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ASSOCIATION OF INTL. AUTO. MFRS., INC. v. ABRAMS

November 14, 1994

ASSOCIATION OF INTERNATIONAL AUTOMOBILE MANUFACTURERS, INC. and AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
ROBERT ABRAMS, as Attorney General of the State of New York and PATRICIA B. ADDUCI, as Commissioner, DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLES, State of New York, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WHITMAN KNAPP

 WHITMAN KNAPP, SENIOR D.J.

 This case presents a three-pronged constitutional challenge to a recently enacted New York statute requiring automobile manufacturers to disclose to consumers information regarding bumper quality. Plaintiffs, two associations representing automobile manufacturers, move for summary judgment, asserting that the statute must be invalidated as preempted by federal law; and because it is unconstitutionally vague and impermissibly burdens interstate commerce. Defendants cross-move for summary judgment, contending that the statute suffers from no such constitutional infirmities. Three consumer advocacy organizations, Public Citizen, Inc., Consumers Union, and the Center for Auto Safety, have filed an amici curiae memorandum of law in support of defendants' motion. For the reasons that follow, we grant defendants' motion for summary judgment and deny that of plaintiffs.

 I.

 In 1992, the state of New York enacted Section 416-a of its Vehicle and Traffic Law (hereinafter "the New York Statute" or "the Statute"), which prohibits the sale or lease within the state of any passenger car manufactured after January 1, 1993, or any offer of either such transaction, unless a "bumper quality label" providing certain information is affixed to it. The Statute, which became effective on February 3, 1993, specifies information that the label must include:

 
This vehicle is equipped with a front bumper that has been tested at an impact speed of (specified by vehicle manufacturer) miles per hour and a rear bumper that has been tested at an impact speed of (specified by vehicle manufacturer) miles per hour, and has sustained no damage to the vehicle's body and minimal damage to the bumper and attachment hardware. Minimal damage to the bumper means damage that can be repaired with the use of common repair materials and without replacing any parts. The stronger the bumper, the less likely the car will need repair after a low speed collision.

 N.Y. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 416-a(1) (McKinney's 1992). It further requires that "the impact speed required to be specified in the notice * * * is the maximum speed of impact upon the bumper of the vehicle at which the vehicle sustains no damage to the body and safety systems and only minimal damage to the bumper." § 416-a(2). Violations are subject to a maximum civil fine of fifty dollars per vehicle. The Statute makes no reference to how motor vehicles should be manufactured, and imposes no requirements pertaining to their performance.

 
The bumper quality label requirement proposed by this bill would help new car buyers to make better informed purchasing decisions, thus benefiting both safety and economic interests of consumers. Obviously, a stronger vehicle bumper will reduce the likelihood that the car will require expensive repairs after a low-speed collision. Thus, this bill could help to contain insurance costs, because the cost of repairs is factored into the determination of insurance premiums for property damage liability coverage.

 (Pl. Ex. C at 2).

 On August 7, 1992, Governor Cuomo approved the Statute, observing in his Memorandum of Approval:

 
today's car buyers * * * [seek] to purchase a vehicle which protects passengers from injury and which incurs minimal damage in the event of an accident. This goal cannot be realized, however, unless the consumer is provided with sufficient information upon which to make an informed decision * * * This bill will greatly assist consumers in making comparisons between bumper qualities of different vehicles. With this new information, car buyers will be better able to make informed decisions regarding these important purchases.

 (Pl. Ex. B at 1).

 II.

 Plaintiffs argue that the Statute is both expressly and impliedly preempted under the Supremacy Clause. Article VI of the Constitution provides that the laws of the United States "shall be the supreme Law of the Land; . . . any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding." Ever since McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) 17 U.S. 316, 4 Wheat. 316, 427, 4 L. Ed. 579, "it has been settled that state law that conflicts with federal law is 'without effect.'" Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc. (1992) 120 L. Ed. 2d 407, 112 S. Ct. 2608, 2617 (citation omitted). However, a party asserting preemption carries a heavy burden. As observed in Chicago & Northwestern Transp. Co. v. Kalo Brick & Tile Co. (1981) 450 U.S. 311, 317, 67 L. Ed. 2d 258, 101 S. Ct. 1124:

 
Pre-emption of state law by federal statute or regulation is not favored "in the absence of persuasive reasons -- either that the nature of the regulated subject matter permits no other conclusion, or that the Congress has unmistakably so ordained." Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132, 142, 10 L. Ed. 2d 248, 83 S. Ct. 1210 (1963).

 Plaintiffs contend the Statute effectively creates a bumper testing standard at variance with the federal bumper standard and is thus expressly preempted. We reject that contention. It is true that the Statute would be preempted under federal law if it required vehicles to meet any particular performance or safety standards. However, it neither does nor attempts to do any such thing. In the alternative, plaintiffs assert that the Statute is unconstitutional as impliedly preempted. That argument is similarly unavailing.

 A. The Federal "Bumper Standard"

 The regulation of automobile safety has been primarily a federal matter since the passage of two federal statutes, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 ("the Safety Act"), 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1381-1431 (1982 & Supp. 1994) and the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act of 1972 ("the Cost Savings Act"), 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1901-2012 (1982 & Supp. 1994).

 Congress enacted the Safety Act in 1966 in order to increase automobile safety through the establishment of federal motor vehicle safety standards. The statute shifted "the primary responsibility for regulating the national automotive manufacturing industry" to the federal government, S.Rep. No. 1301, 89th Cong., 2d Sess. 1, reprinted in 1966, U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News 2709, 2712, in part by authorizing the National Highway & Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA") to issue such safety standards. As the legislative history of the Safety Act makes abundantly clear, Congress was above all concerned with establishing a minimum, uniform automobile safety standard "so that the public as well as industry will be guided by one set of criteria rather than by a multiplicity of diverse standards." H.Rep. 1776, 89th Cong., 2d Sess. 17 (1966). Thus the originally enacted Safety Act contained (and, in its present form, still contains) the following preemption provision:

 
Supremacy of federal standards; * * *
 
(d) Whenever a Federal motor vehicle safety standard established under this subchapter is in effect, no State or political subdivision of a State shall have any authority either to establish, or to continue in effect, with respect to any motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment any safety standard applicable to the same aspect of ...

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