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Sims v. Florida Dep't of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles

Citation: 19 ELR 20600
No. No. 86-3055, 862 F.2d 1449/(11th Cir., 01/11/1989) Aff'd in part, rev'd in part en banc

The court, sitting en banc, holds that the Clean Air Act (CAA) preempts a Florida statute that requires the owner of an imported automobile not in compliance with CAA and Motor Vehicle Safety Act standards to obtain certification of compliance with these standards from the federal government before the vehicle can be titled and registered in the state. The court first holds that enforcement of the CAA before the first sale of new motor vehicles is the sole and exclusive prerogative of the federal government. In CAA § 209(a), Congress expressly indicated its intent to exclusively regulate the control of new motor vehicle emissions prior to their initial sale. The court then holds that the Motor Vehicle Safety Act does not preempt the state law. Unlike the CAA, the Safety Act precludes states from enforcing safety standards only when such standards differ from federal standards. The Florida statute does not impair the enforcement of federal standards or frustrate Congress' intent to establish uniform standards for vehicle manufacturers.

The court next addresses a number of jurisdictional issues that were not presented to the district court. The court holds that the plaintiffs, an imported car owner and a trade association whose members import and alter foreign automobiles so that they comply with federal emissions and safety standards, both have standing to challenge the state statute. Each has shown a judicially cognizable injury traceable to the statute's enforcement and a likelihood of redress if the statute is declared unconstitutional. The court next holds that the cause of action is not moot. The trade association continues to have the same personal interest and stake in the lawsuit as it did at the time of the filing, while the car owner's injury is capable of repetition. After noting that the state of Florida failed to raise the sovereign immunity issue on its own, the court grants plaintiff's motion to add as a defendant the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles of the Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Department.

The dissent would hold that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' claims; that the car owner's claim is moot; and that the trade association does not have standing to sue. The dissent would also deny the motion to add the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles as a defendant on due process grounds.

[The panel decision appears at 18 ELR 20281.]

Counsel for Appellant
Eric Taylor, Ass't Attorney General
State Capitol, Tallahassee FL 32399-1050
(904) 488-1573

Counsel for Appellee
Robert P. Smith Jr.
Hopping, Boyd, Green & Sams
123 S. Calhoun St., P.O. Box 6526, Tallahassee FL 32314
(904) 222-7500