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In delaying state’s right-to-repair law yet again, federal judge cites Supreme Court EPA ruling

The rules governing access to auto data were overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2020, but remain tied up over a lawsuit.

A Massachusetts law that would allow people more flexibility on where they get their vehicles serviced has been held up by a lawsuit filed by automakers.Jon Cherry/Getty

A federal judge in Boston said that this week’s Environmental Protection Agency ruling from the US Supreme Court will force yet another delay in a long-running lawsuit over the Massachusetts automotive right-to-repair law.

US District Judge Douglas Woodlock was expected to issue his ruling in the case on Friday. Instead, Woodlock gave notice that he would first have to consider the implications of the high court’s ruling in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, which limited the regulatory powers of the EPA. Woodlock did not explain how the case is related to the dispute before his court. But he said that he expected to rule before the end of a two-week grace period granted by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, during which Healey will refrain from seeking to enforce the law.

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The Massachusetts law was approved by 75 percent of voters in a 2020 referendum. But its implementation has been held up by court challenges ever since. It would require all automakers selling new cars in Massachusetts to provide buyers with access to “telematic” data ― diagnostic information ― via a wireless connection. That way, car owners could get their cars repaired at any independent repair shop, instead of being forced to have the work done at manufacturer-approved dealerships.

But the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an association of the world’s top carmakers, sued to overturn the law, arguing that only the federal government, not states, may enact such a rule. In addition, carmakers said that they could not redesign the digital systems of their cars in time to comply with the law’s 2022 model-year deadline.

The lawsuit went to trial last summer, but the court’s judgment has been repeatedly delayed. In the meantime, at least two auto manufacturers, Subaru and Kia, began selling cars in Massachusetts with their telematic features switched off, to avoid violating the law.

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Woodlock had earlier delayed his ruling to consider whether the automakers could comply with the law by switching off their telematics. He announced further delays in March and April to clear a backlog of other cases. On Friday, Woodlock blamed “unforeseen and unforeseeable scheduling complications,” as well as the Supreme Court ruling, for the latest delay.

The news won’t be popular with right-to-repair activists. In late May, the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee filed an amicus brief in the case, demanding that the court rule as quickly as possible. “The situation is becoming urgent, and the problems will only accelerate as vehicle owners are increasingly forced to turn to dealerships for repairs of their vehicles,” the committee wrote, adding “the viability of the independent repair market is already being significantly harmed, and this harm will only be exacerbated by the passage of time.”

Justin Rzepka, executive director of the CAR Coalition, an alliance of auto insurance companies and auto parts retailers, called the latest delay “a blow to Massachusetts drivers struggling with high gas prices, supply chain shortages, and rising repair costs.” Rzepka called for the passage of a federal law to give car owners easy access to their vehicles’ telematic data.


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.