three ways. First, Congress may include specific language in a statute that expressly preempts state law. Shaw v. Delta Airlines, 463 U.S. 85, 103 S.Ct. 2890, 77 L.Ed.2d 490 (1983). Second, in the absence of express preemptive language, Congress may indicate an intent to occupy an entire field of regulation. Fidelity Federal Savings & Loan Association v. De La Questa, 458 U.S. 141, 102 S.Ct. 3014, 73 L.Ed.2d 664 (1982). Third, in situations where Congress has not preempted all state regulation in the field, state laws are preempted to the extent they conflict with federal law.

In 1984, safety Standard 208 expressly authorized manufacturers to use either passive restraints, or lap and shoulder seat belts of the type installed by Ford in Plaintiffs' car. Ford maintains damages awarded under New Mexico tort law which hold manufacturers liable for installing seat belts instead of air bags compel manufacturers to install air bags. Ford argues that such awards establish a state "standard" requiring cars to have passive restraints. Ford maintains this "standard" would differ from Standard 208, and is therefore expressly preempted because Section 1392(d) prohibits the enforcement of any state standard that is not identical to the applicable federal motor vehicle safety standard.

The flaw in Defendant's argument is the assumption that a damage award based on New Mexico law regulates or requires passive restraints. Plaintiff's claim is not that Ford is negligent per se because it failed to install air bags. Rather, Plaintiff's claim is that Ford was negligent in the overall design and manufacture of the Lincoln because it was not crashworthy. Plaintiff maintains that under the crashworthiness doctrine, an air bag system is one of the possible alternate designs which would have saved the Richarts' lives. Therefore, because the claim against Ford is its failure to design a vehicle that provides adequate safety to the occupants in the event of a crash, rather than its failure to install air bags, a judgment against Ford would not be a state safety standard as defined by Chrysler Corp. v. Tofany, 419 F.2d 499, 506 (2d Cir.1969), and is therefore not preempted by the express language of Section 1392(d). Murphy v. Nissan Motor Corp., 650 F.Supp. 922, 925 (D.N.Y.1987) (judgment imposing liability based on auto manufacturer's failure to manufacture a reasonably safe vehicle is not a "state standard" which is prohibited by Section 1392(d)).

Further, this Court agrees with Plaintiff's argument that reading Section 1392(d) in conjunction with Section 1397(c) indicates Congress did not intend to preempt state common law liability when it established national safety standards. Plaintiff argues the preemptive language contained in Section 1392(d) only forecloses states from implementing non-identical automobile safety regulations, and does not directly address state common law. Therefore, it does not provide for express preemption of state common law claims. This argument was the basis of the federal district courts' decision in Baird v. General Motors Corp., 654 F.Supp. 28 (N.D.Ohio 1986), and Wood v. General Motors Corp., 673 F.Supp. 1108 (D.Mass.1987).

The Baird court stated Congress' express inclusion of common law...

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9 practice notes
  • Kolbeck v. General Motors Corp., Civ. A. No. 88-0714.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • 13 Febrero 1989
    ...FMVSS 208 do not preclude state common law suits for failing to include passive restraint systems. See, e.g., Richart v. Ford Motor Co., 681 F.Supp. 1462 (D.N.M.1988); Garrett v. Ford Motor Co., 684 F.Supp. 407 (D.Md.1987); Murphy v, Nissan Motor Corp In U.S.A., 650 F.Supp. 922 (S.D.N.Y.198......
  • Welsh v. Century Products, Civ. A. No. R-86-192.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • 16 Agosto 1990
    ...On the other hand, several courts have found that state common law causes of action are not preempted. See Richart v. Ford Motor Co., 681 F.Supp. 1462 (D.N.M.1988), rev'd by Kitts v. General Motors Corp., 875 F.2d 787 (10th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 110 S.Ct. 1781, 108 L.Ed.2d......
  • Schwartz v. Volvo North America Corp.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • 28 Julio 1989
    ...v. Tofany, 419 F.2d 499, 508-10 (2d Cir.1969); Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir.1968); Richart v. Ford Motor Co., 681 F.Supp. 1462, 1469 (D.N.M.1988); Garrett v. Ford Motor Co., 684 F.Supp. 407 (D.Md.1987); Arbet v. Gussarson, 66 Wis.2d 551, 225 N.W.2d 431 (1975). The l......
  • Taylor v. General Motors Corp., No. 87-5829
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • 14 Junio 1989
    ...Safety Act and Safety Standards do not preempt state common law suits for failure to provide airbags include Richart v. Ford Motor Co., 681 F.Supp. 1462 (D.N.M.1988); Garrett v. Ford Motor Co., 684 F.Supp. 407 (D.Md.1987); and Wood v. General Motors Corp., 673 F.Supp. 1108 (D.Mass.1987), re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • Kolbeck v. General Motors Corp., Civ. A. No. 88-0714.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • 13 Febrero 1989
    ...FMVSS 208 do not preclude state common law suits for failing to include passive restraint systems. See, e.g., Richart v. Ford Motor Co., 681 F.Supp. 1462 (D.N.M.1988); Garrett v. Ford Motor Co., 684 F.Supp. 407 (D.Md.1987); Murphy v, Nissan Motor Corp In U.S.A., 650 F.Supp. 922 (S.D.N.Y.198......
  • Welsh v. Century Products, Civ. A. No. R-86-192.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • 16 Agosto 1990
    ...On the other hand, several courts have found that state common law causes of action are not preempted. See Richart v. Ford Motor Co., 681 F.Supp. 1462 (D.N.M.1988), rev'd by Kitts v. General Motors Corp., 875 F.2d 787 (10th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 110 S.Ct. 1781, 108 L.Ed.2d......
  • Schwartz v. Volvo North America Corp.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • 28 Julio 1989
    ...v. Tofany, 419 F.2d 499, 508-10 (2d Cir.1969); Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495 (8th Cir.1968); Richart v. Ford Motor Co., 681 F.Supp. 1462, 1469 (D.N.M.1988); Garrett v. Ford Motor Co., 684 F.Supp. 407 (D.Md.1987); Arbet v. Gussarson, 66 Wis.2d 551, 225 N.W.2d 431 (1975). The l......
  • Taylor v. General Motors Corp., No. 87-5829
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • 14 Junio 1989
    ...Safety Act and Safety Standards do not preempt state common law suits for failure to provide airbags include Richart v. Ford Motor Co., 681 F.Supp. 1462 (D.N.M.1988); Garrett v. Ford Motor Co., 684 F.Supp. 407 (D.Md.1987); and Wood v. General Motors Corp., 673 F.Supp. 1108 (D.Mass.1987), re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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