Volkswagen prevails against US counties’ diesel emissions claims

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By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – A federal judge has ruled in favor of Volkswagen (ETR:) in lawsuits brought against the automaker by two U.S. counties over its diesel emissions cheating scandal.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco ruled Thursday that Utah’s Salt Lake County and Florida’s Hillsborough County could not prove that Volkswagen violated their regulations against tampering with vehicles’ emission control systems. The counties can still appeal to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Robert Giuffra, a lawyer for Volkswagen, said the decision puts the company “near the end of the diesel litigation road in the U.S.” The company in May reached an $85 million settlement with Texas, the last remaining state suing the company, though that deal is not yet final.

Lawyers for the two counties did not immediately respond to requests r comment.

Volkswagen in 2015 disclosed that it had cheated emissions tests by installing so-called “defeat devices” and sophisticated software in 11 million vehicles worldwide, allowing them to reduce emissions only during emissions tests.

The company previously agreed to pay more than $20 billion in criminal and civil penalties and settlements to U.S. federal regulators, states, dealers and owners. Worldwide, it has paid out a total of more than $30 billion.

The 9th Circuit ruled in 2020 that state and local governments could not sue over the defeat devices and software originally sold with the vehicles, because the federal Clean Air Act left that up to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, it allowed them to sue over updates to the software installed later during maintenance.

Breyer rejected the counties’ claims over those updates because, he found, evidence did not show that they worsened emissions.

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