Minnesota has become the latest state to sue Volkswagen AG over its diesel emissions scandal. A complaint was filed in Minnesota state court on Dec. 8 accusing the German automaker of violating state environmental laws by selling diesel vehicles equipped with software designed to cheat emissions tests. The state’s attorney general and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency stated that between 2008 and 2015, Volkswagen and subsidiaries Audi AG and Porsche AG, along with their American counterparts, sold more than 11,500 defective vehicles, which emitted as much as 35 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides. Minnesota said the automaker and its subsidiaries implemented this plan through the use of the “defeat devices,” which masked the amount of pollution the vehicles emitted while undergoing federal emissions testing.
Minnesota said the use of these devices allowed the automakers’ excess emissions to go unnoticed and gave them the opportunity to market the vehicles as “clean” and “environmentally friendly,” when they were not. The complaint alleges:
Until September 2015, each defendant fraudulently concealed and failed to disclose to the state of Minnesota and the public that it had installed illegal defeat devices in the subject vehicles sold in the United States, including in Minnesota. The conduct of Volkswagen AG, VW of America, Audi, Porsche and Porsche NA alleged in this complaint was knowing and willful.
The Minnesota present lawsuit is separate from the partial settlement agreement reached with Volkswagen in June related to consumer protection claims. That settlement only resolved claims for false advertising and consumer fraud related to owners of TDI “clean” diesel vehicles with 2.0 liter engines. Minnesota said that it did not reach a settlement for consumers with 3.0-liter diesel engine vehicles. The automaker has not approved a suitable fix to ensure that the pollution control systems will be effective in real world driving situations.
Minnesota’s settlement was part of Volkswagen’s $14.7 billion settlement with 2.0-liter diesel owners and the U.S. government, which provided relief to consumers as well as environmental remediation and investment in zero emissions vehicle technology by the automaker.
According to Minnesota’s complaint, Volkswagen and the others sold the vehicles through the automaker’s 10 franchise dealerships throughout the state. The state said Volkswagen created several iterations of the defeat device, which the automakers used in model year 2009 to 2016 vehicles, including diesel versions of the the VW Golf, VW Jetta, Audi A3 and Porsche Cayenne. Minnesota alleged that while Volkswagen admitted to using the defeat devices in September 2015, the automaker sought to mislead the public about the use of the software for months after a March 2014 study suggested that the vehicles emitted more nitrogen oxide than originally thought.
The state contended that Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche all acted in concert to implement the illegal defeat device scheme, as the companies all share engineering research and development concepts. Minnesota said that at minimum, the automakers provided each other with substantial assistance in implementing the defeat device software.
Minnesota is seeking relief for its claims under the state’s Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Systems Act and the Pollution Control Agency’s Air Pollution Control Systems Restrictions Rule. Minnesota adds to the growing number of states suing Volkswagen for state environmental law violations. Most of the cases have been moved to the multidistrict litigation (MDL). Many of the states, including New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Alabama, have asked to send their suits back to their respective state courts based on standstill agreements they signed with Volkswagen.
Minnesota is represented by Attorney General Lori Swanson Deputy Attorney General J W. Canady and Assistant Attorneys General Jason Pleggenkuhle and Katherine F. Key. The case is State of Minnesota v. Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, in Hennepin County District Court.
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