Welsh v. Century Products, Civ. A. No. R-86-192.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Writing for the CourtRAMSEY
Citation745 F. Supp. 313
PartiesMichael WELSH, a minor, By and Through his mother and next friend, Kathleen WELSH, et al., Plaintiffs, v. CENTURY PRODUCTS, INC., Defendant.
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. R-86-192.
Decision Date16 August 1990

745 F. Supp. 313

Michael WELSH, a minor, By and Through his mother and next friend, Kathleen WELSH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CENTURY PRODUCTS, INC., Defendant.

Civ. A. No. R-86-192.

United States District Court, D. Maryland.

August 16, 1990.


745 F. Supp. 314

Robert A. Rohrbaugh, Rockville, Md., for plaintiffs.

Louis G. Close, Deborah Sweet, Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, Baltimore, Md., for defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

RAMSEY, District Judge.

Pending before the Court in the above-captioned case is the motion of defendant Century Products, Inc. ("Century"), for partial summary judgment.1 The motion has been fully briefed and the Court is now prepared to rule without need for a hearing. Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md.1989). For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

I. Background

On January 26, 1983, a station wagon driven by Patrick Welsh was struck by a van driven by James Voigt, II. Michael Welsh, Patrick and Kathleen Welshes' two-and-one-half year old son, was riding in the back seat of the station wagon at the time of the accident in a "Century 200" child car seat. Just prior to the accident, at least one — perhaps both — of the shoulder straps of the child seat had slipped off of Michael's shoulders. As a result, when the vehicles impacted Michael was thrown from the car seat. He sustained serious physical injuries, including permanent brain damage.

The Welshes initially filed a state court action against Voigt, alleging that his negligence caused the accident. On June 18, 1985, the Welshes and Voigt announced to the state court that they had reached a settlement, which was finalized over a year later on July 26, 1986. In the meantime, on January 21, 1986, the Welshes filed the instant action against Gerber, Century, and Sears (collectively "Century"), alleging that the injuries sustained by Michael were caused by defects in the car seat. The amended complaint sets forth eleven counts alleging negligence, strict liability in tort, and breach of express and implied warranties. Currently pending is Century's motion for summary judgment on the negligent design and negligent failure to instruct counts, Amended Complaint Counts I, II, VII, and VIII.2

In short, Century contends that the Welshes' state common law negligent design and instruction counts are preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2, operating through the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1431 (West 1982 & Supp.1990) ("Safety Act") and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213, 49 C.F.R. § 571.213 (1989) ("FMVSS 213"). In particular, Century claims that 15 U.S.C. § 1392(d) preempts the Welshes'

745 F. Supp. 315
state tort causes of action. Section 1392(d) reads, 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.

FMVSS 213, which "specifies requirements for child restraint systems used in motor vehicles," 49 C.F.R. § 571.213.S1, was promulgated pursuant to the Safety Act and governs the design of child car seat and the instructions accompanying the seats. Since no dispute exists regarding the Century 200 car seat's conformity with the minimum requirements established by FMVSS 213, Century contends that it is entitled to summary judgment on the common law counts.

The Welshes assert that the Safety Act was not intended to preempt common law tort claims. For support, they chiefly rely on the "savings clause" of the Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1397(k).3 This section, entitled "Continuation of common law liability," provides: "Compliance with any Federal motor vehicle safety standard issued under this subchapter does not exempt any person from any liability under common law." Thus, the Welshes' conclude that Congress' intent to preserve rather than preempt common law tort actions is clearly expressed in the statute.

With this statutory and regulatory framework in mind, the Court will turn to Century's motion. The Court will first address the issue of preemption and then consider whether the Welshes have assembled sufficient evidence of negligent design and instruction to survive Century's motion.

II. Preemption

A. Preemption Principles

As the Supreme Court recently observed, the three general "circumstances in which federal law pre-empts state law are familiar." Schneidewind v. ANR Pipeline Co., 485 U.S. 293, 299, 108 S.Ct. 1145, 1150, 99 L.Ed.2d 316 (1988). First, the federal statute may, by its terms, explicitly preempt state law. See Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S. 85, 95-96, 103 S.Ct. 2890, 2898-99, 77 L.Ed.2d 490 (1983). Second, the federal statute may implicitly preempt state law by so pervasively regulating a given subject matter that an "intent to occupy the ... field to the exclusion of state law" is apparent. Schneidewind, 485 U.S. at 300, 108 S.Ct. at 1150. See also Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218, 230, 67 S.Ct. 1146, 1152, 91 L.Ed. 1447 (1947). Third, the federal statute may implicitly preempt state law if the state law "actually conflicts" with the federal law. Schneidewind, 485 U.S. at 300, 108 S.Ct. at 1150. "Such a conflict will be found `"when it is impossible to comply with both state and federal law, Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132, 142-43, 83 S.Ct. 1210, 1217-18, 10 L.Ed.2d 248 (1963), or where the state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the full purposes and objectives of Congress, Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67, 61 S.Ct. 399, 404, 85 L.Ed. 581 (1941)."' California Coastal Comm'n v. Granite Rock Co., 480 U.S. 572, 581, 107 S.Ct. 1419, 1425, 94 L.Ed.2d 577 (1987), quoting Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 464 U.S. 238, 248, 104 S.Ct. 615, 621, 78 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984)." Schneidewind, 485 U.S. at 300, 108 S.Ct. at 1151. Regardless of the type of preemption analysis applied, the intent of Congress in enacting the federal statute is the starting point. Fidelity Savings & Loan Assn. v. de la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 152-154, 102 S.Ct. 3014, 3022-23, 73 L.Ed.2d 664 (1982).

745 F. Supp. 316

B. Express Preemption

Century first contends that the § 1392(d) of the Safety Act explicitly preempts state common law tort suits centered on alleged deficiencies in child car seat design or instruction. It argues that state law negligence standards, like state statutes or regulations, create a safety standard. See Cox v. Baltimore County, 646 F.Supp. 761, 763 (D.Md.1986) ("A rule of the common law which permits the recovery of monetary damages for its breach self-evidently sets a standard...."). Since the Welshes seek to hold Century liable for negligence when Century has fully complied with FMVSS 213, Century contends that the state common law rule is "not identical" to the federal standard and, therefore, preempted. Moreover, Century contends that the savings clause presented in § 1397(k) cannot be read to preserve the Welshes' cause of action. Again, Century points to Cox, in which Judge Motz reasoned that "the clear meaning of the clause is that compliance with the federal standards does not protect an automobile manufacturer from liability for design or manufacturing defects in connection with matters not covered by the federal standard." Cox, 646 F.Supp. at 764.

For a number of reasons, the Court disagrees with Century and concludes that the Safety Act does not expressly preempt the Welshes' common law causes of action. Initially, the Court notes that Cox concerned FMVSS 208, 49 C.F.R. § 571.208 (1989), the much-litigated "air bag" regulation. See Motor Vehicles Mfrs. Assn. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 103 S.Ct. 2856, 77 L.Ed.2d 443 (1983). As will be discussed in greater detail below, see infra pp. 320-21, the preemptive effect of the Safety Act in conjunction with FMVSS 208 is not dispositive of the issue before the Court; indeed, given the unique nature of the statutory and regulatory scheme surrounding the air bag regulation, the numerous cases addressing the issue of preemption in that context are not even particularly helpful here.4

Turning to the merits of the express preemption claim, the Court begins "by recognizing that 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, 875 F.2d at 823. Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746, 101 S.Ct. 2114, 2128-29, 68 L.Ed.2d 576 (1981). Absent a "clear and manifest" expression of Congress' intent to override state common law, express preemption does not exist. Rice, 331 U.S. at 230, 67 S.Ct. at 1152. This principle is bolstered, moreover, by the enduring maxim that statutes in derogation of the common law are to be narrowly construed. Norfolk Redevelopment & Hous. Auth. v. Chesapeake & Potomac Tel. Co., 464 U.S. 30, 35-36, 104 S.Ct. 304, 307-08, 78 L.Ed.2d 29 (1983) ("It is a well-established principle of statutory construction that `the common law ... ought not be deemed to be

745 F. Supp. 317
repealed, unless the language of a statute be clear and explicit for this purpose.' Fairfax's Devisee v. Hunter's Lessee, 7 Cranch 603, 623, 3 L.Ed. 453 (1813)."). See also Badaracco v. Commissioner, 464 U.S. 386, 403 n. 3, 104 S.Ct. 756, 767 n. 3, 78 L.Ed.2d 549 (1984) (Stevens, J., dissenting). Common law tort remedies designed to compensate a victim for personal injuries are "a subject matter of the kind the Court has traditionally regarded as properly within the scope of state superintendence." Florida Lime &...

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5 practice notes
  • Jordan v. Paccar, Inc., No. 90-CV-600.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • May 13, 1992
    ...acted, and compatible or complementary state law in areas in which it has not. See Garrett, supra, at 409; Welsh v. Century Products, 745 F.Supp. 313, 319 (D.Md.1990); both citing Rhodes, supra. The limiting language of the preemption clause, in tandem with the savings clause and its expres......
  • Perry v. Mercedes Benz of North America, Inc., No. 91-3363
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • April 10, 1992
    ...on the failure-to-install issue are listed in Taylor, 875 F.2d at 822 n. 13; Wood, 865 F.2d at 400 n. 7; and Welsh v. Century Prod., 745 F.Supp. 313, 316 n. 4 5 The Eleventh Circuit found unpersuasive the First Circuit's theory that Congress did not contemplate the possibility of a state to......
  • Turner v. PFS Corp.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • October 13, 1995
    ...and that "[t]his is true even if another design might arguably be safer," citing Welsh v. Century Products, Inc., 745 F.Supp. 313, 315 (D.Md.1990). Welsh sets out three circumstances calling for a finding of federal "First, the federal statute may, by its terms, explicitly pr......
  • Wohl v. Spalding & Evenflo Companies, Inc.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Oregon
    • September 6, 1995
    ...Co., 684 F.Supp. 407 (D.Md.1987) (same); Gingold v. McCloskey, 389 Pa.Super. 328, 567 A.2d 312 (1989) (same); Welsh v. Century Products, 745 F.Supp. 313 (D.Md.1990) (common law negligence and product liability claims involving allegedly defective infant car seat were not preempted) with Woo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Jordan v. Paccar, Inc., No. 90-CV-600.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • May 13, 1992
    ...acted, and compatible or complementary state law in areas in which it has not. See Garrett, supra, at 409; Welsh v. Century Products, 745 F.Supp. 313, 319 (D.Md.1990); both citing Rhodes, supra. The limiting language of the preemption clause, in tandem with the savings clause and its expres......
  • Perry v. Mercedes Benz of North America, Inc., No. 91-3363
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • April 10, 1992
    ...on the failure-to-install issue are listed in Taylor, 875 F.2d at 822 n. 13; Wood, 865 F.2d at 400 n. 7; and Welsh v. Century Prod., 745 F.Supp. 313, 316 n. 4 5 The Eleventh Circuit found unpersuasive the First Circuit's theory that Congress did not contemplate the possibility of a state to......
  • Turner v. PFS Corp.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • October 13, 1995
    ...with that regulation" and that "[t]his is true even if another design might arguably be safer," citing Welsh v. Century Products, Inc., 745 F.Supp. 313, 315 (D.Md.1990). Welsh sets out three circumstances calling for a finding of federal "First, the federal statute may, by its terms, explic......
  • Wohl v. Spalding & Evenflo Companies, Inc.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Oregon
    • September 6, 1995
    ...Co., 684 F.Supp. 407 (D.Md.1987) (same); Gingold v. McCloskey, 389 Pa.Super. 328, 567 A.2d 312 (1989) (same); Welsh v. Century Products, 745 F.Supp. 313 (D.Md.1990) (common law negligence and product liability claims involving allegedly defective infant car seat were not preempted) with Woo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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