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The Indiana Supreme Court today considered a civil action that might have been brought either as a Federal claim or as an Indiana State claim. The relevant Federal and State laws were subject, however, to conflicting statutes of limitations. The action had been brought as a State claim in an Indiana State court. The Indiana Supreme Court held that the State’s statute of limitations controlled.
It said that a State statute of limitations would control a claim brought under State law unless (1) Congress has expressly preempted State statutes of limitations, (2) Congress has preempted the field of law, or (3) there exists “conflict” preemption (the rare case where compliance with both Federal and State statutes is “physically impossible” or where the State law does “major damage” to the parallel Federal law’s purpose).
The case was Kennedy Tank & Manufacturing Co., Inc. v. Emmert Industrial Corp. A copy of the Court’s opinion, written for a unanimous court by Chief Justice Loretta Rush, can be read at this link.
The case involved a claim by a trucking firm to collect money owed by a manufacturer for the transportation of a massive piece of industrial equipment over roads from a site in Indiana to one in Tennessee. Both Federal and State statutes provided for recovery of such a claim, and the trucking firm filed suit in an Indiana court after expiration of the 18-month statute of limitations applicable under the Federal statute; a ten-year statute of limitations applied under the Indiana statute.
The Indiana trial court denied a motion to dismiss based on the expiration of the Federal statute of limitations. The manufacturer took an interlocutory appeal to the Indiana Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court and held the Federal statute of limitations to have been controlling. The trucker appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, which took and decided the case.
Citing Bond v. United States, 572 U.S. ___, 134 S. Ct. 2077 (2014), and Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. ___, 132 S. Ct. 2492 (2012), the Indiana Supreme Court began its preemption analysis with the presumption that federal statutes do not preempt state law. “The presumption against preemption comes from two concepts ‘central to the constitutional design’ — the Supremacy Clause and federalism.”
Bond was the latest in a series of cases involving the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Chemical Warfare Act, 18 U.S. Code § 229, and raised in particular the question of whether or not the treaty and the Federal statute preempted a State prosecution of a woman for attempting to poison her husband’s pregnant mistress; the U.S. Supreme Court held that they did not. Arizona was the well-publicized case involving a State scheme to punished unauthorized immigration; the U.S. Supreme Court held that parts of the Arizona statute had been preempted by Federal immigration law.
Because today’s case invoked the Supremacy Clause (Article VI, Clause 2) of the United States Constitution, it is at least theoretically possible for the losing manufacturer to seek further review in the United States Supreme Court. The Indiana opinion is so well grounded in precedent, however, including fresh U.S. Supreme Court learning, that such a further appeal would be a long shot.
On a policy level today’s Indiana Supreme Court decision is a welcome vindication of broad principles of federalism.
On the level of utility to practitioners, the Indiana opinion in a succinct 11 pages sets forth a concise taxonomy of pertinent preemption doctrines and collects relevant decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Federal Courts of Appeals, and the higher courts of many States.