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Bochetto v. Piper Aircraft Co.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 9, 2014

GEORGE BOCHETTO, AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATES OF ANDREW MILLER, DEC., DENNIS FALIZE, DECEASED, AND JAVIER TERRON SANCHO, DECEASED, AND MARK MILLER AND SUSAN MARIE MILLER, DIRK JAN FALIZE, KARIN DEN TURK AND JOSE M. TERRON SANCHO, Appellants
v.
PIPER AIRCRAFT CO., AMERICAN CAPITAL, LTD., & DIMELING SCHREIBER & PARK, HONEYWELL INTERNATIONAL, INC., CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC., TELEDYNE TECHNOLOGIES, INC., TDY INDUSTRIES, INC., ALLEGHENY TECHNOLOGIES, INC., AND ALLEGHENY TELEDYNE, INC., Appellee

Argued, November 12, 2013

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Civil Division, No.: August term, 2011, 04911. Before LACHMAN, J.

Laura E. Vendzules, Philadelphia, for George Bochetto et al., appellant.

Jordan Rand, Philadelphia, for Continental Motors, appellee.

Austin W. Bartlett, Philadelphia, for Honeywell International, Inc., et al, appellee.

John J. Hare, Philadelphia, for Piper Aircraft Co., et al, appellee.

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., WECHT, J., and MUSMANNO, J.

OPINION

Page 1045

WECHT, J.

George Bochetto, et al. (collectively, " Appellants" ), appeal from the December 10, 2012 order entered in the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. That order dismissed, with prejudice, Appellants' claims arising from a September 15, 2009 plane crash that occurred near Castro Verde, Portugal. Specifically, in its December 10, 2012 order, the trial court found that Piper Aircraft Corp., et al. (collectively, " Appellees" ), had complied with the requirements of the court's earlier September 27, 2012 order, which conditionally dismissed Appellants' case on the grounds of forum non conveniens so long as the Appellees stipulated to accepting jurisdiction in Portugal. We vacate, and we remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The learned trial court has aptly set forth the factual and initial procedural history of this case, as follows:

The Model PA 34-2023 Seneca V aircraft [(" the aircraft" )] at issue was manufactured by [Piper Aircraft Co. (" Piper" )] in Florida in 1998. It was originally sold to Northern Air Inc. of Grand Rapids, MI, and then to S & S Aviation Inc. in Sylvania, Ohio. In 2001, [the aircraft] was sold to the Ben-Air Flight Academy in Belgium, where it was registered with the Belgium Civil Aviation Authority in January 2006. On June 18, 2009, Ben-Air leased the aircraft to a flight school in Portugal called [the] Aeronautical Academy of Evora (" AAE" ). From June 18, 2009[,] until the crash on September 15, 2009, the aircraft was maintained by AAE and/or CAE Global Academy (" CAE" ).
AAE is an independent company but is part of the worldwide chain of flight schools operated by CAE. CAE operates flight schools in San Diego, CA and Phoenix, AZ. CAE has aviation training facilities in Morristown, NJ; Charlotte, NC; Dallas, TX; Miami, FL; and San Francisco, CA. AAE and CAE do not have facilities located in Pennsylvania or any connection to Pennsylvania.
On September 15, 2009, the aircraft was engaged in a nighttime training exercise when it broke up in flight and crashed in a field near Castro Verde, Portugal. All three occupants died: a flight instructor employed by AAE and two student pilots attending AAE. They were Spanish citizen Javier Terron Sancho (the instructor), Dutch citizen Dennis Falize, and Andrew Miller, who had dual Dutch/Australian citizenship.
[Gabinete de Prevenç ã o e Investigaç ã o de Acidentes com Aeronaves (" GPIAA" )], the Portuguese equivalent of the [National Transportation Safety Board (" NTSB" )], investigated the crash. Experts participated in the accident investigation from Piper, Continental Motors [Inc. (" Continental" )] (the engine manufacturer) and other American companies whose products were incorporated into the [aircraft]. The remains of the [aircraft] are stored at a Portuguese university.
The Orphans' Court of Philadelphia County appointed Pennsylvania attorney Robert C. Daniels to be the administrator of the Estates of Sancho, Falize, and Miller. [Attorney Daniels] and the parents of the victims brought this wrongful death and survival action in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on September 2, 2011. The parents of the victims are citizens of Spain, the Netherlands, and the Dutch Antilles-Caribbean. . . . After [Attorney Daniels'] death,

Page 1046

he was replaced by attorney George Bochetto as administrator of the Estates.

Trial Court Opinion (" T.C.O." ), 9/27/2012, at 1-3.

On or about September 2, 2011, Appellants filed suit against fourteen different American corporations under theories of strict products liability, negligence, breach of express and implied warranties, fraud, and civil conspiracy. See Appellants' Civil Complaint, 9/2/2011, at 37-79. These defendant-corporations included the following entities: (1) Piper, a Florida-based company that designed, manufactured and sold the aircraft; (2) Dimeling, Schreiber, & Park (" Dimeling" ), a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania entity that Appellants allege oversaw and directed the activities of Piper; (3) American Capital Ltd. (" American Capital" ), a West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania company that Appellants allege, together with Dimeling, directed the activities of Piper; (4) Continental Motors, Inc., (" Continental" ) the company responsible for the engine assembly in the aircraft; (5) Teledyne Technologies Incorporated; (6) TDY Industries, LLC; (7) Allegheny Technologies, Inc.; (8) Allegheny Teledyne Incorporated; [1] (9) Honeywell International, Inc. (" Honeywell" ), a company responsible for the aircraft's auto-pilot system; [2] (10) McCauly Propeller Systems; (11) Textron, Inc.; and (12) Cessna Aircraft, Co.[3] Appellants did not file any claims against AAE or CAE. T.C.O. at 3.

On October 6, 2011, Piper removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See District Court Order, 1/6/2012, at 1. However, on January 6, 2012, the District Court entered an order granting Appellants' " Motion to Remand," returning the case to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. Specifically, the District Court concluded that the initial removal was improper.[4]

Page 1047

On February 24, 2012, Piper, American Capital, and Dimeling filed a joint " Motion to Dismiss With Prejudice for Forum Non Conveniens " pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 5322(e). In relevant part, the moving parties argued that the locus of the instant case more properly is situated in Portugal:

This is a textbook case for dismissal based upon the doctrine of forum non conveniens. [The aircraft] was maintained in Portugal, the pilot was trained in Portugal, the underlying accident occurred in Portugal, the Portuguese government conducted the accident investigation, and all of the nonparty witnesses and relevant documents are in Portugal. All of the decedents are from Europe, and the real parties in interest in this case are from Europe. As several courts have concluded under similar circumstances, this case should be dismissed based upon forum non conveniens.

Motion to Dismiss for Forum Non Conveniens, 2/24/2012, ¶ 2. Appellants filed a response on April 2, 2012. On April 26, 2012, Piper, American Capital, and Dimeling filed a reply to Appellants' response. On July 19, 2012, Honeywell filed a motion to join in the February 24 motion to dismiss. Teledyne Technologies, TDY Industries, Allegheny Technologies, and Allegheny Teledyne did not respond. T.C.O. at 4-5. It also appears that Continental did not respond. On July 20, 2012, Appellants filed a supplemental response, and, on July 24, 2012, Piper, American Capital, and Dimeling filed a joint reply.

On September 27, 2012, the trial court entered an order that conditionally granted the motion to dismiss, but only if all defendant-corporations submitted written stipulations " (1) accepting service of process in a subsequent action brought in Portugal alleging the same injuries and damages as set forth in the within action; (2) admitting jurisdiction in Portugal; and (3) waiving the statute of limitations defense in the subsequent action to be filed in Portugal." T.C.O. at 1. All stipulations were directed to be submitted within thirty days of the order's entry. Id.

On October 17, 2012, Piper, American Capital and Dimeling filed their respective stipulations. On October 22, 2012, Continental, Teledyne Technologies Incorporated, TDY Industries, LLC, Allegheny Technologies, Inc., and Allegheny Teledyne Incorporated filed a joint stipulation. That same day, Honeywell, the last remaining defendant, filed its stipulation. On December 10, 2012, the trial court entered a series of orders acknowledging and approving these stipulations. Accordingly, that same day, the trial court entered an order that dismissed Appellants' claims with prejudice.

On December 27, 2012, Appellants filed a timely notice of appeal. The trial court did not order Appellants to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal under Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b), and Appellants did not file one. On February 1, 2013, the trial court filed a Rule 1925(a) opinion.

Appellants have raised the following issues for our consideration:

1. Did the lower court abuse its discretion in failing to determine the amount of deference due Appellants' choice of forum and, therefore, improperly shift the burden of proof to Appellants?
2. Did the lower court misapply the law by analyzing the forum non conveniens factors with respect to litigating in Pennsylvania, rather than the United States as a whole, versus Portugal?

Appellants' Brief at 6.

Initially, we note that the international character of this case does not substantively alter ...


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