Massachusetts federal district court judge Douglas Woodlock did not mince words during an hour-long hearing on Thursday, December 3, urging lawyers for the Alliance for Automotive Innovation and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy to reach an agreement on a workable schedule for the court to decide a challenge by the Alliance to recent changes to state law that require automobile manufacturers to significantly alter the telematics systems installed in their cars beginning with model year 2022.
Judge Woodlock expressed his strong desire to resolve the Alliance's preliminary injunction motion at a trial on the merits of claims that changes to Mass. Gen. Laws c. 93K—called the “Data Law” by the Alliance in its papers—are preempted by federal law. “Maybe the parties will play a game of chicken and force the issue,” Judge Woodlock said, in which case he would require the Attorney General to submit her opposition to the preliminary injunction in the time allotted by rule and decide the motion based on the limited record developed in the motion papers. He expressed skepticism that such a limited record would be adequate for him to consider the issues being presented, however, and cautioned both parties, “I don’t think you want me to do that.”
Judge Woodlock ordered the parties by Monday, December 7 to come up with a workable schedule that would allow him to hold a bench trial and receive evidence concerning the preemption issues in March 2021. With the amendments to Chapter 93K going into effect on December 18, and with some OEMs beginning to make model year 2022 vehicles as early as next month, the Alliance argued it will be impossible for OEMs to comply with the new requirements. Judge Woodlock acknowledged that “generally you’re given lead time before precipitous changes” are made to the law, but there was no further discussion at the hearing about the possibility of the court enjoining enforcement of the Data Law while the parties take discovery and prepare for a March bench trial.
During the hearing, a lawyer from the Attorney General’s Office said that although Attorney General Maura Healy did not intend to take any action to enforce the Data Law until after the court resolves the pending lawsuit, she does not believe that the Data Law is preempted by federal law and so she will oppose the Alliance’s motion. The court asked counsel for the Alliance whether the US Solicitor General, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration would be filing amicus briefs in support of the Alliance’s preemption argument, and directed counsel to contact those agencies to find out if they would be doing so and report back to the court by Monday, December 14.
The Data Law provides a private right of action against OEMs by vehicle owners and independent repairs shops if they are unable to access telematics data in model year 2022 vehicles. Assuming the Alliance and the Attorney General agree to put off the trial until March 2021, unless the court enjoins enforcement of the Data Law until the trial, OEMs who begin their model year 2022 production between January and March may be exposed to claims by vehicle owners and independent repair shops in Massachusetts unable to access telematics data in model year 2022 vehicles. Although voters may not have realized it when they passed Question One by ballot initiative last month, they very well may have effectively banned the sale of model year 2022 vehicles in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.