Update: The Right to Repair Stalls in Federal Court | Morgan Lewis – Tech & Sourcing

In our January 2021 blog post The Right to Repair in Massachusetts Rolls Forward, we discussed how Massachusetts voters in November 2021 approved Question One, a ballot initiative amending the commonwealth’s  2012 Right to Repair Law. The amendment provides that motor vehicles sold in Massachusetts, beginning with 2022 models, be required “to equip any such vehicles that use telematics systems—systems that collect and wirelessly transmit mechanical data to a remote server—with a standardized open access data platform. Owners of motor vehicles with telematics systems would get access to mechanical data through a mobile device application.” With authorization of the owner, such telematics data will be available to independent repair facilities and dealerships not otherwise affiliated with the manufacturer of the vehicle, who will “send commands to the vehicle for repair, maintenance, and diagnostic testing.” In turn, a contractual relationship between the manufacturer and the independent repair facility will no longer be required in order for such data to be shared.

Following the approval of the initiative by Massachusetts voters, the lawsuit Alliance for Automotive Innovation v. Healy was filed in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts in an attempt to block the implementation of the law. The plaintiff made several arguments regarding why the initiative should be found invalid, including that it is impossible for manufacturers to properly outfit their “model year 2022” vehicles to meet the requirements set forth in the initiative given that 2022 models for certain manufacturers became available early within 2021, and that the law is preempted by multiple federal statutes, including, without limitation, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In contrast, the state argued that the plaintiff’s preemption argument does not hold up under scrutiny, and that the court could sever the 2022 requirement and “enjoin enforcement of the [initiative] for only the period of ‘lead time’ actually needed by OEMs to comply with state and federal law.”

As a result of the lawsuit, the implementation of the law has been on hold, and over the summer the parties made oral arguments in front of Judge Douglas Woodlock, who originally had planned to deliver a ruling on the initiative by September 20, 2021, but has since pushed the timeline back to no later than November 2, 2021 due to “competing demands of other matters” and the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Massachusetts residents wait to see if and to what extent the initiative they voted overwhelmingly in favor of will be struck down, this proceeding has highlighted the pitfalls of tying the implementation of far reaching legislation to significantly tight timelines and the legal challenges that are sure to follow.

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