Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine: How Preemption and Administrative Law Intersect

May 1, 2003

Jack J. Park Jr.

In its recent decision in Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine, the United States Supreme Court again entered the swamp of tort preemption. In that swamp, federal statutory or regulatory  activities will preempt some, but not all, claims that common-law duties have been tortiously breached. In Sprietsma, the Court unanimously concluded that a common- law tort lawsuit related to propeller guards on motorboat engines was not preempted. The next preemption case will involve a different product and a different federal statute, so Sprietsma may not dictate its outcome.3 To the extent that Sprietsma turns on the status of a regulatory decision-making exercise under administrative law, however, it implicitly provides a road map to regulators on how to avoid turning the responsibility for making such decisions over to a jury.

Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine: How Preemption and Administrative Law Intersect