Freightliner Corp. v. Myrick (94-286), 514 U.S. 280 (1995).
[ Thomas ]
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NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.




certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 94-286. Argued February 22, 1995 -- Decided April 18, 1995

In separate state common law suits, respondents alleged that the absence of an antilock braking system (ABS) in tractor trailers manufactured by petitioners constituted a negligent design defect that caused accidents injuring one respondent and killing another's spouse. The District Court granted summary judgments for petitioners, holding that respondents' claims were pre-empted by the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (Act) and by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Standard 121, even though the applicable portion of that standard had previously been suspended by the Ninth Circuit. Among other things, the Act forbids any State to "establish, or continue in effect," a motor vehicle safety standard "[w]henever a Federal . . . standard . . . is in effect" with respect to "the same aspect of performance," 15 U.S.C. § 1392(d), while Standard 121 imposed vehicle stability requirements and truck stopping distances shorter than those that could be achieved with brakes lacking ABS. The Eleventh Circuit consolidated the cases and reversed, holding that respondents' claims were not expressly pre-empted under Circuit precedent and were not impliedly pre-empted due to a conflict between state law and the federal regulatory scheme.


1. Respondents' lawsuits are not expressly pre-empted. Because of Standard 121's suspension, there is simply no "minimum," §1391(2), "objective," §1392(a), federal standard addressing stopping distances or vehicle stability for trucks. States thus remain free to "establish, or continue in effect," their own safety standards concerning those "aspects of performance." §1392(d). Moreover, the absence of regulation cannot itself constitute regulation in this instance. The lack of a federal standard did not result from an affirmative decision of officials to refrain from regulating brakes, but from the decision of a federal court that the Government had not compiled sufficient evidence to justify its regulations. Ray v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 435 U.S. 151, 178, distinguished. Pp. 5-6.

2. Because respondents' common law actions do not conflict with federal law, they cannot be pre-empted by implication. This Court has found implied conflict pre-emption where it is "impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal requirements," English v. General Electric Co., 496 U.S. 72, 79, or where state law "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of [Congress'] full purposes and objectives," Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67. Cipollone v. Liggett Group Inc., 505 U. S. ___, ___, distinguished. First, it is not impossible for petitioners to comply with both federal and state law because there is simply no federal standard for a private party to comply with. Nothing in the Act or its regulations currently regulates the use of ABS devices. Second, a finding of liability against petitioners would undermine no federal objectives or purposes with respect to such devices, since none exist absent a promulgated federal standard. Pp. 6-9.

13 F. 3d 1516, affirmed.

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., concurred in the judgment.