Justia Aviation Opinion Summaries
Jones et al. v. Goodrich Pump & Engine Control Systems, Inc. et al.
After two United States Army pilots tragically perished in a helicopter crash, their surviving family members sued various companies responsible for the making of the helicopter. The family members alleged that manufacturing and/or defective operating instructions and warnings caused the pilots’ deaths. The companies countered that the family members’ asserted state law claims were barred by a number of preemption doctrines. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the companies, finding that there was implied field preemption under the Federal Aviation Act (the “FAAct” or “Act”). The Second Circuit vacated. The court explained that it believes that field preemption is always a matter of congressional intent, and Congress’s removal of military aircraft from the FAAct’s reach indicates that it did not wish to include them in the FAAct’s preempted field. Rather, Congress intended for the Department of Defense (“DoD”) to have autonomy over its own aircraft. While it is possible that the family members’ claims may be barred by the military contractor defense, another preemption doctrine, see generally Boyle v. United Techs. Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988)—this determination requires a fact-intensive analysis to be handled by the district court in the first instance. Further, the court wrote that aside from any issues of preemption by the military contractor defense, the family members offered sufficient evidence under Georgia law for their strict liability manufacturing defect claim to survive summary judgment. View "Jones et al. v. Goodrich Pump & Engine Control Systems, Inc. et al." on Justia Law
Abdallah v. Mesa Air Group
On a Mesa Airlines flight, a flight attendant grew concerned about two passengers. She alerted the pilot, who, despite the reassurance of security officers, delayed takeoff until the flight was canceled. The passengers were told the delay was for maintenance issues, and all passengers, including the two in question, were rebooked onto a new flight. After learning the real reason behind the cancellation, Passenger Plaintiffs sued Mesa under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. The airline countered that it had immunity under 49 U.S.C. Section 44902(b). The district court granted Mesa’s motion for summary judgment. At issue is whether such conduct constitutes disparate treatment under Section 1981, whether a Section 1981 claim can exist without a “breach” of contract, and whether Section 44902(b) grants immunity to airlines for allegedly discriminatory decisions. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court explained that the right to be free from discrimination in “the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms and conditions” means that one has the right to be free from discrimination in the discretionary “benefits, privileges, terms and conditions” of a contract, too. Defendants cannot claim that flying at the originally scheduled time is not a “benefit” of the contract at all. Further, the court explained that a hand wave, refusing to leave one’s assigned seat, boarding late, sleeping, and using the restroom are far from occurrences so obviously suspicious that no one could conclude that race was not a but-for factor for the airline’s actions. The court wrote that because “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for” Plaintiffs, the dispute is genuine. View "Abdallah v. Mesa Air Group" on Justia Law
John S. Lowman, IV, et al v. Federal Aviation Administration, et al
Petitioners, a group of five individuals, filed this petition for review, claiming that the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) during its Phase II approval process. Petitioners assert that the FAA violated NEPA by (1) segmenting its review of a single Airport development project into multiple, smaller projects to make the project’s environmental effect appear less significant, (2) failing to consider the project’s cumulative effects, and (3) failing to analyze all air quality impacts. The FAA responds that, as an initial matter, Petitioners cannot bring this petition for review because they lack standing and did not exhaust their administrative remedies. Alternatively, the FAA contends that it did not violate NEPA, and the petition for review should be denied. The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition. The court held that Petitioners have standing and did not fail to exhaust their administrative remedies. Petitioners, however, fall short on the merits because it is clear that the FAA satisfied NEPA’s requirements. The court explained that Petitioners are unhappy that the FAA greenlighted Phase II (as well as the Airport developments preceding Phase II). However, the court does not vacate agency decisions over mere policy disagreements. Accordingly, the court held that the FAA did what it was supposed to do, and its review processes were not arbitrary and capricious. View "John S. Lowman, IV, et al v. Federal Aviation Administration, et al" on Justia Law
AIRLINES FOR AMERICA V. CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO
The City and County of San Francisco (the City) owns and operates San Francisco International Airport (SFO or the Airport). Airlines for America (A4A) represents airlines that contract with the City to use SFO. In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City enacted the Healthy Airport Ordinance (HAO), requiring the airlines that use SFO to provide employees with certain health insurance benefits. A4A filed this action in the Northern District of California, alleging that the City, in enacting the HAO, acted as a government regulator and not a market participant, and therefore the HAO is preempted by multiple federal statutes. The district court agreed to the parties’ suggestion to bifurcate the case to first address the City’s market participation defense. The district court held that the City was a market participant and granted its motion for summary judgment. A4A appealed. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The court concluded that two civil penalty provisions of the HAO carry the force of law and thus render the City a regulator rather than a market participant. The court wrote that because these civil penalty provisions result in the City acting as a regulator, it need not determine whether the City otherwise would be a regulator under the Cardinal Towing two-part test set forth in LAX, 873 F.3d at 1080 View "AIRLINES FOR AMERICA V. CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO" on Justia Law
Meitav Dash Provident Funds and Pension Ltd., et al. v. Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, et al.
This appeal centered on claims for securities fraud against Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., and four of its executives. Spirit produced components for jetliners, including Boeing’s 737 MAX. But Boeing stopped producing the 737 MAX, and Spirit’s sales tumbled. At about the same time, Spirit acknowledged an unexpected loss from inadequate accounting controls. After learning about Spirit’s downturn in sales and the inadequacies in accounting controls, some investors sued Spirit and four executives for securities fraud. The district court dismissed the suit, and the investors appealed. "For claims involving securities fraud, pleaders bear a stiff burden when alleging scienter." In the Tenth Circuit's view, the investors did not satisfy that burden, so it affirmed the dismissal. View "Meitav Dash Provident Funds and Pension Ltd., et al. v. Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, et al." on Justia Law
Perry Hodges, et al. v. USA
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling entering judgment in favor of the US in a negligence suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). The Seneca was piloted by Nisha Sejwal, with Ralph Knight accompanying her. The Cessna was piloted by Jorge Sanchez, with Carlo Scarpati, a student pilot, also on board. Both planes were “VFR” aircraft operating under standard visual flight rules. The Seneca was departing from, and the Cessna was arriving at, the Tamiami Airport (now known as the Miami Executive Airport) when the collision occurred. The representatives of the pilots’ estates filed suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), alleging negligence on the part of Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) air traffic controllers at the Tamiami Airport. Following a bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of the United States, and the Plaintiffs appealed. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs contend that language in the district court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law “suggests” that it improperly considered evidence of comparative negligence—an affirmative defense under Florida law—in making its ultimate finding that the controllers were not negligent. In particular, they point to the district court’s statements that there was (1) conflicting evidence about how the planes approached each other prior to the collision and (2) evidence that both planes were equipped with TIS devices and that the Seneca’s TIS device was functioning earlier in the day prior to the collision. The court concluded that the district court did not improperly consider evidence of comparative negligence but rather based its decision on Plaintiffs’ failure to prove the elements of their negligence claim. View "Perry Hodges, et al. v. USA" on Justia Law
Jadair International, Inc. v. American National Property & Casualty Co.
Schmutzler, the owner and president of Jadair, was a pilot with decades of experience. Schmutzler applied to American National for an insurance policy on its Cessna airplane in 2019. The application listed Schmutzler as the Cessna’s only authorized pilot; Schmutzler indicated that he was a licensed pilot with an FAA medical certificate. The application included “Minimum Pilot Requirements,” which stated that “there is no coverage in flight unless the aircraft is being operated by the pilot(s) designated on this document who has/have at least the certificates, ratings, and pilot experience indicated, and who … is/are properly qualified for the flight involved.” Schmutzler initialed this provision. The Cessna crashed in May 2020, killing Schmutzler, who was piloting the plane. The crash was caused by a mechanical failure.American National denied coverage because Schmutzler did not have a current and valid FAA medical certificate at the time of the accident; his previous certificate had expired. The district court granted American National summary and declaratory judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The policy unambiguously excludes coverage for any accident involving the Cessna where the pilot lacks a current FAA medical certificate. That requirement is an exclusion of coverage, not a failed condition of coverage. View "Jadair International, Inc. v. American National Property & Casualty Co." on Justia Law
Amy McNaught v. Billy Nolen
Petitioner is a pilot and flight instructor. After she failed to produce her pilot logbooks and training records upon request by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the FAA suspended Petitioner’s pilot certificate. Petitioner appealed the suspension to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) but, days later, complied with the records request. The FAA then terminated her suspension, which lasted 14 days in total and reinstated her certificate. Nonetheless, an NTSB administrative law judge held a hearing on Petitioner’s appeal and concluded that the suspension was reasonable. Petitioner appealed the decision to the full NTSB, but it dismissed the matter as moot. Petitioner petitioned for a review of the NTSB’s final order under 49 U.S.C. Sections 44709(f) and 46110. The Eighth Circuit concluded that Petitioner lacked Article III standing and dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction. The court explained that the first problem with Petitioner’s theory of future injury is that she has not shown with particularity how her brief suspension for noncompliance with a records request would harm her job prospects. Further, the court wrote that even assuming the 14-day suspension would be damaging to her job prospects, Petitioner’s claims are not y “real and immediate.” Moreover, the court explained that the record here lacks any facts showing that Petitioner’s suspension would harm her reputation in the estimation of the pilot community. Instead, Petitioner relied on vague, blanket statements of reputational harm. View "Amy McNaught v. Billy Nolen" on Justia Law
Longobardo v. Avco Corporation
Defendant Avco Corporation, a manufacturer of airplane components, appealed the denial of its summary judgment motion, which was based on the statute of repose enacted by Congress as part of the General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA). Defendant contended a denial of summary judgment in this context constituted an appealable collateral order under California’s collateral order doctrine. To this, the Court of Appeal concluded it did not and dismissed the appeal. View "Longobardo v. Avco Corporation" on Justia Law
Harold Rutila, IV v. TRAN
Plaintiff attended a Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) air traffic controller training program at the FAA Academy. Because he failed the final performance assessment, Plaintiff was not retained as a permanent air traffic controller. Several months later, Plaintiff submitted ten requests under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to the FAA seeking various categories of records. Dissatisfied with the FAA’s responses to his requests, Plaintiff brought two suits against the FAA and its parent agency, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”; collectively with the FAA, “Appellees”), seeking injunctive relief compelling the release and disclosure of the requested agency records. The district court later consolidated the two lawsuits. Appellees moved to dismiss most of Plaintiff’s claims, and the district court dismissed seven of Plaintiff’s requests for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff appealed the district court’s judgment with respect to three of his requests. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it is undisputed that the FAA does not maintain screenshots of individuals’ Active Directory Account profiles, NextGen Toolbox profiles, or Windows Explorer directories and folder structures. Therefore, for the FAA to produce the requested records, it would have to open the relevant software, display the requested data, and take a screenshot of the displayed information. The court explained that his inquiry would not merely require Appellees to produce information they retain and use, albeit in a slightly altered format; it would instead require Appellees to produce a new record— a screenshot—of information it does not store. FOIA imposes no such obligations on agencies. View "Harold Rutila, IV v. TRAN" on Justia Law