U.S. Supreme Court

Court Finds Pre-Emption in Rulings Trio on Medical Devices, Tobacco Regs, Arbitration

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Updated: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in three federal pre-emption cases, favoring federal laws over state regulation and common-law lawsuits, SCOTUSblog reports.

In Riegel v. Medtronic, the court held that pre-market approval of medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration bars injury lawsuits by those who say they were harmed by the devices.

Plaintiff Charles Riegel had sued after a balloon catheter inserted in his coronary artery burst, blocking his heart and necessitating bypass surgery. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his opinion for the court (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog) that Riegel’s claims were pre-empted.

“It is not our job to speculate upon congressional motives,” Scalia wrote. “If we were to do so, however, the only indication available—the text of the statute—suggests that the solicitude for those injured by FDA-approved devices, which the dissent finds controlling, was overcome in Congress’ estimation by solicitude for those who would suffer without new medical devices if juries were allowed to apply the tort law of 50 states to all innovations.”

In a second case, Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal trucking laws pre-empt a state law regulating the delivery of tobacco to minors.

The Maine law at issue allowed only licensed tobacco retailers to accept tobacco deliveries and to use only delivery services that have recipient verification services. Those who transported tobacco to an unlicensed retailer could be fined up to $1,500 for a first offense and up to $5,000 for subsequent offenses.

Maine had argued that a public health exception barred federal pre-emption of its tobacco law. Justice Stephen G. Breyer rejected the argument in his opinion for the court (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog). “Congress is unlikely to have intended an implicit general ‘public health’ exception broad enough to cover even the shipments at issue here,” he wrote.

In a third case, Preston v. Ferrer, the court ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act pre-empts a California law sending disputes involving talent agencies to an administrative agency for review.

“We hold today that, when parties agree to arbitrate all questions arising under a contract, state laws lodging primary jurisdiction in another forum, whether judicial or administrative, are superseded by the FAA,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her majority opinion (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog). The case involved a dispute over commissions between television’s “Judge Alex” and a California lawyer who acted as his manager. The lawyer said the case should go to arbitration as called for in their contract.

The Associated Press covered the decisions in three separate stories:

–”Justices Limit Suits Over Medical Devices

–”Court Invalidates Maine Tobacco Law

–”Court Rules Against Judge Alex

Updated at 11:20 a.m. to include links to Associated Press stories on the decisions.

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