Tesla Legal Battle Heats Up In Michigan

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Last year, Tesla filed a federal lawsuit against the state of Michigan alleging the law passed by its legislature in 2014 forbidding direct sales of Tesla automobiles to customers in the Wolverine State violates the US Constitution. In its court pleadings, Tesla’s attorneys said:

“Tesla Motors brings this lawsuit to vindicate its rights under the United States Constitution to sell and service its critically-acclaimed, all-electric vehicles at Tesla owned facilities in the State of Michigan. Particularly egregious protectionist legislation was passed by the Michigan Legislature in 2014. The Michigan Legislature quietly enacted an outright ban on Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model, effectively giving franchised dealers a state-sponsored monopoly on car sales within Michigan.”

As part of its case, Tesla served subpoenas on state senator Joe Hune of Hamburg and representative Jason Sheppard of Temperance, both Republicans, demanding they turn over all emails and all other communications received from lobbyists leading up to the filing of that amendment. The pair tried to quash those subpoenas, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Ellen Carmody ruled against them and ordered them to comply.

You might think that a lawsuit that is now almost a year old would be over by now, right? Wrong. The legal system in America is a marathon, not a sprint. Only long-distance runners need apply. Last week, Judge Carmody handed Tesla another preliminary victory. She ruled that Kurt Berryman, director of legislative affairs for the Auto Dealers of Michigan must turn over internal records pertaining to the passage of that 2014 law.

Although Berryman is an attorney, the records of the dealer association are not subject to attorney-client privilege, reports the Detroit Free Press. The records sought by Tesla “do not involve any ‘legal advice’ whatsoever. Rather they concern strategy regarding the legislation which is the subject of this litigation,” Carmody wrote in her opinion.

Perhaps in a few years time, all the pre-trial skirmishing will be concluded and the case will actually proceed to trial. No matter the outcome, an appeal is assured, eating even more years of litigation. The wheels of justice grind very slowly indeed. If and when the communications between the dealer association and members of the Michigan legislature should make for very interesting reading.

The real story behind this legal battle is that the case was brought in federal court. Even though decisions at the trial court level are not binding on other courts in the federal system, a decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals would be binding on federal courts in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. If an appeal from the Sixth Circuit were to wind up before the US Supreme Court, the result would then be binding on all federal courts.

CleanTechnica has reached out to Tesla for a comment on the court’s ruling but we have not yet received a response.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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