Judge Promises to Render Prompt Decision as Massachusetts Right to Repair Trial Concludes

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A Boston federal court heard the final round of closing arguments on Wednesday, July 21 in Alliance for Automotive Innovation v. Healy, a lawsuit challenging recent amendments to the Massachusetts Right to Repair Law (the “Data Law”). The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade association representing the interests of automakers, is seeking an injunction barring the Data Law from being enforced because, among other things, the requirements the state law would impose on OEMs with respect to the telematics systems installed in vehicles they manufacture conflicts with the federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

During the Wednesday hearing, Judge Douglas Woodlock told lawyers for the Alliance and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) that he expects to issue a decision by August 20, and he asked the AGO to continue its stipulated stay of enforcement of the Data Law until that date. At the hearing, the parties continued arguments they made during the first round of arguments held last month, again sparring over whether the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) has sufficiently regulated vehicle cybersecurity to create a conflict between the Data Law and federal law. Over the course of the case, Judge Woodlock has frequently observed that NHTSA has done little, if anything, to promulgate and enforce vehicle cybersecurity regulations. The AGO has argued that this lack of action by NHTSA renders the Alliance’s claim unripe for adjudication. The Alliance has argued that the risk associated with NHTSA taking action if the Data Law is upheld, for example by issuing safety recalls or promulgating its own regulations, places the claim fairly before the Court.

There appeared to be little dispute at the hearing on Wednesday that it would be practically impossible for OEMs to comply with the new statutory requirements imposed by the Data Law within the prescribed time limits, including requirements that wholesale changes to vehicle telematics systems be made in model year 2022 vehicles, which for some OEMs are already under production. The AGO argued that OEMs could comply with the law immediately by simply turning off vehicle telematics systems, but Judge Woodlock characterized this proposal as a “Luddite solution” and dismissed it as a practical means of compliance.

During the hearing, Judge Woodlock indicated that because the Data Law was passed by the Massachusetts voters via the state’s ballot initiative process, he lacks the equitable power to amend it. The court noted that large commercial interests had spent millions of dollars to use the ballot initiative process to pass special interest legislation, and that it was not within the court’s province to save those interests from their decision to ask Massachusetts voters to pass a law with which it was impossible for OEMs to comply.

Regardless of his decision, Judge Woodlock noted that the losing party would likely appeal to the First Circuit, and perhaps ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court. Such an appeal likely will take several years to make its way through the courts, and Judge Woodlock suggested that he could wield his equitable powers in deciding whether to stay enforcement of his decision pending that appeal. He urged the parties to consider how that might look, suggesting that the AGO might consider engaging in a formal rulemaking process and that OEMs might consider seeking more concrete action from NHTSA on cybersecurity issues.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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