Learn more about Peltz-Steele v. UMass Faculty Federation at Court Listener (complaint) and the Liberty Justice Center. The case is now on appeal in the First Circuit as no. 22-1466 (PACER paywall). Please direct media inquiries to Kristen Williamson.
Showing posts with label right to repair. Show all posts
Showing posts with label right to repair. Show all posts

Monday, July 4, 2022

Judge delays decision again on Mass. right to repair, cites need to study SCOTUS climate change ruling

pix4free
Last week, in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to federal regulators on the climate change front, and the case has stalled, again, release of the trial court decision over the right-to-repair law in Massachusetts.

First, a word on West Virginia, in which the Court struck down climate change-combative regulations for being born of a breadth not sufficiently specifically authorized by Congress. Others will comment more ably than I on the constitutional law of it all, but from where I sit, the case was correctly decided. Before you throw your rotten tomatoes at me for composting, at least absorb my two cents on the matter: 

We have too long been under the rule of administrative fiat in the United States, rather than democratic lawmaking, because our dysfunctional Congress long ago abdicated its role as a co-equal branch of government. Early in the 20th century, the Court unwisely allowed the non-delegation doctrine to slip away, and with it went the checks and balances of the constitutional separation of powers itself. So we're overdue for a correction.

You don't want to hear it from me, but the same problem pertains in the Roe/Dobbs debacle, where the administrative fiats on privacy have been coming from the Court rather than the administrative state, but certainly not from Congress: same difference. People, especially people ill schooled in the separation of powers—wherefore the sorry state of K12?—look to monolithic government for answers to their problems. They don't much care which public office provides the answer. So they fail to distinguish a Supreme Court decision—West Virginia or Dobbs—that says not our job from one that says simply not. Protestors picketing the Supreme Court building in recent weeks were on the wrong side of the street.

Abdication is a win-win for lawmakers, who can rake in the dough from corporations for the small price of doing nothing while blaming other branches of government for failing to offer a fix. Lawmakers sat on their hands on privacy and women's rights for decades in the wake of Griswold and Roe, content to let the Court struggle to map fine lines. Now they pantomime outrage and aspersion when Roe goes away and there is no statutory civil rights framework to replace it, nor even a framework to protect interstate travel rights, which is well within congressional authority.

Anyway, the angle on West Virginia that interests me is that on July 1, the U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock again delayed his decision in automakers' challenge to the Massachusetts right-to-repair initiative, saying that he would have to study the impact, if any, of West Virginia on his rationale. (E.g., Repair Driven News.)

Issuance of the decision in the case has been delayed time and again this calendar year, and the case has spurred occasional fireworks. Chris Villani for Law 360 wrote in February how "[a]n exasperated federal judge said ... he was close to a verdict in a suit challenging Massachusetts' revised 'right to repair' law, yet he pressed attorneys for a group of manufacturers about why they didn't tell him that new Subaru and Kia vehicles complied with rules they claimed are impossible to follow."

It was not clear, later, whether Subaru and Kia had actually complied, or just turned off the offending telematic features in new cars to be sold in Massachusetts. Turning off an otherwise functional mechanism does not, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey opined, and I agree, comply with the consumer data access law.

Though the omission that aggravated the judge was explainable, the incident is demonstrative nonetheless of automakers' obfuscating foot-dragging in their conduct of the case overall. They threw every kitchen-sink theory and procedural roadblock at the Massachusetts law, because every day of noncompliance is money in the bank, never mind the merits, nor the defense cost to taxpayers.

Automakers' problem is less with telematics regulation and more with being regulated state by state, rather than by federal standards. Federal regulation, rather than state regulation, has two powerful advantages for industry. First, federal regulations are universal, rather than 50+ in number, which vastly reduces compliance costs. More efficiency in compliance costs is good for consumers, too. So that's fair.

Second, federal regulations come from a grinding rule-making process that is almost irretrievably contaminated by the mostly lawful if deeply lamentable corruption of the industry-state complex. So manufacturers can lobby their way free of meaningful burdens that would benefit consumers and protect social and economic rights. Less fair.

It is not clear why Judge Woodlock thinks that West Virginia might affect his ruling. I might be able to say if I followed the Massachusetts case more closely. Absent a study, my guess is that the issue has to do with preemption. One of the automakers' kitchen-sink challenges alleged that Massachusetts could not regulate telematics because federal regulation of the auto industry impliedly preempts state right-to-repair regulation. If the judge thought that the vitality of that theory depended on the breadth of the federal regulations, and the permissible breadth of federal regulations, when ambiguous, is necessarily narrowed by West Virginia, then maybe it's less likely that the federal regulations can be said impliedly to preclude state regulation.

I'm now piling supposition upon supposition, but if I'm right, the likelihood is that the trial court was going to rule in favor of industry, and it's possible but unlikely that West Virginia would change that. I put money on industry on this one back in the winter, too, in part because I supposed that the judge's exasperation was evoked by a seeming deception on the part of the soon-to-be-announced prevailing side, and in part because I'm a pessimist. Or, I like to think, a realist.

My will for public policy, though, if not my bet, is on the side of AG Healey. Previously, I've written favorably about right to repair as a bulwark of consumer protection, and I support the Massachusetts initiative.

The Massachusetts case is Alliance for Automotive Innovation v. Healey (D. Mass. filed Nov. 20, 2020).

Monday, January 24, 2022

American Airlines resists transparency, sues 'Points Guy' for tortious interference, trademark infringement

Photo by RJ Peltz-Steele at O.R. Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg,
South Africa, 2020 (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The Points Guy (TPG) has become embroiled in litigation with American Airlines over how the TPG app lets users manage their frequent flyer miles, the airline charging the website with tortious interference and trademark infringement.

I read TPG every day.  The website is funded by product placements and advertising, especially by credit card companies.  One has to know that and take the content with heaps of salt.  But I find TPG incomparable and nonetheless worthwhile for keeping up with the travel industry.  And TPG advice has been especially helpful to me with advice on frequent flyer programs, for example, letting me know how much miles are worth on average in real dollars, so I know whether dynamic redemption tables are offering a good deal.

I also like some of the writers at TPG, because they set a tone that resonates with me, mixing a desire for industry accountability, especially for airlines, with a sense of humor and a lighthearted wonder of the world.  Baltimore-based senior editor Benét J. Wilson (LinkedIn, Muck Rack, Twitter; see also Poynter) is especially fabulous; check out her wider world at Aviation Queen.  I met Benét when she taught an outstanding program on advanced Google research tools for the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), and thereby for my FOI Law students, who participated.

Last year, TPG launched an Apple app.  I haven't used it, because I'm an Android user.  I avoid Apple products because I've never been a fan of Apple intellectual property (IP) policies, which I mention because it's relevant here.  Apple's limited submission to a right of repair for Apple smartphones is a step in the right direction; more on that momentarily.  Anyway, TPG is working on the Android version of the app.

Among many features, the TPG app empowers users to manage their frequent flyer miles.  TPG deep-links to data from sites such as that of American Airlines (AA), within users' accounts there.  Obviously, this access improves the user's ability to maximize the value of their miles, recognizing good deals and, key, getting advance warning when miles are set to expire.

AA was not happy about that.  The company accused TPG of violating the terms and conditions of the website and frequent flyer program, AAdvantage, thus, allegedly, interfering with AA's contract with its customers and infringing on AA IP.  According to media reports, TPG sued AA in Delaware state court the week before last.  I assume TPG sought declaratory relief; at the time of this writing, the complaint is not yet available from Delaware courts.

Then on Tuesday last week, AA sued TPG in federal court, in AA's home Northern District of Texas.  The complaint alleged tortious interference with, inter alia, contract, unfair competition by misappropriation, (virtual) trespass, trademark infringement and dilution, copyright infringement, and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

For Law360, Jasmin Jackson filled in some background last week (limited access without subscription).  Jackson reported that TPG initially sought AA's partnership in the app.  AA declined.  Since the app's launch, the two were discussing their differences.  AA claimed surprise at TPG's Delaware filing and accused TPG of leveraging its position with litigation costs and compelling, AA said, the suit in Texas.

I see the case as a high-tech relation of the right-to-repair problem.  AA is gaining a business advantage through obfuscation of customer data and control of information under the guise of IP protection.  The same strategy is why I have to pay a high-dollar technician to tell me what's wrong with my car when the check-engine light comes on, and it's why 11% of McDonald's Taylor-made McFlurry machines are broken.

Customer frustration with companies' resistance to transactional transparency to maximize profit margins is manifesting in a wave of state legislation to protect consumers (see N.Y. Times July, Oct. 2021; repair industry website; U.S. PIRG).  Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a right-to-repair ballot initiative in 2020, despite a $25m no campaign by the auto industry (on this blog).  Industry promptly sued, principally claiming federal preemption.  The outcome of a 2021 trial in Alliance for Automotive Innovation v. Healy is still awaited, as the parties battle over a state motion to reopen trial evidence.

There is a Fair Repair Act bill in Congress, even if its odds of passage are dismal.  And the President last summer made overtures, however feeble, ordering the Federal Trade Commission to regulate to protect independent repair shops.  Industry claims it needs exclusive repair rights to protect consumers from incompetent independent technicians.  But a May 2021 FTC report located such industry claims somewhere between baseless and overstated.

The cause should be, and at least sometimes is, bipartisan.  As I have commented many times, free markets depend on transparency, the free flow of information between business and consumer.  So even economic conservatives should be able to get behind the right to repair.  That bipartisan impulse has fueled congressional appetite for now pending bills to enhance antitrust in the tech sector.  Apple's seemingly open-minded move to allow smartphone repair might have been calculated to head off antitrust enforcement.

Summons issued last week in the lawsuit filed by AA, which is American Airlines, Inc. v. Red Ventures LLC, No. 4:22-cv-00044 (N.D. Tex. filed Jan. 18, 2022).

Sunday, October 25, 2020

'Right to repair' of Mass. Question 1 would close loophole, aid consumers; industry opposition misleads

Teen mechanic in Philippines, 2014
(Rojessa Tiamson-Saceda, USAID, via Pixnio CC0)
Massachusetts has a right-to-repair initiative (Question 1) on the ballot this Election Day.

Voter information explains: "Under the proposed law, manufacturers would not be allowed to require authorization before owners or repair facilities could access mechanical data stored in a motor vehicle’s on-board diagnostic system, except through an authorization process standardized across all makes and models and administered by an entity unaffiliated with the manufacturer."

Passing this initiative should be a no-brainer.  The provision is in fact only an update to an existing law that voters approved in 2012.  Extending the right to repair to "telematic" data, the new law would close a right-to-repair loophole, through which carmakers can shield vehicle data against access by transmitting data out from the vehicle to a proprietary server.  The only source of controversy here should be how we let corporations continuously try to exploit law and technology to evade accountability to consumers and line their pockets with monopolistic product strategies.

The initiative is opposed by the "Coalition for Safe and Secure Data."  The organization's tack is that if you vote yes on Question 1, you'll facilitate domestic violence, because vehicle information can be misused by violent ne'er-do-wells.  The threat is a repulsive red herring, especially considering that telematic data about consumers already are being relocated without subject sign-off.  The Coalition for Safe and Secure Data is not the sheep of consumer privacy advocacy it pretends to be, but a wolf of a trade group, funded to the tune of $25m by the motor vehicle industry to shut down Question 1, according to Commonwealth Magazine.