SCOTUS Asks Federal Government for Briefs in Volkswagen Lawsuit

The Supreme Court of the United States on Monday asked for the government’s view in a lawsuit filed by two jurisdictions, the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County in Florida and Salt Lake County in Utah, against Volkswagen Group of America Inc. and Audi of America LLC appealed from the Ninth Circuit

The Supreme Court is seeking the opinion of the federal government regarding whether the two counties can sue the company for damages due to alleged emissions fraud. The counties alleged that Volkswagen breached laws and diminished their air quality by putting defeat devices in its cars and updated software after the cars were purchased without revealing that the updates were related to emissions. These allegations stem from a 2015 scandal. 

In the matter, Volkswagen purported that under the Clean Air Act (CAA) the counties cannot file lawsuits against it. Volkswagen explained that it already faced a lawsuit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which was settled in a “multi-billion-dollar resolution,” according to the petition. Volkswagen argued that this preempts state and local governments from seeking claims under the CAA.  

Volkswagen filed its petition for a writ of certiorari in January, purporting that the Ninth Circuit decision conflicted with other decisions and that uniformity in this case is important. Additionally, the company claimed that the appellate court misinterpreted the CAA and that its opinion needs to be reconsidered.  

A brief filed by the counties in March claimed that because Volkswagen illegally placed defeat devices on cars and did not disclose that to the EPA it caused harm to the air quality in the counties.  They cited that under the CAA, air pollution is the responsibility of state and local governments, and claimed that the Ninth Circuit correctly rejected the preemption argument put forth by Volkswagen, and correctly interpreted the Act. 

Volkswagen is represented by Sullivan & Cromwell. The county respondents are represented by Stris and Maher