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U.S. Supreme Court rejects Volkswagen appeals over emissions tampering

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November 15, 2021

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected Volkswagen AG’s bid to avoid lawsuits filed by officials in three states seeking damages stemming from the German automaker’s diesel emissions cheating scandal.

The justices refused to hear appeals by VW and German auto supplier Robert Bosch LLC of a lower court ruling allowing Florida’s Hillsborough County and Utah’s Salt Lake County to seek to hold the companies liable under local laws and regulations barring tampering with vehicle emissions controls. The court also rejected VW’s appeal of a similar ruling in a case brought by the state of Ohio.

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Volkswagen subsidiary Volkswagen Group of America Inc has argued that under the Clean Air Act, the landmark U.S. environmental law, only the federal government can pursue such claims. VW noted that it already has reached a settlement of more than $20 billion with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The lawsuits accused VW of deceiving the EPA – and in doing so also violating the local laws.

President Joe Biden’s administration, asked by the court to weigh in on the dispute, urged the justices not to hear the case, saying the Clean Air Act allows for enforcement of state laws.

In one case, Volkswagen was seeking to overturn a 2020 ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit decided that the Clean Air Act did not preempt local efforts to impose liability over vehicles that VW had tampered with after they were sold. The 9th Circuit, however, agreed with VW that it could not be held liable under the local anti-tampering laws for actions it took pre-sale.

The 9th Circuit said its decision could lead to “staggering liability for Volkswagen.”

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Volkswagen was also seeking to overturn a June ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court that reached a similar conclusion.

VW says it could face huge damages in the cases and potentially others. Daimler AG and Fiat Chrysler, part of Stellantis NV, are facing similar claims.

Volkswagen announced in September that it agreed to pay https://www.reuters.com/legal/litigation/vw-pay-15-million-settle-nh-montana-diesel-claims-2021-09-27 $1.5 million to settle similar claims in New Hampshire and Montana. If other states and counties settle at the same amount per vehicle, the total would be just $13 million.

In 2015, Volkswagen disclosed that it had used sophisticated software to evade nitrogen oxide emissions requirements in nearly 11 million vehicles worldwide. It also misled the EPA, which had started asking questions in 2014.

In addition to equipping vehicles with “defeat devices” before they were sold, VW also installed software updates after sale, which was the conduct at issue before the Supreme Court. At the time, VW did not reveal the true purpose of the updates, which were aimed at refining the software used to control the emissions.

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In a brief backing the company, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group, said that opening up companies to lawsuits concerning post-sale software updates “will jeopardize auto manufacturers’ ability to make these essential updates and upset the post-sale regulatory regime that has existed for decades.

Lawyers for the local governments disagree, saying that automakers would not be liable as long as they follow Clean Air Act requirements.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham)

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UK firms struggle to find staff, see higher inflation – BoE survey

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December 2, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – British companies are struggling to find the staff they need and expect higher inflation in the year ahead, according to a survey published on Thursday by the Bank of England which is weighing up whether to raise interest rates this month.

The BoE’s monthly Decision Maker Panel survey showed 85% of respondent firms were finding it harder to recruit new employees compared to normal, with 58% reporting it to be much harder.

The survey also showed year-ahead annual price inflation was expected to be 4.2%, up from 3.9% in the October survey.

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(Writing by William Schomberg, editing by Andy Bruce)

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Sustainable investors look for profits in fuzzy data

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December 2, 2021

By Ross Kerber and Simon Jessop

(Reuters) – Sustainability-focused investors believe a little effort can go a long way toward finding profitable opportunities buried in incomplete corporate environmental or social impact filings.

That is according to several speakers on a panel at  the  Reuters Next conference, who described how they choose sustainable investments and work with executives at a time when there are few standard requirements for how major U.S. and European companies should detail carbon emissions disclosures or workforce demographics.

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Eoin Murray, head of investment at Federated Hermes, said the disparate reports from many companies give portfolio managers the chance to dig deeper.

“As an active manager, there’s a part of me which doesn’t mind that some of the data doesn’t entirely line up, because it means the rewards go to those that do their homework properly and unearth the real gems,” Murray said.

Mary Jane McQuillen, a managing director for ClearBridge Investments, said while some companies are eager to become more sustainable, others are defensive and don’t want to be burdened by yet another topic of investor interest.

A third group, McQuillen said, admits there is much about sustainable reporting they don’t know, and is seeking input from their shareholders.

“They say, ‘we really don’t know what the issues are. If you can help us as an owner, and with your years of experience as an investor in understanding how these issues may apply to my industry, as well as to my particular company, that would be super helpful,” she said.

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U.S. regulators are in the process of developing guidance for how companies should spell out things like emissions, and rules in Europe are just coming into place.

At the U.N. climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, global leaders agreed to do more to curb carbon emissions and took other steps toward setting up global carbon markets and an international body to set sustainability reporting standards.

Julie Gorte, senior vice president at Impax Asset Management, said absent complete corporate reporting, investors can still learn a great deal about companies’ environmental, social or governance impact through government filings.

“For companies the watchword is, look, people are going to find out stuff about you, whether you tell them or not. If you want them to know what the truth is, tell them,” Gorte said.

To watch the Reuters Next conference please register here https://reutersevents.com/events/next/

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(Reporting by Ross Kerber and by Simon Jessop; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Facebook could be sued by consumer groups, EU court adviser says

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December 2, 2021

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Facebook could be sued by consumer groups for privacy violations, an adviser to Europe’s top court said on Thursday, in a German online gaming case that could pave the way for similar action across the EU.

The case started in 2012 and is one of several privacy and antitrust headaches facing Facebook in Europe, where regulators have introduced legislation to curb the power of so-called tech giants and ensure more transparency.

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“Member states may allow consumer protection associations to bring representative actions against infringements of the protection of personal data,” Richard de la Tour, advocate general at the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), said in an opinion.

Such actions must be based on infringements of rights derived directly from GDPR, he added, referring to the landmark EU privacy rules adopted three years ago.

“We’ll analyse the Advocate General’s opinion. Legal clarity on scope and process of GDPR is important and we’re glad the Court of Justice of the European Union is considering the questions raised in this case.” said a spokesperson Meta Platforms Inc.

GDPR stipulates that any requests to collect personal data should be subject to clear and informed consent.

De la Tour said consumer bodies that defend the collective interests of consumers are particularly suited to GDPR’s objective of establishing a high level of personal data protection.

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Facebook found itself in the dock after the Federation of German Consumer Organisations filed a lawsuit alleging that the social network had allowed operators of online games to improperly collect the personal data of gamers.

The games were offered on Facebook’s App Center in 2012. By playing the games, users automatically agreed to share personal data including email addresses. At the end of the game, they would receive a message saying that the app could post their status, photos and other information.

A German lower court had ruled in favour of the German federation, leading Facebook to appeal to a higher court, which subsequently sought advice from the CJEU.

Facebook has since revamped its privacy settings.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by David Goodman)

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