On June 1, 2023, Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell may commence enforcing Massachusetts’ expanded “right to repair” law following the denial of a temporary restraining order from the bench by U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.
Judge Woodlock has yet to issue a final decision in the lawsuit filed by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an auto industry advocacy group, seeking to block the Massachusetts attorney general from implementing and enforcing the law. However, on May 30, Judge Woodlock signaled that the automakers face an uphill battle in part due to their inability to meet the standards required for interlocutory relief. He noted that although automakers claim the expanded right to repair law conflicts with multiple federal laws, automakers have yet to garner support for their position from any federal agencies.
In 2020, a state ballot question passed that requires automakers to equip automobiles sold within the commonwealth with a standardized data platform enabling motorists and independent repair shops to access the telematics data from vehicles via a mobile app. This data includes navigation and GPS. Many modern vehicles are equipped with a diagnostic port that mechanics can utilize to access basic repair information; however, there has been a shift toward accessing real-time data transmitting wirelessly from the automobiles. Independent repair shops are currently unable to access this data, and the state’s law requires automakers to equip vehicles “with an inter-operable, standard and open access platform” for “securely communicating all mechanical data.” Automakers have long asserted the data is proprietary and maintain that complying with the law will create cybersecurity risks.
Another area of contention is who will alert drivers and encourage them to visit repair shops when their vehicles need servicing. Currently, service departments at authorized dealerships are able to quickly access telematics data and notify drivers of required repairs, while independent repair shops cannot.
The expanded right to repair law applies to vehicles from model year 2022 and later. Some manufacturers have disabled telematics systems in vehicles to ensure compliance with the right to repair law. Thus, the in-car wireless technology connecting drivers to music, navigation, roadside assistance and crash-avoiding sensors are not available for use, resulting in mutual frustration for consumers and automakers.
The case was tried before Judge Woodlock in 2021. Since then, there have been multiple rounds of post-trial briefing. Judge Woodlock has yet to issue a final decision. In March 2023, Attorney General Campbell announced she would begin enforcing the law after issuing the required telematics system notice on June 1. Attorney General Campbell is reportedly considering postponing enforcement action to give automakers additional time for compliance, but her office has yet to issue a formal statement on postponement.
Failure to comply with the expanded right to repair is a violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law. Potential damages can include the greater of $10,000 or treble damages, plus attorneys’ fees, putting automakers in a precarious situation if they are unable to comply immediately absent an enforcement postponement by the attorney general. If the court declines to prohibit enforcement of the right to repair law, automakers can expect to face a deluge of compliance issues and litigation.