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Lewis v. Lycoming

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 17, 2013

PAMELA LEWIS, et al.
v.
LYCOMING, et al

For PAMELA LEWIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF STEVE EDWARD LEWIS, DECEASED, KEITH WHITEHEAD, JOHN JOSEPH WROBLEWSKI, AS CO-PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ESTATE OF PHILIP CHARLES GRAY, DECEASED, Plaintiffs: RICHARD E. GENTER, LEAD ATTORNEY, JENKINTOWN, PA; DANIEL O. ROSE, PRO HAC VICE, EVAN KATIN-BORLAND, PRO HAC VICE, KREINDLER & KREINDLER LLP, NEW YORK, NY.

For LYCOMING, A/K/A, D/B/A, AND/OR F/K/A LYCOMING ENGINES, TEXTRON SYSTEMS CORPORATION, TEXTRON, INC., TEXTRON, AVCO CORPORATION, TEXTRON LYCOMING, TEXTRON LYCOMING RECIPROCATING ENGINE DIVISION AND/OR AVCO LYCOMING, AVCO CORPORATION, A/K/A, D/B/A AND/OR F/K/A TEXTRON, INC., TEXTRON SYSTEMS CORPORATION, TEXTRON LYCOMING RECIPROCATING ENGINE DIVISION, AVCO LYCOMING, LYCOMING ENGINES AND/OR LYCOMING, TEXTRON, INC., A/K/A, D/B/A AND/OR F/K/A TEXTRON, TEXTRON SYSTEMS CORPORATION, AVCO CORPORATION, TEXTRON LYCOMING, TEXTRON LYCOMING RECIPROCATING ENGINE DIVISION, AVCO LYCOMING, LYCOMING ENGINES AND/OR LYCOMING, TEXTRON SYSTEMS CORPORATION, A/K/A, D/B/A AND OR F/K/A TEXTRON, INC., TEXTRON, AVCO CORPORATION, TEXTRON LYCOMING, TEXTRON LYCOMING RECIPROCATING ENGINE DIVISION, AVCO LYCOMING, LYCOMING ENGINES AND/OR LYCOMING, Defendants: CATHERINE B. SLAVIN, LEAD ATTORNEY, SARA ANDERSON FREY, COZEN O'CONNOR, PHILADELPHIA, PA; JAMES E. ROBINSON, LEAD ATTORNEY, COZEN AND O'CONNOR, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For PRECISION AIRMOTIVE LLC, PRECISION AIRMOTIVE CORPORATION, Defendants: EMILY J. STOCKWELL, CAMPBELL CAMPBELL EDWARDS & CONROY, BERWYN, PA; MARY GASTON, PAUL S. GRAVES, PRO HAC VICE, PERKINS COIE LLP, SEATTLE, WA; WILLIAM J. CONROY, CAMPBELL CAMPBELL EDWARDS & CONROY PC, BERWYN, PA.

For SCHWEIZER AIRCRAFT CORPORATION, SCHWEIZER HOLDINGS, INC., SIKORSKY AIRCRAFT CORPORATION, UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION, Defendants: GARRETT J. FITZPATRICK, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, FITZPATRICK HUNT TUCKER COLLIER PAGANO AUBERT LLP, NEW YORK, NY; JAMES C. STROUD, RAWLE & HENDERSON, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For CHAMPION AEROSPACE LLC, Defendant: RALPH V. PAGANO, LEAD ATTORNEY, ALICE CHAN, FITZPATRICK HUNT TUCKER COLLIER PAGANO AUBERT LLP, NEW YORK, NY; JAMES C. STROUD, RAWLE & HENDERSON, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

OPINION

Page 553

MEMORANDUM

Harvey Bartle III, J.

The plaintiffs in this action 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. 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. 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] The plaintiffs claim that the crash was caused when a defective fuel servo failed to provide proper fuel supply to the engine. The complaint contains claims for damages on state-law theories of product liability, negligence, breach of warranty, and " concert of action."

Before the court is the motion of defendants Schweizer Aircraft Corporation, Schweizer Holdings, Inc., Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, and United Technologies Corporation for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [2] on the ground of federal preemption of state law as a result of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, 49 U.S.C. § 40101 et seq. and its regulations, 14 C.F.R. § 1.1 et seq. Defendants Avco Corporation, Lycoming Engines, Textron Systems Corporation, and Textron, Inc. have joined the motion.

The power of Congress to preempt state law derives from the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the Constitution, which provides that " This Constitution, and the

Page 554

Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof ... shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." U.S. Const. Art. VI, cl. 2. The Supreme Court has explained that " the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone in every pre-emption case." Wyeth v. Levine, 555 U.S. 555, 565, 129 S.Ct. 1187, 173 L.Ed.2d 51 (2009) (citations omitted). There are three types of preemption: express preemption, conflict preemption, and field preemption. Express preemption is " explicitly stated in the statute's language." Gade v. National Solid Wastes Management Ass'n, 505 U.S. 88, 98, 112 S.Ct. 2374, 120 L.Ed.2d 73 (1992) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Conflict preemption and field preemption are the two recognized types of implied preemption. Id. For conflict preemption, " compliance with both federal and state regulations is a physical impossibility." Id. (citations omitted).

The defendants rely on field preemption, for which either the scheme of federal regulation must be " so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it" or state law must " stand[] as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Wyeth, 555 U.S. at 565 (citations omitted).

In all preemption cases, particularly in those in which Congress has legislated in a field which the States have traditionally occupied, courts must " start 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." Wyeth, 555 U.S. at 565 (citations omitted). The Supreme Court has explained that " despite the variety of these opportunities for federal preeminence, we have never assumed lightly that Congress has derogated state regulation, but instead have addressed claims of pre-emption with the starting presumption that Congress does not intend to supplant state law." New York State Conf. of Blue Cross & Blue Shield Plans v. Travelers Ins. Co., 514 U.S. 645, 654, 115 S.Ct. 1671, 131 L.Ed.2d 695 (1995).

The mere existence of a detailed federal regulatory or enforcement scheme does not alone imply preemption. English v. Gen. Elec. Co., 496 U.S. 72, 87, 110 S.Ct. 2270, 110 L.Ed.2d 65 (1990). The Supreme Court has stated:

To infer pre-emption whenever an agency deals with a problem comprehensively is virtually tantamount to saying that whenever a federal agency decides to step into a field, its regulations will be exclusive. Such a rule, of course, would be inconsistent with the federal-state balance embodied in our Supremacy Clause jurisprudence.

Hillsborough Cnty. v. Automated Med. Labs., Inc., 471 U.S. 707, 717, 105 S.Ct. 2371, 85 L.Ed.2d 714 (1985).

The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (the " Act" ), 49 U.S.C. § 40101 et seq., on which defendants rely for preemption, was enacted in response to a series of " fatal air crashes between civil and military aircraft operating under separate flight rules." Abdullah v. American Airlines, 181 F.3d 363, 368 (3d Cir. 1999) (citations omitted). It replaced the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, 52 Stat. 973 (1938). Congress intended " to promote safety in aviation and thereby protect the lives of persons who travel on board aircraft." Abdullah, 181 F.3d at 368 (citations omitted). In the Act, Congress gave the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (" Administrator" ) the authority and the duty to " promote safe flight of civil aircraft," including the duty to prescribe " minimum

Page 555

standards required in the interest of safety for appliances and for the design, material, construction, quality of work, and performance of aircraft, aircraft engines, and propellers." 49 U.S.C. § 44701(a)(1).

Congress created an inspection and certification system which enables the Administrator to enforce federal aircraft design standards. When the Administrator is satisfied, after investigation, that a proposed " aircraft, aircraft engine, propeller, or appliance is properly designed and manufactured, performs properly, and meets the regulations and minimum standards prescribed," the Administrator may issue a " type certificate." 49 U.S.C. ยง 44704(a)(1). When the Administrator finds that duplicates of a type certified aircraft will be ...


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