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Aircraft Trading and Services Inc. v. Braniff Inc.

decided: May 22, 1987.

AIRCRAFT TRADING AND SERVICES, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BRANIFF, INC., WILLIAM CONDREN, INTERNATIONAL AIR LEASES, INC., PRIDE AIR, INC., DEFENDANTS, BRANIFF, INC., WILLIAM CONDREN, INTERNATIONAL AIR LEASES, INC., APPELLEES



Appeal from summary judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Goettel, J.) rejecting claims asserted by plaintiff predicated on chattel mortgage covering a jet aircraft engine. Recorded as required by the Federal Aviation Act before sale of the engine to defendant International Air Leases, Inc., but after intermediate sales to other defendant purchasers, the mortgage was held ineffective as to all defendants. Reversed and remanded as to defendant International Air Leases, Inc.

Feinberg, Chief Judge, Pierce and Miner, Circuit Judges.

Author: Miner

MINER, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-appellant Aircraft Trading and Services, Inc. ("ATASCO") appeals from a judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Goettel, J.) in favor of defendants-appellees Braniff, Inc., William Condren, and International Air Leases, Inc. ("IAL"), following ATASCO's motion for summary judgment against IAL only and defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment. ATASCO's action arose out of its sale of a jet aircraft engine, subject to a chattel mortgage that secured the payment of the purchase price, to Northeastern Airlines. ATASCO failed to record the chattel mortgage with the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA"), as required for perfection of its security interest under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, 49 U.S.C. §§ 1403-1406 (1982 & Supp. III 1985) ("the Act"), until after the engine had been conveyed by Northeastern to Braniff, and then by Braniff to Condren, culminating in a lease from Condren to IAL with an option to purchase. IAL subsequently exercised its option to buy after ATASCO recorded its interest and after IAL had actual notice of ATASCO's security interest in the engine. ATASCO brought suit for conversion, replevin and forfeiture of the engine, claiming that its rights were superior to those of Braniff, Condren, and IAL.

The district court denied ATASCO's motion for summary judgment against IAL and granted defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment, finding that the intermediate transfers of the engine, prior to ATASCO's perfection of its security interest, extinguished ATASCO's security interest under 49 U.S.C. § 1403(c). On appeal, ATASCO asserts that its interest in the engine is superior to IAL's under U.C.C. Article 9. We find merit in ATASCO's claim and reverse the denial of ATASCO's motion for summary judgment against IAL. We affirm the grant of defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment as to Braniff and Condren, but reverse as to IAL.

BACKGROUND

In December 1982, ATASCO, a Panamanian company engaged in the business of selling and leasing aircraft and aircraft engines, sold a jet aircraft engine to Northeastern Airlines ("Northeastern"), a commercial airline carrier. The purchase price of the engine was $412,344.00. The sales agreement provided that Northeastern would pay ATASCO $36,000.00 as a down payment, with the balance to be paid in 36 equal installments of $10,454.00, due monthly, beginning in March 1983. Northeastern's obligation to pay the debt was secured by a chattel mortgage dated December 31, 1982, held by ATASCO. The chattel mortgage provided that Northeastern would be in default if it (1) failed to pay any note when due; (2) disposed of the engine before all payments were made; or, (3) was subject to bankruptcy proceedings.

Northeastern paid the monthly installments on the engine through January 10, 1985, but has made no payments since then, and is now in bankruptcy. The balance due on the engine is $135,902.00 plus interest. ATASCO failed to record the chattel mortgage with the FAA, as required under 49 U.S.C. § 1403(c), until March 1985.

On November 28, 1984, Northeastern agreed to sell the aircraft containing the engine subject to ATASCO's chattel mortgage to Braniff, a commercial airline carrier. Northeastern, in its bill of sale to Braniff, represented that it was conveying good and marketable title for both the aircraft and the engine. Braniff, which was planning to sell this aircraft immediately to William Condren, a private individual, checked the FAA records for prior claims or liens upon the aircraft or its parts, and found no record of any incumbrances. After the sale to Braniff was consummated, Braniff filed the bill of sale with the FAA on November 30, 1984. On December 7, 1984, Braniff sold the aircraft to Condren after Condren also checked the FAA records for a prior claim. Condren subsequently filed his bill of sale.

In early February 1985, Condren leased the aircraft, with an option to buy, to IAL. The lease was not filed with the FAA as required by 49 U.S.C. § 1403. ATASCO finally filed its chattel mortgage with the FAA in March of 1985. In April of 1985, IAL learned of ATASCO's chattel mortgage when Condren notified IAL of ATASCO's interest by letter. Nevertheless, in late July or early August of 1985, after procuring a copy of ATASCO's chattel mortgage directly from the FAA, IAL exercised its option to buy the aircraft. That bill of sale was filed with the FAA on August 5th.

ATASCO brought suit for conversion, replevin, and forfeiture against Braniff, Condren and IAL. ATASCO's central contention before the district court was that its rights were superior to those of IAL because its chattel mortgage was filed prior to IAL's filing, and IAL had actual knowledge of the terms of the instrument when it exercised its option to purchase. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of IAL, Condren, and Braniff, noting that if the only transaction at issue were the sale to IAL, then ATASCO might prevail. However, the district court ruled that, because of the intermediate transfers to Braniff and Condren prior to ATASCO's filing of the chattel mortgage, Braniff received good title and passed good title to Condren, who in turn passed good title to IAL.

Discussion

A. The Federal Aviation Act

Under the Federal Aviation Act, an interest in aircraft or aircraft engines, including a chattel mortgage, see 49 U.S.C. § 1403(a), is not valid against an innocent third party*fn1 "until such conveyance or other instrument is filed for recordation in the office of the Secretary of Transportation." 49 U.S.C. § 1403(c). Federal law thus requires recordation with the FAA to perfect a security interest in an aircraft engine. The district court, relying on the language and purpose of 49 U.S.C. § 1403, concluded that Congress must have intended intervening conveyances to render invalid the late recordation of a security interest in an aircraft engine. Therefore, the court denied plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and granted defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment.

The district court interpreted section 1403(c) of the Act to mean that a security interest in an aircraft engine is void unless filed with the FAA before the engine is conveyed again. This reading misinterprets the phrase " until such conveyance or other instrument is filed," 49 U.S.C. § 1403(c) (emphasis added). The district court's construction effectively replaces "until" with "unless," and reads into the statute a timely filing requirement. "The use of the word 'until' . . . rather than 'unless' indicates that mere delay . . . [is] not enough to cause forfeiture." Washingtonian Pub. Co. v. Pearson, 306 U.S. 30, 39, 83 L. Ed. 470, 59 S. Ct. 397 (1939) (rejecting argument that failure promptly to register copyright precluded infringement claim, where Copyright Act of 1909 provided that no action could be maintained "until" registration requirements were complied with).

The purpose of section 1403 is "to create 'a central clearing house for recordation of titles so that a person, wherever he may be, will know where he can find ready access to the claims against, or liens, or other legal interests in an aircraft.'" Philko Aviation, Inc. v. Shacket, 462 U.S. 406, 411, 76 L. Ed. 2d 678, 103 S. Ct. 2476 (1983) (quoting Hearings on H.R. 9738 before the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, 75th Cong., 2d Sess. 407 (1938) (testimony of F. Fagg, Director of Air Commerce, Dep't of Commerce)). Guided by this statement, the Supreme Court ruled that section 1403 preempts state laws that allow unrecorded interests in aircraft to affect innocent third parties. Philko Aviation, 462 U.S. at 412. The district court, relying on this language, stated that

it would make no sense for Congress to have established such a registry if someone with an unfiled security interest could come along years after the interest was created, and after subsequent purchasers had relied upon the absence of any adverse claims on file with the FAA, and ...


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