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Auto Innovators’ requested hold on Data Access Law enforcement denied

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U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock has denied issuing an emergency temporary restraining order (TRO) requested by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (Auto Innovators) in its case against the state of Massachusetts over the voter-approved Data Access Law.

The law is an expansion of the state’s right to repair law. It requires OEMs to create and implement an onboard, standardized diagnostic system that would be accessible to everyone with or without OEM permission. Auto Innovators argues in its lawsuit that OEMs can’t safely and consistently comply with the legislation.

In a hearing on Tuesday, requested by Auto Innovators to stop enforcement of the law by Attorney General Andrea Campbell beginning June 1, Woodlock said he might later consider a TRO or preliminary injunction but needs more time to consider both sides of the argument. That mostly stemmed from both parties waiting too close to June 1 to take action in support of and against the non-enforcement stipulation that has been adhered to by the AG’s office since 2020. Shortly after Campbell took office in January she said she would enforce the law come June 1.

While Woodlock said monetary injury to Auto Innovators’ members through enforcement of the Data Access Law is measurable by monetary damages and can be a basis for preemption (whether federal law trumps local and/or state law), he also said there are significant differences in the way the parties read the statute with the more reasonable reading being the AG’s.

“Plaintiff is stretching rather dramatically to create some degree of reader apprehension but there is a claim that can be made that there is a real harm that can be anticipated by the members of the association,” Woodlock said.

When considering interlocutory, or temporary, relief in the case Woodlock said Campbell has the right as AG for her actions concerning enforcement of the law to not be interfered with, just as Auto Innovators and its members have the right for their business decisions to not be interfered with. There is potential harm for both parties in the case but he said he sees more hardship for Campbell’s office.

In an opposition memorandum filed by Campbell on Tuesday, she argues that, “The OEMs’ refusal to take any steps to come into compliance with the Law in the 30 months since it was enacted is not irreparable harm, nor should this Court be in the business of rewarding such obstinance with injunctive relief.”

Also, she wrote, some OEMs have already taken steps to come into compliance with the Data Access Law essentially disproving Auto Innovators’ argument that compliance isn’t possible.

“…the evidence at trial showed that OEMs can securely comply with the Data Access Law without violating federal law. Some OEMs are already in compliance, and others can comply with the law if they devote the resources and time to make appropriate changes to their vehicles’ architectures.”

When weighing potential public hardship, Woodlock said, “a vote is a vote is a vote,” meaning  Massachusetts constituents voted in favor of the Data Access Law. Although Woodlock recognized it’s “fair to say that it’s demanding” and is “likely unattainable, at least for the foreseeable future” because of the effects the law would have on OEM equipment, including possible degradation of vehicle safety features, in a way that hasn’t been resolved, partially because no action for or against the law has been taken by OEMs.

Woodlock noted that the AG’s memorandum against Auto Innovators’ motion for a TRO was submitted 20 minutes before the hearing on Tuesday, which he said he was perplexed by.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Haskell noted that the AG’s office said in a notice issued in March that the non-enforcement stipulation would end on June 1. According to the AG’s opposition memorandum, the notice was given on March 7 and, in part, stated: “The people of Massachusetts deserve the benefit of the law they approved more than two years ago.”

“[A]s early as January 27, 2021, this Court warned the members of plaintiff Alliance for Automotive Innovation, ‘I really mean it about, if their business planning is not including thinking about [the Data Access Law] coming into play at some point, then they’re whistling by the graveyard on it,'” the memorandum states.

It goes on to argue that Auto Innovators wasn’t requesting a TRO but rather a preliminary injunction, with no set duration, until the court renders a ruling.

As Campbell previously argued and noted again in the memorandum, “The Alliance does not have standing, and it does not have a cause of action. Furthermore, there is not even the slightest conflict between the Data Access Law and federal law. NHTSA’s vehicle safety standards simply do not cover the cybersecurity issues upon which the Alliance rests its preemption case.

“And the Clean Air Act expressly requires that auto manufacturers share ‘any and all information’ regarding emission-related diagnoses and repairs to ‘any person engaged in the repairing or servicing of motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines’ — precisely the sort of access that the Alliance seeks to block here… Nor is there any ’emergency’ here, let alone one that is not of the OEMs’ own making.”

Auto Innovators’ attorney, Laurence A. Schoen, said the penalty for each violation of the Data Access Law would be $5,000, and it’s possible that it could be retroactively enforced. John Nadolenco, also an attorney for Auto Innovators, added that it doesn’t make sense for Campbell to begin enforcing the new law when there hasn’t been a ruling from Woodlock on the lawsuit. Enforcement before a ruling would misinform the public, he said.

Woodlock asked Haskell if Campbell plans to implement retroactive enforcement. Haskell said it’s a “far-fetched possibility” and won’t happen.

No other hearings have been scheduled or documents filed in the case as of Wednesday morning.


Featured image credit: Baris-Ozer/iStock

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