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Lewis v. Lycoming

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 10, 2013

Pamela LEWIS, et al.
v.
LYCOMING, et al.

Page 367

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 368

Richard E. Genter, Jenkintown, PA, Daniel O. Rose, Evan Katin— Borland, Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, New York, NY, for Pamela Lewis, et al.

Catherine B. Slavin, James E. Robinson, Sara Anderson Frey, Cozen O'Connor, James C. Stroud, Rawle & Henderson, Philadelphia, PA, Emily J. Stockwell, Jerre Riggs, William J. Conroy, Campbell Campbell Edwards & Conroy, Berwyn, PA, Mary Gaston, Paul S. Graves, Perkins Coie LLP, Seattle, WA, Garrett J. Fitzpatrick, Ralph V. Pagano, Alice Chan, Fitzpatrick Hunt Tucker Collier Pagano Aubert LLP, New York, NY, for Lycoming, et al.

MEMORANDUM

BARTLE, District Judge.

Before the court is the joint motion of defendants Avco Corporation, Lycoming Engines, Textron Systems Corporation, Textron, Inc., Precision Airmotive LLC, Precision Airmotive Corporation, Schweizer Aircraft Corporation, Schweizer Holdings, Inc., Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, United Technologies Corporation, and Champion Aerospace LLC (collectively " defendants" ) to dismiss this diversity action on the ground of forum non conveniens.

I.

The plaintiffs are Pamela Lewis, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Steven Edward Lewis, deceased, and Keith Whitehead and John Wroblewski as co-personal representatives of the estate of Philip Charles Gray, deceased.

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The decedents, British subjects and residents of the United Kingdom, were killed in a helicopter crash on September 22, 2009 near Blackpool in Lancashire, England. At the time, Steven Edward Lewis was a certified helicopter pilot who was training Philip Charles Gray for his private pilot license. All of the defendants allegedly played some role in either the design, manufacture, assembly or sale in the United States of the helicopter or its parts.[1] Subsequent to the crash, the wreckage of the helicopter was transported from England to the state of Delaware where it remains in storage. The complaint contains claims for damages on theories of product liability, negligence, breach of warranty, and concert of action.

The lawsuit was originally commenced in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Defendants removed it to this court, which thereafter denied the motion of the plaintiffs to remand. See Lewis v. Lycoming, No. 11-6475, 2012 WL 2424079, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88905 (E.D. Pa. June 27, 2012). Having succeeded in defeating plaintiffs' motion, defendants have now moved to dismiss on the ground of forum non conveniens.

The doctrine of forum non conveniens allows a court discretion within certain bounds to decline to exercise its subject matter jurisdiction because of inconvenience to the parties or witnesses even though venue may otherwise be proper. Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 507, 67 S.Ct. 839, 91 L.Ed. 1055 (1947). The defendants bear the burden of proof. See Windt v. Qwest Commc'ns Int'l, Inc. 529 F.3d 183, 192 (3d Cir.2008).

Defendants must first persuade the court that " an adequate alternative forum exists as to all defendants." Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 932 F.2d 170, 180 (3d Cir.1991). If there is such a forum, the court must determine the level of deference due to the plaintiffs' choice. The level of deference is not as high as would occur when the plaintiff is a resident or citizen of the United States. Nonetheless, a court should " not lightly disturb plaintiff's choice of forum and will hold defendants to establishing a strong preponderance in favor of dismissal." Lacey, 932 F.2d at 179 (citations omitted).

Finally, defendants must establish that " the private and public interest factors weigh heavily in favor of dismissal." Lony v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., 935 F.2d 604, 609 (3d Cir.1991) (" Lony II" ) (citations omitted). To prevail, defendants " must show that the balance of these factors tips decidedly in favor of a trial in a foreign forum." Windt, 529 F.3d at 192 (citations omitted). As the Court of Appeals stated in Windt, " If the balance of these factors indicates that trial in the chosen forum would result in oppression or vexation to the defendant out of all proportion to the plaintiff's convenience, the district court, may, in its discretion, dismiss the case on forum non conveniens grounds." Windt, 529 F.3d at 190.

Our Court of Appeals in Windt has reiterated the public and private interests the court must consider. The private interests include:

the relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling, and the cost of obtaining attendance of willing, witnesses; possibility of view of premises, if view would be appropriate to the action; and all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.
The public interests include:

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administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion; the " local interest in having localized controversies decided at home" ; the interest in " having the trial of a diversity case in a forum that is at home with the state law that must govern the case" ; the avoidance of unnecessary problems in conflict of laws, or in the application of foreign law; and the unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty.

Id. at 189 (citing Gulf Oil, 330 U.S. at 508-09, 67 S.Ct. 839).

The action, of course, is in its very early stages. While answers have been filed, no discovery has yet occurred on the merits. Because it is difficult at such an early stage to discern what the ultimate focus of any lawsuit will be, our Court of Appeals has explained that in deciding a forum non conveniens motion " the district court must do no more than delineate the likely contours of the case by ascertaining, among other things, the nature of the ...


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