Supreme Court Landmark Cases on Federal Preemption of State Law

Express preemption exists when Congress defines the extent to which its enactments will displace state law. (English v. General Electric Co (1990), 496 U.S. 72; Pacific Gas & Elec. v. Energy Resources Comm'n (1983) 461 U.S. 190, 203-204 "it is well established that within constitutional limits Congress may pre-empt state authority by so stating in express terms".) The United States Supreme Court has traditionally recognized preemption of state law by federal enactments pursuant to the supremacy clause (U.S. Const., art. VI, cl. 2) in three circumstances: (1) express preemption; (2) implied (or field) preemption; (3) conflict preemption. (English v. General Electric Co. (1990) 496 U.S. 72, 78-79 110 L.Ed.2d 65, 110 S.Ct. 2270.) "'"First, Congress can define explicitly the extent to which its enactments pre-empt state law. Pre-emption fundamentally is a question of congressional intent, and when Congress has made its intent known through explicit statutory language, the courts' task is an easy one. Second, in the absence of explicit statutory language, state law is pre-empted where it regulates conduct in a field that Congress intended the Federal Government to occupy exclusively. Such an intent may be inferred from a 'scheme of federal regulation ... so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it,' or where an Act of Congress 'touches a field in which the federal interest is so dominant that the federal system will be assumed to preclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject.' Although the Supreme Court has not hesitated to draw an inference of field pre-emption where it is supported by the federal statutory and regulatory schemes, it has emphasized: 'Where ... the field which Congress is said to have pre-empted' includes areas that have 'been traditionally occupied by the States,' congressional intent to supersede state laws must be ?"clear and manifest."' Finally, state law is pre-empted to the extent that it actually conflicts with federal law. Thus, the Court has found pre-emption where it is impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal requirements, or where state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.'"' " (Jevne v. Superior Court (2005) 35 Cal.4th 935, 949-950 28 Cal. Rptr. 3d 685, 111 P.3d 954; accord, In re Tobacco Cases II (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1257, 1265 63 Cal. Rptr. 3d 418, 163 P.3d 106.) Federal laws may preempt state common law as well as state legislation. (Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. (2008) 552 U.S. 312 "in the context of this legislation excluding common-law duties from the scope of pre-emption would make little sense. State tort law that requires a manufacturer's catheters to be safer, but hence less effective, than the model the FDA has approved disrupts the federal scheme no less than state regulatory law to the same effect. Indeed, one would think that tort law, applied by juries under a negligence or strict-liability standard, is less deserving of preservation."; Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc. (1992) 505 U.S. 504, 521 120 L.Ed.2d 407, 112 S.Ct. 2608; see Jessen v. Mentor Corp. (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 1480, 1487, fn. 5 71 Cal. Rptr. 3d 714.) Preemption analysis, however, generally begins with a presumption against preemption, that is, "with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress." (Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp. (1947) 331 U.S. 218, 230 91 L.Ed. 1447, 67 S.Ct. 1146; accord, Altria Group, Inc. v. Good) "This assumption provides assurance that 'the federal-state balance ...' will not be disturbed unintentionally by Congress or unnecessarily by the courts." (Jones v. Rath Packing Co. (1977) 430 U.S. 519, 525.) When the text of a federal law containing a preemption clause is open to more than one plausible interpretation, courts ordinarily "accept the reading that disfavors pre-emption." (Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC (2005) 544 U.S. 431, 449; accord, Altria Group, Inc.) The Principles of Preemption: Under the supremacy clause of the federal Constitution, federal law can preempt state law in one of three ways: (1) expressly; (2) by actually conflicting with state law; or (3) by exclusively occupying a legislative field. (Smith v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (2005) 135 Cal.App.4th 1463, 1476 38 Cal. Rptr. 3d 653 (Smith); Hood v. Santa Barbara Bank & Trust (2006) 143 Cal.App.4th 526, 536 49 Cal. Rptr. 3d 369 (Hood).) " ' "Federal regulations may preempt state law just as fully as federal statutes." ' " (Hood, supra, 143 Cal.App.4th at p. 536, quoting Smith, supra, 135 Cal.App.4th at p. 1475, fn. 6.) There is a general presumption against federal preemption of a state's traditional police powers, unless the state regulates in an area where there has been a "significant federal presence." (United States v. Locke (2000) 529 U.S. 89, 108 146 L.Ed.2d 69, 120 S. Ct. 1135; see Hood, supra, 143 Cal.App.4th at pp. 536-537; Smith, supra, 135 Cal.App.4th at p. 1475.) The area of banking regulation has posed some issues in this regard. This is because the states' traditional police powers include the regulation of banking (Smith, supra, 135 Cal.App.4th at p. 1475; Hood, supra, 143 Cal.App.4th at p. 537); banking has been found to be an area traditionally subject to dual federal and state control (National State Bank, Elizabeth, N. J. v. Long (3d Cir. 1980) 630 F.2d 981, 985); and banking has been deemed an area where there has been a significant federal presence (Bank of America v. City & County of San Francisco (9th Cir. 2002) 309 F.3d 551, 558-559 (City & County)). A sorting out of these issues of preemption involving the area of banking regulation has occurred in three respects. The first is whether the bank at issue is a national bank. (City & County, supra, 309 F.3d at pp. 558-559 state regulation is permissible "when it 'does not prevent or significantly interfere with a national bank's exercise of its powers'"; see, e.g., Barnett Bank of Marion City, N. A. v. Nelson (1996) 517 U.S. 25, 27-28 134 L.Ed.2d 237, 116 S. Ct. 1103 federal statute authorizing national banks to sell insurance in small towns preempted a conflicting state law that prohibited such sales.) The second is whether the claims at issue involve state laws that target banks or seek to regulate banking, or whether the state laws are of general application. (Hood, supra, 143 Cal.App.4th at p. 537; see Watters v. Wachovia Bank, N. A. (2007) 550 U.S. 1 167 L.Ed.2d 389, 400, 127 S. Ct. 1559 (Watters) "Federally chartered banks are subject to state laws of general application in their daily business to the extent such laws do not conflict with the letter or the general purposes of the" National Bank Act.) And the third, drawing from these two, is the critical one, encapsulating the preemption principle we apply here: "Regardless of the nature of the state law claim alleged" (Rose v. Chase Bank USA, N.A. (9th Cir. 2008) 513 F.3d 1032, 1038 (Rose)), the "central inquiry" regarding federal preemption in the banking realm is whether " ' "the legal duty that is the predicate of the state law claim constitutes a requirement or prohibition of the sort that federal law" ' " preempts. (Hood, supra, 143 Cal.App.4th at p. 537; see Smith, supra, 135 Cal.App.4th at p. 1476; Rose, supra 513 F.3d at p. 1038; Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc. (1992) 505 U.S. 504, 523-524 120 L.Ed.2d 407, 112 S. Ct. 2608.) The "business activities of national banks are controlled by the National Bank Act (NBA), 12 U.S.C. 1 et seq., and regulations promulgated thereunder by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)." (Watters, supra, 550 U.S. at p. 6.) "As the agency charged by Congress with supervision of the NBA, OCC oversees the operations of national banks and their interactions with customers." (Ibid.) In 2004, the Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) amended part 7 of its regulations to add provisions " 'clarifying the applicability of state law to national banks' operations. The provisions concerning preemption identify the types of state laws that are preempted, as well as the types of state laws that generally are not preempted, with respect to national banks' lending, deposit-taking, and other operations.' " (Hood, supra, 143 Cal.App.4th at p. 538; see 69 Fed.Reg. 1904 (Jan. 13, 2004); 12 C.F.R. pt. 7, subpt. D--Preemption, 7.4000 et seq. (2009).) One of these provisions, section 7.4008, authorizing non-real-estate lending by national banks, is the applicable OCC regulation here. Section 7.4008(d) specifies the "applicability of state law" in this context and provides as pertinent: "(d) Applicability of state law. (1) Except where made applicable by Federal law, state laws that obstruct, impair, or condition a national bank's ability to fully exercise its Federally authorized non-real estate lending powers are not applicable to national banks. "(2) A national bank may make non-real estate loans without regard to state law limitations concerning: ... "(iv) The terms of credit, including the schedule for repayment of principal and interest, amortization of loans, balance, payments due, minimum payments ... ." (Italics added.) The holiday statutes of Civil Code sections 9 and 11 provide that when a legal or contractual act falls due on a statutorily defined holiday, the act may be performed on the next business day without any adverse consequence. As the trial court correctly found, "by changing when a payment is due in such circumstances, these State statutes affect the 'schedule for repayment of principal and interest' and we add, affect the 'payments due' set by a national bank. Such interference is directly contrary to 12 C.F.R. section 7.4008, subdivision (d) which provides that a national bank may set the schedule for repayment on non-real estate loans and set the payments due without regard to state law limitations." As noted, the "central inquiry" regarding federal preemption here is whether " ' "the legal duty that is the predicate of the state law claim constitutes a requirement or prohibition of the sort that federal law" ' " preempts. (Hood, supra, 143 Cal.App.4th at p. 537; see Smith, supra, 135 Cal.App.4th at p. 1476; Rose, supra, 513 F.3d at p. 1038.) The legal duty underlying the state law claim of the holiday statutes specifies that if the due date for an act falls on a weekend or other statutorily defined holiday, the act is due on the next business day. This duty constitutes a requirement of the sort that federal law expressly preempts in the context here of national banks engaging in non-real-estate lending: state law limitations concerning the terms of credit, including the schedule of repayment or the payments due. ( 7.4008(d)(2)(iv).)