SALT LAKE CITY — A judge ruled Tuesday the "Diesel Brothers" business operators are subject to civil penalties under the federal Clean Air Act for selling trucks modified with "defeat" devices to foil vehicle pollution controls.
An attorney for the group that filed suit, the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, hailed the decision as proof that citizens can achieve concrete results to clean up air pollution.
"This is a very positive ruling empowering citizens to enforce this law," said Reed Zars of Laramie, Wyoming, representing UPHE.
UPHE filed a citizen enforcement action, allowed under the act, against three Woods Cross corporate entities, their owner and two key employees, seeking to stop the sales and obtain a $100,000 judgment to go toward clean air programs.
The environmental group said the modified trucks spewed harmful particulate pollution contributing to the Wasatch Front's severe air quality problems.
The defendants include David Sparks, star of the "Diesel Brothers" TV show, and his companies Diesel Power Gear, 4x4 Anything and B&W Motors. Also named were Joshua Stuart, chief operating and financial officer, and Keaton Hoskins, who among other things marketed modified trucks on DieselSellerz.com.
In an interview Wednesday, Diesel Brothers attorney Cole Cannon, of Salt Lake City, described the ruling as a narrow decision on a small number of trucks.
"The Diesel Brothers take the environment very seriously," he said. "They are themselves very outdoor oriented, as are their fans.
"To keep perspective, the ruling today was that in a lifetime of buying, selling and modifying diesel trucks, the Diesel Brothers were found liable for modifying 17 trucks," he said.
Cannon said the Diesel Brothers "are ready, willing and able to rectify any harm caused by these 17 trucks and implement better practices."
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby, who in June 2018 imposed a preliminary injunction stopping the sales while the suit was litigated, ruled on motions by both sides seeking summary judgment.
He determined the physicians' group had established that Sparks, Stuart and Hoskins are personally liable for some of the prohibited activities.
Shelby also rejected the defendants' motion that sought dismissal of the suit.
The doctors sued in January 2017 after noticing vehicles spewing black smoke on the Discovery Channel reality-TV show where "Heavy D" Sparks and friends buy diesel trucks, modify them at Sparks Motors in Davis County (registered as B&W Motors), then sell them on DieselSellerz.com.
Zars said the ruling also determined that sellers of illegally rigged vehicles have no valid defense in claiming they are not liable for selling trucks modified by others.
"They are liable for selling those vehicles because they included defeat parts in them," Zars said. "You can't simply have somebody else do the work for you and then claim hands off, that you're not responsible.
"That should be a strong message to anyone running a used car lot selling these kinds of vehicles, that they're liable under the Clean Air Act, even if they did not do the work themselves," he said.
Shelby ruled the defendants were liable for selling vehicles with defeat devices, plus giving away altered trucks in sweepstakes. Pollution control equipment had been removed and devices were installed to defeat pollution controls on vehicles.
The judge acknowledged that while the truck sellers admitted their vehicles' emissions contribute to air pollution on the Wasatch Front, "they strenuously argue any pollution attributable to their violations is negligible in comparison to other sources of pollution."
But Shelby ruled in favor of UPHE on that point. The doctors' group cited documentation of the damage particulate as caused to people, including some of its members who provided case studies of pollution-caused illnesses.
Trucks with defeat devices "emit 30 or more times the emissions of stock trucks," Zars said. "It only takes 1 or 2 percent of the fleet to double the emissions there on the front. This is not an insignificant issue at all."
The Diesel Brothers have attracted good publicity as well. They came to the aid of a family that was terrorized at a campsite last year, and donated a large all-terrain vehicle to the Davis County Sheriff's Search and Rescue.
Shelby's ruling denied UPHE's request for an injunction requiring the Diesel Brothers to recall the modified trucks and destroy the illegal parts, calling the demand "overbroad."
Zars said he now will request further action by Shelby on the sanctions.
Cannon said the Diesel Brothers are considering whether to appeal Shelby's ruling, specifically on whether UPHE adequately demonstrated a link between pollution from the modified trucks and injury to individuals.
The 9th and 4th circuit courts have issued conflicting rulings on similar questions, which may be grounds for an appeal.
"We hope the Diesel Brothers' massive contributions to the community are nor forgotten due to 17 trucks," Cannon said.