Justia Aviation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Aviation
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The case involves Trenton Palmer, an experienced private pilot, who was charged by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for flying his plane at an altitude of less than 100 feet above ground level and within 500 feet of people, a house, and other structures. The FAA claimed that Palmer violated a regulation establishing minimum safe altitudes. An administrative law judge (ALJ) found Palmer guilty of the violation, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) affirmed the decision. Palmer appealed, arguing that the ALJ committed multiple prejudicial errors and that the complaint against him should have been dismissed.Previously, the ALJ had denied Palmer's motion to dismiss the FAA’s complaint on the ground that the complaint failed to give fair notice of the charges. The ALJ found that Palmer violated Sections 91.119(a), (c), and 91.13(a) of the FAA regulations. The ALJ mitigated Palmer’s suspension from 120 days to 60 days. Palmer appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Board and the FAA cross-appealed the ALJ’s mitigation of Palmer’s suspension. On de novo review, the Board affirmed the ALJ’s order and reversed the ALJ’s mitigation of the Administrator’s sanction because the Administrator’s selected sanction was supported by a reasonable explanation and there were no mitigating circumstances.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the decision from the NTSB. The court found that Palmer's arguments on appeal as to the Section 91.119 violations turn on whether he proved his defense that the low flight was necessary for takeoff or landing. The court rejected Palmer's claim of inadequate notice as legally unsupported and facially implausible. The court also found no error in the ALJ’s reliance on expert witness testimony and the Board’s subsequent affirmance. The court denied Palmer’s petition for review. View "Palmer v. FAA" on Justia Law

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A pilot, who was injured in an airplane crash in 1985, sought medical benefits for a 2016 spinal surgery and subsequent treatment, as well as for diabetes treatment related to his spinal treatment. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board denied his claim, concluding that the 1985 injury was not a substantial factor in the pilot’s spinal problems. The Board also excluded the testimony of the pilot’s biomechanics expert due to non-compliance with Board regulations. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision, finding substantial evidence in the record to support the Board’s decision and that the Board had not abused its discretion in its procedural rulings.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the Commission’s decision. The court found that substantial evidence supported the Board's decision that the 1985 injury was not a substantial factor in the pilot's spinal problems. The court also found that the Board did not abuse its discretion by excluding the testimony of the pilot's biomechanics expert due to non-compliance with Board regulations. The court further held that the Board did not have an obligation to secure the testimony of a particular witness, and that the pilot's failure to secure a witness's testimony did not create an obligation for the Board to do so. View "Jespersen v. Tri-City Air and Alaska Insurance Guaranty Company" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Antonio Santonastaso, was convicted of making a false statement to federal investigators and attempted witness tampering. The charges stemmed from a 2018 investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) into allegations that Santonastaso was flying a helicopter without the necessary certifications. During the investigation, Santonastaso falsely claimed that he had the requisite certifications to fly and that his previous involvement in a 2000 helicopter theft was part of an undercover operation.The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, where Santonastaso was found guilty. He appealed the decision, arguing that the government's evidence was insufficient to prove his guilt and that the district court erred by not giving a materiality instruction based on the Supreme Court's decision in Maslenjak v. United States.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find Santonastaso guilty of making a false statement to federal investigators and attempted witness tampering. The court also ruled that the district court did not commit instructional error in rejecting Santonastaso's proposed materiality instruction. The court held that the law-of-the-circuit doctrine foreclosed the application of the Maslenjak materiality standard to § 1001(a) prosecutions, and that the district court's instruction correctly stated the controlling law on materiality. View "United States v. Santonastaso" on Justia Law

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The case involves James Fejes, a pilot who held a certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under 49 U.S.C. § 44703. Fejes used his aircraft to transport and distribute marijuana to retail stores within Alaska, an activity that is legal under state law but illegal under federal law. After an investigation, the FAA revoked Fejes's pilot certificate under 49 U.S.C. § 44710(b)(2), which mandates revocation when a pilot knowingly uses an aircraft for an activity punishable by more than a year's imprisonment under a federal or state controlled substance law.Fejes appealed the FAA's decision to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who affirmed the revocation. He then appealed the ALJ's decision to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which also affirmed the ALJ. Throughout the agency proceedings, Fejes admitted that he piloted an aircraft to distribute marijuana within Alaska, but argued that his conduct fell outside of § 44710(b)(2)'s reach.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied Fejes's petition for review of the NTSB's order affirming the FAA's revocation of his pilot certificate. The court rejected Fejes's argument that the FAA lacked jurisdiction to revoke his pilot certificate because Congress cannot authorize an administrative agency to regulate purely intrastate commerce like marijuana delivery within Alaska. The court held that airspace is a channel of commerce squarely within congressional authority, and therefore, Congress can regulate Fejes's conduct. The court also rejected Fejes's argument that his conduct was exempt under FAA regulation 14 C.F.R. § 91.19, and that the FAA misinterpreted § 44710(b)(2). The court concluded that the FAA's revocation of Fejes's pilot certificate was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. View "FEJES V. FAA" on Justia Law

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The case involves Salt Lake County's challenge to the constitutionality of the Aircraft Valuation Law, which provides a preferred method for determining the fair market value of aircraft for tax purposes. The County argued that the application of the law to Delta Air Lines' aircraft resulted in an assessment below fair market value, violating the Utah Constitution. The County also contended that the law, on its face, violated the Utah Constitution by divesting the Utah State Tax Commission of its power to assess airline property.The Utah State Tax Commission had previously upheld the 2017 assessment of Delta's property, which was calculated according to the Aircraft Valuation Law. The Commission found that the County did not provide clear and convincing evidence that the legislature's preferred method of valuation did not reasonably reflect fair market value.The Supreme Court of the State of Utah rejected the County's arguments. The court held that the County failed to fully utilize the statutory safety valve, which allows the Commission to use an alternative valuation method if the preferred method does not reasonably reflect fair market value. The court also rejected the County's facial challenge to the Aircraft Valuation Law, concluding that the County did not show that the law prohibits the legislature from prescribing a preferred method for valuing aircraft. Therefore, the court affirmed the Commission's decision. View "Salt Lake Co v. Tax Commission" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Anila Daulatzai, was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after the captain received information about her dog allergy and the presence of two dogs on board. Daulatzai insisted on remaining in her seat despite the captain’s decision, leading to her physical removal by Maryland Transportation Authority police officers. She was later charged with various offenses, including disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.Daulatzai filed an action against Southwest Airlines and the State of Maryland, alleging various grounds to challenge her removal from the plane and her arrest. The district court dismissed Daulatzai’s complaint for failure to state a plausible claim upon which relief could be granted. Daulatzai appealed that judgment and, while her appeal was pending, she also filed a motion in the district court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), seeking to file a fourth version of her complaint with the district court.The court denied her request, finding that her efforts were pursued in bad faith, that her repeated failures to cure defects in her pleadings had been prejudicial to the defendants, and that the fourth complaint would, in any event, be futile. Daulatzai appealed that ruling as well.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, finding that Daulatzai had failed to establish any of the grounds for relief under Rule 60(b) and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Daulatzai leave to file her proposed third amended complaint. The court also found that Daulatzai had waived her challenge to the district court’s dismissal of her second amended complaint by failing to preserve it below. View "Daulatzai v. Maryland" on Justia Law

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This case involves Jade P. Schiewe and Zachary Pfaff, who filed a lawsuit against the Cessna Aircraft Company, alleging negligence after a plane crash in September 2010. The plaintiffs were flying a Cessna 172RG when a fire erupted in the cockpit, leading to a crash landing. They claimed that Cessna was negligent in not updating its service manual to include a new part and its installation instructions. Cessna, however, filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiffs' claims were barred by the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA), an act that limits liability for aircraft manufacturers 18 years after the delivery of the aircraft to its first purchaser.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma affirmed the lower court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Cessna. The court held that the service manual was created by Cessna in its capacity as a manufacturer, and thus, was included within the limitation period provided in GARA. The court further found that Cessna had not added or omitted anything to the service manual that was a proximate cause of the accident, and thus, the GARA statute of repose did not restart. Therefore, the plaintiffs' claims were barred by GARA as the statute of repose had expired. View "SCHIEWE v. CESSNA AIRCRAFT CO" on Justia Law

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In this case, Glen Pace, a Mississippi resident, appealed the dismissal of his claims against multiple corporate defendants over personal injuries he suffered in a Texas airplane crash. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi dismissed the claims against the out-of-state defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction and held that the two Mississippi defendants were improperly joined, which allowed removal to federal court.Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The appellate court agreed that Pace failed to state a claim against either in-state defendant, and thus, they were improperly joined. As for the out-of-state defendants, the court found that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. The court reasoned that the aircraft crash, any equipment failure, and the injuries all occurred in Texas, and Pace's subsequent medical treatment and damages in Mississippi did not constitute an actual injury felt in the state for the purpose of establishing personal jurisdiction. The court held that Pace's injuries from the crash occurred in Texas and his subsequent medical treatment in Mississippi were "consequences stemming from the actual tort injury," which do not confer personal jurisdiction.The court also denied Pace's request for jurisdictional discovery, stating that Pace failed to present specific facts or reasonable particularity regarding jurisdictional facts. The court stressed that its decision should not be interpreted as implying a view on the merits of Pace’s claims. View "Pace v. Cirrus Design Corp" on Justia Law

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In this case, a woman was severely injured while moving an inoperable airplane owned by her husband. She sought recovery from her husband's homeowner's insurance policy. The insurance policy, however, excluded injuries "arising out of" the ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of an aircraft. The woman argued that the policy should cover her injury because, in her view, the aircraft had become mere "parts" after her husband removed the wings, elevators, and tail rudder. The lower court disagreed and concluded that her injuries were not covered by the policy. The woman appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska agreed with the lower court’s interpretation of the homeowner's insurance policy exclusion. The court maintained that regardless of whether the airplane was considered an aircraft or a collection of airplane “parts” when it injured the woman, the injury arose out of the husband’s ownership of the airplane. This interpretation was supported by the clear language of the policy which excluded coverage for bodily injury arising out of ownership or maintenance of an aircraft. As a result, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision. View "Thompson v. United Services Automobile Association" on Justia Law

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A group of petitioners, including several municipalities, private individuals, and organizations, challenged the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) approval of a new terminal for the Trenton-Mercer Airport. The petitioners alleged that the FAA’s decision violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to fully consider the environmental impact of the new terminal, among other things. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the FAA had adequately considered the environmental impact of the new terminal and had not violated NEPA. The court found that the FAA reasonably concluded that the new terminal would not induce additional air traffic, and therefore, would not result in increased noise or air pollution. The court also found that the FAA had conducted a reasonable environmental justice analysis and did not need to perform a health risk assessment. The Court of Appeals denied the petitioners' request to review the FAA's decision. View "Trenton Threatened Skies Inc v. FAA" on Justia Law