The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the dismissal by a district court of eight consolidated complaints filed by New York City bus company employees claiming that manufacturers of diesel-fuel engines and of buses employing those engines were liable for injuries allegedly resulting from plaintiffs’ inhalation of diesel exhaust fumes. Butnick v. General Motors Corp., No. 11-1068 (2d Cir. 7/11/12). Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants failed to provide warnings about the potential health hazards of prolonged exposure to exhaust fumes and that the buses were equipped with “defeat devices” that could evade federal emissions standards.  

Although plaintiffs did not bring their claims under the Clean Air Act (CAA), they attempted to use the CAA to establish a standard of care that they claimed defendants failed to meet. The district court dismissed the complaints, ruling that the claims were preempted by the CAA, section 209(a), which states that “[n]o State or any political subdivision thereof shall adopt or attempt to enforce any standard relating to the control of emissions from . . . new motor vehicle engines.” 42 U.S.C. § 7543(a). The court ruled that the use of state common law to bring an “action that questions whether a defendant complied with standards promulgated under the CAA is an example of a state attempting to enforce the CAA, and is therefore subject to preemption.” Plaintiff appealed.  

In affirming the district court, the appeals court held that plaintiffs’ state law claims were indeed preempted by the CAA, for the reason stated by the district court. The court noted that its ruling did not preclude plaintiffs from seeking relief for any violations of state law that may have been committed by their employers and may have led to their injuries.