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Jones v. Goodrich Corp.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2019

BRENDA JONES, AS CO-ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN DAVID HORTMAN, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
GOODRICH CORPORATION, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON THE ISSUE OF IMPLIED FIELD PREEMPTION

          WARREN W. EGINTON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this action, plaintiffs assert claims of strict liability, negligence, breach of warranty, breach of contract, and fraud, stemming from the fatal crash of an AH-6M “Mission Enhanced Little Bird” helicopter on August 8, 2011, at Fort Benning, Georgia. U.S. Army pilots, John David Hortman and Steven Redd, were killed in the accident.

         Pursuant to the Court’s request, the parties submitted briefs on the issue of implied field preemption, that is when Congress intends federal law to occupy the field to the exclusion of state law. Although the parties disagree as to many of the underlying technical aspects of the case, the issue of field preemption is primarily one of law. Moreover, even when resolving all ambiguities and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiffs, the Court finds, based on Second Circuit precedent, that plaintiffs’ state law claims are preempted. For the following reasons, summary judgment will be granted in defendants’ favor.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs’ helicopter was powered by a single Rolls-Royce Model 250 Series IV engine with a specific designation of 250-C30R/3M. Plaintiffs submit that moments before the crash impact that killed Captain Hortman and Chief Redd, the Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (“FADEC”) computer that controls all aspects of engine operation in their helicopter experienced a “step count fault, ” which caused a failure of the FADEC. A step count fault is caused by, among other things, a faulty fuel metering valve potentiometer (“MVP”), which is part of the hydromechanical unit that physically meters fuel to the combustion chamber. The fault caused the FADEC to enter a fixed fuel mode where the pilot cannot alter the fuel flow and power to the engine.

         The Army required both the baseline Mission Enhanced Little Bird engine and all of the modifications, including modifications to the FADEC, to be FAA certified. Any changes in equipment that were required by the Army also required the Original Equipment Manufacturers (“OEMs”) to obtain additional FAA certification. Plaintiffs’ statement of additional uncontested facts provides: “It is clear that the FAA was the ‘Airworthiness Authority for the C30R/3M engine.” [ECF No. 488, ¶ 27].

         DISCUSSION

         A motion for summary judgment will be granted where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and it is clear that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 849 (1991).

         The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any material factual issue genuinely in dispute. American International Group, Inc. v. London American International Corp., 664 F.2d 348, 351 (2d Cir. 1981). In determining whether a genuine factual issue exists, the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         If a nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he has the burden of proof, then summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. If the nonmoving party submits evidence which is "merely colorable, " legally sufficient opposition to the motion for summary judgment is not met. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         Implied Field Preemption

          “When Congress intends federal law to ‘occupy the field, ’ state law in that area is preempted.” Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council, 530 U.S. 363, 372 (2000). The Second Circuit has found clear congressional intent to occupy the entire field of aviation safety. Goodspeed Airport LLC v. East Haddam Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Com’n, 634 F.3d 206, 210 (2d Cir. 2011). Indeed: “The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.” 49 U.S.C. § 40103(a)(1).

In Air Transport Ass'n of America, Inc. v. Cuomo (ATA), 520 F.3d 218, 225 (2d Cir. 2008), this Court observed that several of our sister circuits, and several district courts within our own circuit, have concluded that Congress intended to occupy the entire field of air safety and thereby preempt state regulation of that field. ATA examined evidence of Congressional “intent to centralize air safety authority and the comprehensiveness of [ ] regulations pursuant to that authority, ” under both the Aviation Act and the ADA.

Goodspeed, 634 F.3d at 210.

         After concluding in Goodspeed that Congress intended to occupy the entire field of air safety, the Second Circuit recognized the second step of the implied preemption inquiry as an analysis of whether the state laws at ...


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