A federal court in New York has ruled that Clean Air Act (CAA) provisions regulating motor vehicle emissions preempts state tort claims alleging injury from exposure to diesel fumes. In re Jackson v. General Motors Corp., No. 08-10879 (S.D.N.Y. 2/16/11). Plaintiffs, who are New York Transit Authority bus drivers, shifters and mechanics, filed seven complaints alleging that the defendant, a manufacturer of urban transit buses and diesel engines, was liable for harm allegedly caused by exposure to diesel exhaust fumes. The complaint asserted claims for negligence and strict liability, alleging design defects and inadequate warnings. Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the CAA preempts plaintiffs’ claims.

The court agreed, ruling that the CAA’s broad preemption language precludes state common-law claims based on failure to meet federal emissions standards. According to the court, in enacting the CAA, Congress declared that national motor vehicle emission regulations were necessary to provide automobile manufacturers with consistent standards, and that, absent a waiver, a state cannot promulgate its own emissions standards for vehicles because such standards are expressly preempted by section 209(a) of the CAA. While that language does not expressly preempt state tort claims, the court held that plaintiffs’ claims did “relate to” the control of emissions, and were therefore also preempted by section 209(a).