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Chrysler Corp. v. EPA

Citation: 10 ELR 20595
No. No. 78-2273, 631 F.2d 865/14 ERC 1647/(D.C. Cir., 06/19/1980)

The court affirms an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) order directing Chrysler Corp. to recall a class of 1975 vehicles because of noncompliance with emission standards. Although EPA issued a certificate of conformity for the vehicles at the production stage, subsequent testing showed that once in use, a substantial proportion of the vehicles failed to meet standards. The record shows that this failure rate is attributable in large measure to the fact that (1) the process of maintaining the vehicles properly is difficult, time consuming, and requires equipment not possessed by many dealerships, and (2) the vehicles' carburation and emission control equipment is extremely sensitive and difficult to bring within standards. Moreover, when the vehicles are tuned as required by Chrysler to meet specifications, they perform poorly and generate customer dissatisfaction. Construing for the first time § 207(c)(1) of the Clean Air Act, which authorizes EPA to order the recall of vehicles that although properly maintained fail to meet standards when in actual use throughout their useful life, the court concludes that it supports the Agency's action. The term "properly maintained" does not permit a manufacturer to issue intricate and burdensome maintenance instructions and then escape responsibility for noncompliant vehicles where such instructions are not followed to the letter. Rather, the term simply limits manufacturers' liability in cases of intentional or negligent maintenance by owners or mechanics. Thus, an owner's failure to follow Chrysler's exacting maintenance procedures does not mean that the vehicle was improperly maintained. The court also finds that substantial evidence supports EPA's finding that a large percentage of the vehicles in the recall class violated emissions standards, thus upholding the Agency's sampling and testing regimes. Finally, the court rules that Chrysler should have but did not foresee that its prescribed combination of emission control devices and subsequent maintenance requirements would not assure compliance with emission limitations. Therefore, the EPA order requiring the manufacturer to submit a plan for modifying all vehicles in the recall class, at its own expense, is affirmed.

Counsel for Petitioner
James A. Hourihan, Gail Starling Marshall
Hogan & Hartson
815 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 331-4500

Counsel for Respondents
Charlotte Uram, Angus MacBeth; James W. Moorman, Ass't Attorney General
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2807

Gerald K. Gleason, Kevin L. Bromberg; Joan Z. Bernstein, General Counsel
Environmental Protection Agency, Washington DC 20460
(202) 755-2511

Before WRIGHT, Chief Judge, and McGOWAN and MIKVA, Circuit Judges.