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Snider v. Sterling Airways, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 29, 2017

ELIZABETH C. SNIDER, Individually and as Executrix of the Estate of DANIEL A. SNIDER, and LEE W. SNIDER, a minor, by his mother, ELIZABETH C. SNIDER Plaintiffs
v.
STERLING AIRWAYS, INC., and CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOYNER, J.

         This case is again pending before this Court on Motion of the Defendant, Continental Motors, Inc. Presently, Continental renews its previous request for entry of judgment in its favor as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). For the reasons which follow, the Renewed Motion shall be denied.

         History of the Case

         This is the remaining lawsuit of three[1] assigned to the undersigned, all of which arose out of the tragic crash of a Cessna T210L single engine aircraft in the early afternoon hours of June 21, 2010 as it neared the William T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. As a result of the accident, which was caused by a total engine failure as the plane was preparing to land, the pilot, Patrick Jessup, and his two passengers, United States Forest Service employees Rodney Whiteman and Daniel Snider were killed. At the time of the accident, Messrs. Whiteman and Snider were in the process of conducting an aerial deforestation survey on behalf of the Forest Service. The plane was being operated pursuant to a charter plane and pilot contract between its owner, Defendant Sterling Airways, Inc. of Hornell, New York and the U.S. Forest Service, dated March 28, 2008. The accident airplane had been manufactured in 1973 and was equipped with a Continental Motors' TSIO-520-H engine that had last been overhauled in 2004.

         The essence of the complaints in the actions filed by the estates of the three individuals killed as a result of the crash was that the accident resulted from the negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and/or strict liability on the part of the defendants in, inter alia, the manufacture, maintenance and operation of the Cessna, its engine and component parts. As noted, the lawsuits instituted on behalf of the Estates of Mr. Jessup and Mr. Whiteman were settled, but this action, filed on behalf of Mr. Snider and his Estate, was tried over a three-week period commencing on January 23, 2017. On February 16, 2017, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff and against Continental Motors, Inc. only in the amount of $2, 753, 048.49. Although Sterling Motors was found to have breached its contract with the U.S. Forest Service and to have been negligent, the jury found that Sterling's negligence and breach were not factual causes of the accident. By the motion which is now before us, Continental asserts that it is entitled to the entry of judgment as a matter of law for two reasons: “(1) there is no legally sufficient basis for a reasonable jury to find that CMI ‘manufactured' a new component or part that caused the accident under the rolling provision of GARA §2(a)(2); and/or (2) plaintiffs' claims fail under GARA and Pennsylvania tort law because plaintiffs failed to prove that the No. 2 exhaust valve guide's allegedly deficient material hardness caused the exhaust value guide to fail.” (Defendant Continental Motors, Inc.'s Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b), at p.1).

         Standards Governing Rule 50(b) Motions

         “A court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against a party when ‘a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the moving party on that issue.'” Shrey v. Kontz, 981 F.Supp.2d 333, 337 (M.D. Pa. 2013)(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)). “After trial, a party may renew their motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).” Id. “A court may grant a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law in favor of a party ‘if there is a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find' for the opposing party on a particular issue.” Graco Children's Products, Inc. v. Century Products Company, Inc., Civ. A. No. 93-6710, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10356 at *12 - *13 (E.D. Pa. July 23, 1996)(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1)(b)). Under well-established Third Circuit precedent, regardless of whether made under Rule 50(a) or 50(b):

Such a motion should be granted only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and giving it the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability. In determining whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain liability, the court may not weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its version of the facts for the jury's version.

McDaniels v. Flick, 59 F.3d 446, 453 (3d Cir. 1995); Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993); Mancini v. Northampton County, 836 F.3d 308, 314 (3d Cir. 2016); Shrey, 981 F.Supp.2d at 338. Stated otherwise, “a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law ‘may be granted under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) only if, as a matter of law, the record is critically deficient of that minimum quantity of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief.'” Pollock v. Energy Corp. Of America, Nos. 15-2648, 15-2649, 665 Fed.Appx. 212, 216, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19167 at *7 - *8 (3d Cir. Oct. 24, 2016)(quoting In re Lemington Home for the Aged, 777 F.3d 620, 626 (3d Cir. 2015)). And again, being mindful that credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions and not those of a judge, in its review of the record as a whole the court must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe. Avaya Inc., RP v. Telecom Labs, Inc., 838 F.3d 354, 373 (3d Cir. 2016)(citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000)).

         Discussion

         1. Applicability of GARA's “Rolling Provision”

         We turn first to Continental's claim that there is no legally sufficient basis upon which the jury could find that it manufactured a new component or part which in fact caused the subject accident so as to fall within the scope of the “rolling provision” of GARA. Thus, Continental argues, because it manufactured the accident aircraft engine more than 18 years before the accident, Plaintiff's claims against it are barred and judgment should now be entered in its favor.

         “GARA” is the abbreviated title for the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 which is codified in the notes to 49 U.S.C. §40101. As “the legislative history makes clear, ... Congress enacted GARA to ameliorate the impact of long-tail liability on a declining American aviation industry in furtherance of the national interest.” Prigden v. Parker Hannifin Corp., 591 Pa. 305, 309, 916 A.2d 619, 622 (2007). “A key assumption underlying GARA was the notion that any design defects in aircraft components generally will be discovered within the eighteen year period preceding repose. Id, (citing H.R. Rep. No. 103-525(I) at 3 (1994)). Section 2(a) of GARA reads as follows:

(a) In general. Except as provided in subsection (b), no civil action for damages for death or injury to persons or damage to property arising out of an accident involving a general aviation aircraft may be brought against the manufacturer of the aircraft or the manufacturer of any new component, system, subassembly, or other part ...

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