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Federal judge again postpones ruling in Massachusetts ‘right-to-repair’ case

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A U.S. district court judge on Friday again delayed issuing an opinion in the automakers’ legal challenge of a Massachusetts “right-to-repair” law, saying he needs to consider the implications of a Supreme Court decision issued the previous day.

Judge Douglas P. Woodlock said his delay was prompted by the need to “consider fully the implications of the long anticipated decision — not issued until the final day of the Supreme Court’s term yesterday — in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency,” as well as “unforeseen and unforeseeable scheduling complications encountered in the past several weeks coming upon the extended holiday weekend.”

Woodlock did not say in his one-page notice what aspect of the West Virginia opinion he needed to consider. In general, the court ruled that the EPA can’t make power plants switch to sustainable energy sources under the Clean Air Act, but can still regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.

The judge, who had told the parties to expect his decision by Friday, said he does not expect the delay to extend past a 14-day enforcement grace period granted by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Healey has so far elected not to enforce the Massachusetts Data Access law, approved by the state’s voters in November 2020, as the parties await the court’s decision in the case.

Both Healey’s office and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI), which filed the suit on behalf of the makers of nearly all of the vehicles sold in the U.S., declined to comment Friday.

The delay is the latest of several in the suit, Alliance for Automotive Innovation v. Healey, in which AAI challenges the legality of provisions of the law. AAI sued on November 20, 2020, asking the court to permanently enjoin enforcement of the law approved by voters days earlier.

Under Section 2 of the amended law, any OEM that sells a vehicle in the state that utilizes a telematics system “shall be required to equip such vehicles with an inter-operable, standardized and open access platform across all of the manufacturer’s makes and models.” The legislation became effective with the 2022 model year.

AAI claims that, among other things, the deadline was impossible to meet, and that OEMs could not comply with the law without violating federal safety and environmental laws.

One issue in the case is whether disabling telematics on vehicles sold in Massachusetts, as Subaru and Kia have done, constitutes compliance with the law. Attorney General Maura Healey, defending the law, has argued that it does; AAI has countered that Subaru and Kia have merely “avoided” the law. “[T]urning off telematics simply does not create [the required] platform — let alone by model year 2022,” the Alliance wrote in a brief.

The case was tried last summer, with final arguments delivered on June 25, 2021. Woodlock had previously set a Nov. 2, 2021 deadline for issuing a decision, but postponed that date to accept post-trial evidence after Healey’s office brought the actions by Subaru and Kia to light. He subsequently set deadlines of March 7, April 15, and July 1, citing further delays.

Tommy Hickey, director of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, the proponent of the legislation, issued a statement Friday, saying that the organization is “disappointed by the delay but hoping for a ruling in two weeks.”

More information

‘Right to repair’ proponent pushes for resolution of Massachusetts lawsuit

GAO to study automotive ‘right to repair’ issues


Featured image by Baris-Ozer/iStock

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