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Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corporation

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 3, 2013

JILL SIKKELEE, individually and as personal representative of the estate of DAVID SIKKELEE, deceased, Plaintiff,


MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.

For the reasons that follow, the "Renewed Motion for Reconsideration of Order Entered July 3, 2012, " filed on October 31, 2012 by defendant AVCO Corp. (hereinafter, "AVCO") on behalf of its Lycoming Engines Division (hereinafter, "Lycoming") (ECF No. 332), is denied.

I. Procedural Background

On May 16, 2007, plaintiff Jill Sikkelee commenced this suit by filing a complaint that asserted claims against seventeen defendants allegedly responsible for the death of her husband, David Sikkelee, who was piloting a 1976 Cessna 172N airplane (hereinafter, the "accident aircraft") when it crashed in 2005. (ECF No. 1). After a series of party terminations and dismissals of claims over years of litigation, by the time the Court issued the July 3, 2012 Memorandum & Order[1] presently under reconsideration (ECF No. 299) (hereinafter, the "subject Order" or "Mem. & Order"), [2] Sikkelee's only remaining claims alleged that Lycoming was liable under theories of negligence and strict liability[3] for design defects and inadequate warnings associated with the engine and carburetor installed in the accident aircraft.

The subject Order, which was prompted by Lycoming's motion for summary judgment on the remaining negligence and strict liability counts (the motion was filed in two steps, see Def.'s Mot. Part. Summ. J., Aug. 5, 2011, ECF No. 220; Def.'s Mot. Part. Summ. J., Oct. 3, 2011, ECF No. 252), pruned Sikkelee's claims further still by granting Lycoming's motion for summary judgment "to the extent [it sought] judgment as a matter of law with respect to the condition of the engine in 1969." (Mem. & Order at 35).[4] In all other respects, however, Lycoming's motion was denied, and the Court ordered that Sikkelee could "proceed on the negligence and strict liability design defect [and inadequate warning] theories asserted by [her] as they relate to the 2004 engine overhaul." (Id. at 36).

On July 17, 2012, Lycoming filed a first motion for reconsideration of the subject Order, and the next day moved for amendment of the subject Order to include a 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) statement that would prompt the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (hereinafter, the "Third Circuit") to permit, in its discretion, an interlocutory appeal of the subject Order. (See Def.'s First Mot. Recons., ECF No. 300; Def.'s Mot. Amend, ECF No. 302). Specifically, Lycoming sought an interlocutory appeal of this Court's decision to apply the law of the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (hereinafter, "Restatement 2d") to Sikkelee's claims, as opposed to §§ 1 & 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts (Products Liability) (hereinafter, "Restatement 3d"). (See Def.'s Mot. Amend, ECF No. 302). The Court subsequently amended the subject Order to include the § 1292(b) statement, "specifically and limited to the issue of whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would adopt the Restatement (Third) of Torts or continue in its application of the Restatement (Second) of Torts." (July 26, 2012, ECF No. 306).

The Third Circuit declined to accept Lycoming's interlocutory appeal, but, in a brief Order rejecting Lycoming's petition for rehearing en banc, reaffirmed the holdings of Covell v. Bell Sports, Inc. , 651 F.3d 357 (3d Cir. 2011) and Berrier v. Simplicity Mfg., Inc. , 563 F.3d 38 (3d Cir. 2009): "federal courts sitting in diversity and applying Pennsylvania law to products liability cases should look to sections 1 and 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts." Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp. , 2012 WL 5077571 (3d Cir. Oct. 17, 2012).

On the same day of the Third Circuit's Order, this Court - "[g]uided by [the Third Circuit's] clarification" and recognizing that the "application of the Restatement (Third) may be perceived to require the Court to revisit its earlier decision..., which applied the Restatement (Second) of Torts" - denied Lycoming's pending motion for reconsideration as moot, but permitted counsel to file new motions for reconsideration "guided by the Circuit's direction that the Restatement (Third) is applicable to this action." (Order, ECF No. 324).

Accordingly, on October 31, 2012, Lycoming briefed a "Renewed Motion for Reconsideration" of the subject Order (ECF No. 333) (hereinafter, "Def.'s Br."); Sikkelee submitted a brief in opposition on November 28, 2012 (ECF No. 341) (hereinafter "Pl.'s Opp'n Br."); and Lycoming filed a reply brief on December 17, 2012 (ECF No. 344) (hereinafter "Def.'s Reply Br.").

II. Standard

"The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki , 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir.1985). The Court may amend its prior ruling "if the party seeking reconsideration shows at least one of the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Howard Hess Dental Lab. Inc. v. Dentsply Int'l, Inc. , 602 F.3d 237, 251 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros , 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir.1999)). In the absence of such grounds or another appropriate circumstance, the law of the case controls.[5]

III. Substantive Background

The Court quotes the entirety of the subject Order's "Statement of Material Facts":

The following facts are derived from the record and viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff in accordance with the standard of review applicable to a motion for summary judgment. Due to the factual complexity of this litigation and the familiarity of the parties and the Court with the record, we briefly state the pertinent facts herein and supplement them as necessary with additional facts throughout our analysis.
This action arises out of an aircraft accident involving a 1976 Cessna 172N airplane on July 10, 2005 at the Transylvania County Airport in Brevard, North Carolina. The accident resulted in the death of David Sikkelee ("the decedent"), husband of Jill Sikkelee ("Plaintiff"), and significant injuries to the decedent's brother, Craig Sikkelee ("the passenger"). Shortly after takeoff on July 10, 2005, the plane crashed to the ground, resulting in the death of the decedent and serious injuries to the passenger. Plaintiff alleges that the accident was caused by a faulty carburetor, specifically a loosening throttle body to bowl assembly within said carburetor, installed in the subject engine.
Lycoming designed and manufactured a certain 0-320-D2C aircraft engine, bearing serial number L-6590-39A ("engine S/NL-6590-39A" or "the subject engine"), in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 253, ¶ 1). Lycoming shipped the subject engine to Beagle Aircraft, Inc., on September 4, 1969. (Id. ¶ 2). The Lycoming O-320 engine, S/N L-6590-39A, was installed on the Cessna 172N aircraft when it crashed on July 10, 2005. (Id. ¶ 3). Plaintiff admits that the carburetor that was installed on the Cessna 172N was not the same carburetor Lycoming shipped with the subject engine in 1969 but was instead a different carburetor. (Doc. 221, ¶ 5). The carburetor installed in the subject engine on the accident aircraft ("replacement carburetor"), a Precision MA-4SPA carburetor, was manufactured by the Precision Defendants and was completely overhauled by the Kelly Defendants on or about August 3-5, 2004. (Id. ¶ 6; Doc. 253, ¶ 5).
Lycoming holds the FAA-issued Type Certificate for the MA-4SPA model carburetors and the MA-4SPA carburetor at issue here was manufactured pursuant to Lycoming design, which cannot be modified or altered without approval from Lycoming (Doc. 234, ¶ 5). Defendant Precision and its predecessors were permitted to manufacture the carburetor pursuant to a licensing agreement with Lycoming. (Id.). The MA-4SPA carburetor design is not approved separately and is part of the Lycoming engine type design. (Id.).
As the holder of the Type Certificate for the engine, Lycoming approved and implemented the engineering change which effected the throttle body to bowl screw design at issue here in lieu of a safety wire assembly. (Id. ¶ 5, 22). This change was made in 1965. (Id. ¶ 22). Since 1972, Lycoming has been made aware of various reports of malfunctions and defects related to its O-320 series engines and the MA-4SPA carburetors, specifically concerning loosening throttle body to bowl assemblies. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25).
The 2004 overhaul of the subject engine, including the overhaul of the carburetor, was accomplished pursuant to and required by Lycoming's continued airworthiness instructions, which the FAA mandates Lycoming, as the Type Certificate holder for the entire engine design, maintain in compliance with federal aviation regulations. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6). The Kelly Defendants further complied with Lycoming's Service Bulletin 366, which was intended to alleviate the known throttle body to bowl assembly defects. (Id. ¶ 6). Lycoming's continued airworthiness instructions recommend that the carburetor be replaced at the time of the engine overhaul, and its Type Certificate Data Sheet ("TCDS") instructs mechanics to use MA-4SPA replacement carburetors when overhauling this engine. (Id.). Accordingly, as required by Lycoming's design, an MA-4SPA carburetor was installed on the subject engine during the 2004 overhaul.
The replacement carburetor on the subject engine at the time of the crash was a Lycoming-approved Marvel Schebler MA-4SPA model 10-5135 carburetor, which bore Lycoming part number, LW-13659. (Id.). Plaintiff's three experts conclude that the carburetor design was and is defective and dangerous. (Docs. 234-4, 234-5, 234-6). Donald E. Sommer, P.E., an expert who investigated the subject engine subsequent to the crash, noted that the carburetor bowl screws had loosened in the subject engine; he conducted several tests and concluded that "[t]he accident O-320 MA-4SPA carburetor is unreasonably dangerous and caused the death of David Sikkelee." (Doc. 234-6, pp. 34). He ultimately concluded that Lycoming "failed to exercise reasonable care in the design, manufacture, and support of the accident aircraft's engine and carburetor" and that Lycoming's O-320-D2C engine "is a defective engine due to the incorporation of the Precision MA-4SPA carburetor." (Id.)

(Mem. & Order at ...

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