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Justice Department Files Civil Complaint Against Volkswagen

January 05, 2016

WASHINGTON D.C. — On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil complaint in federal court in Detroit, Mich. against Volkswagen. The complaint was filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and alleges that nearly 600,000 diesel engine vehicles had illegal defeat devices installed that impaired their emission control systems to allow emissions that exceeded EPA standards, resulting in harmful air pollution.

The complaint alleged that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling vehicles that were designed differently than the specifications Volkswagen had forwarded to the EPA and California Air Resources Board (CARB) in order to receive their certification. The complaint seeks injunctive relief and the assessment of civil penalties, but does not preclude the government from seeking other legal remedies.

“Today’s complaint is the first stage in bringing Volkswagen to justice for failing to disclose the defeat device while seeking certification for its diesel vehicles from EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality in Ann Arbor, Mich.,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade for the Eastern District of Michigan. “The alleged misrepresentation allowed almost 600,000 diesel engines to emit excessive air pollution across the country, harming our health and cheating consumers.”

According to the Department of Justice, the Clean Air Act requires vehicle manufacturers to certify to EPA that their products will meet applicable federal emission standards to control air pollution — motor vehicles equipped with illegal devices cannot be certified.

“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The United States will pursue all appropriate remedies against Volkswagen to redress the violations of our nation’s clean air laws alleged in the complaint.”

According to the compliant, Volkswagn outfitted certain certain 2.0 liter and 3.0 liter vehicles with the illegal defeat devices when the cars were being tested for compliance with federal emissions testing. The device is designed to sense when the vehicle is being tested, and puts the vehicle in a mode that it would otherwise not operate under during normal driving conditions.

During normal on-road driving, vehicles equipped with the emissions defeat device emitted oxides of nitrogen at levels 40 times the EPA compliance level. The complaint covers approximately 499,000 2.0 liter diesel vehicles since mode year 2009 and 85,000 3.0 liter diesel vehicles since model year 2009.

The United States is looking to transfer its case and fully participate in the pretrial proceedings now initiated in the related multi-district litigation in the Northern District of California. The United States continues to work with CARB and the EPA in order to find potential remedies and recalls to address the noncompliance — discussions among these parties are ongoing.

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