AUSTIN – The 3rd Court of Appeals at Austin passed down two separate decisions relating to Volkswagen clean diesel litigation.
In the decisions filed July 28, the court determined that the Texas counties who had filed their own lawsuits against Volkswagen, in addition to that of the state of Texas, will be able to go ahead with their cases but will have to wait until the state’s case is completed.
In one decision, the court rejected the state’s argument that because it had filed its lawsuit before the 18 counties filed their own, the counties’ cases should be dismissed.
According to the court’s written opinion, “The state maintains that the plain text of the [Texas Clean Air Act]’s enforcement provisions precludes local governments from bringing enforcement suits once the state has initiated a claim for the same geographic area and that, as a result, the later-filing counties here lack a justiciable interest (a component of standing) in their TCAA enforcement actions.”
The court, however, disagreed, determining that there was no such text in the enforcement provisions, nor anything to suggest that that was its intent.
In a separate opinion filed the same day, the 3rd Court of Appeals granted the state’s request that the other cases filed after its own be abated until the state’s case is resolved. The court here considered the doctrine of dominant jurisdiction which, according to the opinion, “applies where cases are inherently interrelated because they ‘involve the same parties and the same controversy,’ and requires that the later-filed cases ‘be dismissed if a party to that suit calls the second court’s attention to the pendency of the prior suit by a plea in abatement.’”
The abatement is necessary, said the court, because it is impossible for two different courts to make a final decision on the same controversy between the same parties at the same time.
Some of the counties argued that “the doctrine of dominant jurisdiction does not apply to their respective suits because their lawsuits were the first to include certain defendants that were not named in the state’s enforcement suits and, thus, that their cases should be considered the first-filed cases against the defendants not named in the state’s enforcement action,” reads the opinion.
However, the court rejected this, arguing instead that the additional parties can be added to the first claim filed by the state.
The decisions come as a result of a lawsuit filed by the State of Texas, and several counties, against Volkswagen in 2015, after the company admitted to having installed defeat devices in 480,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. between 2009 and 2015. The devices bypassed certain parts of the vehicles’ emission control systems that were required for the vehicle to comply with federal and state emission standards. Government and consumer cases were subsequently filed against Volkswagen across the country. In Texas, all of the cases were consolidated into two multidistrict litigation cases, one for the consumer cases and the other for government TCAA-enforcement cases.