Lewis, Deceased v. Brunswick Corporation

PETITIONER: Vicky Lewis, et ux., individually, as parents, as next friends and as administrators of the Estate of Kathryn C. Lewis, Deceased
RESPONDENT: Brunswick Corporation
LOCATION: National Endowment for the Arts

DOCKET NO.: 97-288
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 523 US 1114 (1998)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1998
DECIDED: May 15, 1998

David C. Frederick - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners
David E. Hudson - on behalf of the Petitioners
Kenneth Steven Geller - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Kathryn Lewis was killed during a boating accident in which she fell into the water and was struck repeatedly by a boat's propellers. Her parents, Gary and Vicki Lewis, sued Brunswick Corporation on behalf of their daughter for negligence, property liability, and fraudulent misrepresentation. Lewis claimed that Brunswick negligently failed to fit the boat with a propeller guard, prevented other companies from manufacturing propeller guards for their engines, and discouraged government regulation by exaggerating the performance benefits of unguarded engines. Brunswick claimed that the Federal Boat Safety Act (FBSA) preempted all of Lewis's claims. Both the District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found for Brunswick, holding that the scope of the preemption clause in the FBSA did include Lewis's claims.


Does the Federal Boat Safety Act's preemption clause include claims of negligence, property liability, and fraudulent misrepresentation?

Media for Lewis, Deceased v. Brunswick Corporation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1998 in Lewis, Deceased v. Brunswick Corporation

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 97-288, Vicky Lewis v. Brunswick Corporation.

Mr. Hudson, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

David E. Hudson:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court:

Plaintiffs' claims that Brunswick negligently failed to protect against propeller guard injuries in the circumstances of this case should not be preempted for three reasons.

First of all, the claims we are bringing in this case do not conflict with any Federal regulation.

Under Freightliner, there's no preemption.

Secondly, the text of the preemption clause, section 4306 of the act, does not, much less clearly and unambiguously, reach the body of State law of general application, common law damage claims.

Our position there is consistent, we think, with all of the preemption cases of this Court.

Thirdly, in this case the reading that we submit for the preemption clause is confirmed by a particular savings clause, where Congress specifically and without qualification provided that compliance with the Boat Safety Act regulation is no defense to common law claims.

In this preemption case, as in every case of statutory interpretation, surely the starting point is the text of the act itself.

We submit in this case it is also the ending point.

Starting with a statement of purpose in the policy declaration--

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Hudson, we have a good amplifying system.

I think we could hear you even if you didn't speak quite as loud.

David E. Hudson:

--I will tone it down--

William H. Rehnquist:


David E. Hudson:

--Chief Justice.

Starting with the policy declaration in section 2 of the act, Congress spoke of reciprocity and comity, signal words that State law has a role to play.

It spoke of developing and enforcing Federal and State laws, again signalling that State laws would have a role to play.

And then throughout the act Congress over and over again speaks of the enactment of positive regulations both by the Federal Government and by the State, never any reference to common law claims.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, but we've certainly held in Medtronic and in that Cipollone case that State common law actions can constitute requirements subject to preemption.

David E. Hudson:

Yes, Your Honor, there has a been a holding that the common law can lead to a requirement.

I don't think that--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Can lead to?

It is.

I mean, they are requirements, and I don't see why we should necessarily create... treat this statute differently in that regard.

David E. Hudson:

--Well, for a couple of reasons.

The language used in this statute is different than the language used in both Cipollone and in Medtronic.

In this statute, Congress says that there may not be a State law or regulation.

In both Cipollone and Medtronic it was a requirement which arose under State law and this Court has, in a number of cases, not only in Cipollone but following that in Medtronic, English v. GE, Goodyear v. Miller, Silkwood, has explained that common law is a traditional State area.