178 F.3d 132 (3rd Cir. 1999), 98-6257, Paramount Aviation Corp. v. Agusta

Docket Nº:98-6257
Citation:178 F.3d 132
Opinion Judge:BECKER, Chief Judge.
Party Name:PARAMOUNT AVIATION CORPORATION, Appellant v. GRUPPO AGUSTA; AGUSTA AEROSPACE CORPORATION; COSTRUZIONI AERONAUTICHE GIOVANNI, Augusta, S.P.A.; AUGUSTA, S.P.A
Attorney:CATHERINE B. SLAVIN, ESQUIRE (ARGUED), Wolk & Genter, Philadelphia, PA, Counsel for Appellant. JOHN R. ALTIERI, ESQUIRE (ARGUED), Hackensack, NJ. RUDOLPH V. PINO, JR., ESQUIRE, JOANNA ROBERTO, ESQUIRE, PINO & ASSOCIATES, Westchester Financial Center, White Plains, NY, Counsel for Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before: BECKER, Chief Judge, LEWIS and WELLFORD, [*] Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 13, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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Page 132

178 F.3d 132 (3rd Cir. 1999)

PARAMOUNT AVIATION CORPORATION, Appellant

v.

GRUPPO AGUSTA; AGUSTA AEROSPACE CORPORATION; COSTRUZIONI AERONAUTICHE GIOVANNI, Augusta, S.P.A.; AUGUSTA, S.P.A

No. 98-6257

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

May 13, 1999

         Argued March 25, 1999.

         As Amended June 4, 1999.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          On Appeal From the United States District Court For the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Civ. No. 91-cv-04954). District Judge: Honorable John W. Bissell.

          Reversed District Court's grant of summary judgment to the Agusta defendants on Paramount's tort claims and remanded for further proceedings. Affirmed District Court's determination of the amount owed on AAC's counterclaims, but vacated judgment on counterclaims pending disposition of Paramount's tort claims.

         CATHERINE B. SLAVIN, ESQUIRE (ARGUED), Wolk & Genter, Philadelphia, PA, Counsel for Appellant.

         JOHN R. ALTIERI, ESQUIRE (ARGUED), Hackensack, NJ. RUDOLPH V. PINO, JR., ESQUIRE, JOANNA ROBERTO, ESQUIRE, PINO & ASSOCIATES, Westchester Financial Center, White Plains, NY, Counsel for Appellees.

         Before: BECKER, Chief Judge, LEWIS and WELLFORD, [*] Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

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         BECKER, Chief Judge.

         New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine is an extremely robust claim preclusion device that requires adversaries to join all possible claims stemming from an event or series of events in one suit. Animated by the laudable goal of easing the burdens of excessive litigation, the doctrine was developed in the domestic context, precluding suits in New Jersey courts based on disputes that were previously the subject of litigation in New Jersey courts. It has attained interjurisdictional proportions, however, and has been used in New Jersey to preclude claims based on a failure to effect joinder in previous litigation in non-New Jersey courts, where such joinder was not required by those courts' own rules. The repercussions of the doctrine have prompted adverse scholarly comment. See generally Symposium: Entire Controversy Doctrine, 28 Rutgers L.J. 1 (1996). 1

          This case began with a helicopter crash, though the facts have little bearing on the issue before us. We must decide whether a federal court in New Jersey should, when exercising its diversity jurisdiction, apply the entire controversy doctrine to bar the plaintiff from asserting claims against the defendants because they were not asserted in prior litigation involving the instant parties and others in federal courts in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. We conclude that we should not. Disagreeing with the District Court, which barred the plaintiff 's claim, we hold that federal courts should apply the general rule that the preclusive effect of a judgment is determined by the preclusion law of the issuing court--in this case, a federal court. We will, therefore, reverse the District Court's grant of summary judgment

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to the defendants on the plaintiff 's tort claims and remand for further proceedings. We will also uphold the District Court's determination of the amount owed to defendant Agusta Aerospace Corporation (" AAC" ) on its counterclaims, but we will vacate the judgment on the counterclaims pending disposition of Paramount's tort claims.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

          On October 10, 1989, an Agusta 109A helicopter crashed in New Jersey, killing the pilot, co-pilot, and three passengers, who were top-echelon employees of the Trump Hotel and Casino enterprises. The helicopter was manufactured by Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta (" CAGA" ) and purchased by AAC. CAGA is a subsidiary of Agusta S.p.A. and a part of Gruppo Agusta. AAC is CAGA's wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary. These are the " Agusta defendants." AAC sold the helicopter to Clifton Park Association, which sold it to FSQ Air Charter Corporation (" FSQ" ). Paramount Aviation, Inc. (" Paramount" ) arranged for this sale to FSQ and contracted with FSQ to manage the aircraft and to supply one of the two pilots who operated it.

         The first lawsuit arising from the crash was Kent v. Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta, Gruppo Agusta, Agusta Aviation Corp., & Paramount Aviation, Inc. (" Kent " ), filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, on March 30, 1990, by the widow and estate of co-pilot Robert Kent. The Agusta defendants filed answers asserting cross-claims against Paramount for contribution and indemnification, and Paramount's answer included cross-claims against the Agusta defendants for contribution and indemnification, but no affirmative claims. This case settled on November 27, 1990, for $ 3,150,000, of which the Agusta defendants paid $ 2,900,000 and Paramount paid $ 250,000.

         Second came Trump Taj Mahal Assoc., Trump Castle Assoc., Trump Plaza Assoc., & Helicopter Air Services, Inc. v. Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta, Agusta, Gruppo Agusta, Agusta Aviation Corp., & Paramount Aviation Corp. (" Trump " ), filed in 1990 in the Superior Court of New Jersey and immediately removed to federal court. Prior to serving answers, the defendants filed motions for summary judgment, and the district court dismissed all counts, ruling that the plaintiff-employers were not entitled to recover under any of the theories they had alleged. See Trump Taj Mahal Assoc. v. Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta, S.p.A., 761 F.Supp. 1143 (D.N.J. 1991), aff'd mem., 958 F.2d 365 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 826 (1992). Paramount and the Agusta defendants asserted no cross-claims against each other, nor was there occasion for them to do so after the summary judgment motions were granted.

         Next came FSQ Air Charter Corp. v. Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta, Agusta, Gruppo Agusta, & Agusta Aviation Corp. (" FSQ " ), filed in 1991 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. AAC filed a third-party complaint against Paramount, and Paramount answered without raising affirmative defenses or counterclaims. The parties' insurers defended the action, which was settled in June 1992 with an exchange of mutual releases that specifically excluded the claims in the case before us.

         Fourth was Paramount Aviation Corp. v. Gruppo Agusta, Agusta Aviation Corp., Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta, & Agusta S.p.A. (" PAC I " ), filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in 1990. That complaint alleged seven counts of tortious behavior, including negligence, willful misconduct, and strict tort liability. Paramount claimed that the crash caused it adverse publicity, public hostility, loss of clients and goodwill, loss of income, and other damages. On August 16,1990, the complaint was voluntarily

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dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41, without prejudice, prior to answer. Kent was still pending at that point, and Trump was on appeal.

         Finally, PAC II, the instant case, was filed in New Jersey Superior Court in 1991. Alleging the same damages as PAC I, plaintiff Paramount stated two counts: (1) negligence, gross negligence, and willful and reckless misconduct; and (2) strict tort liability. Paramount claimed damages as a result of the Agusta defendants' manufacturing and design, which allegedly caused the crash. The case was removed, and the Agusta defendants (except for " Gruppo Agusta," which seems to be an umbrella name without independent corporate existence) filed answers in October 1992, while AAC also stated a counterclaim against Paramount for amounts allegedly owed for another Agusta helicopter and for payments for spare parts, service, and training. Although the complaint contained a certification about Trump and FSQ, as required by N.J. Rule 4:5-1, the Agusta defendants did not raise the entire controversy doctrine in their answers. The defendants first raised the entire controversy doctrine in February 1996 and filed a summary judgment motion on that ground in February 1997.

         The District Court granted summary judgment against Paramount on its claim, reasoning that the claim was barred by the entire controversy doctrine. It then granted summary judgment for AAC on the counterclaim. Paramount appeals.

         II. The Entire Controversy Doctrine

         A. Introduction; The District Court's Rationale

          Under the entire controversy doctrine, a party cannot withhold part of a controversy for separate later litigation even when the withheld component is a separate and independently cognizable cause of action. The doctrine has three purposes: (1) complete and final disposition of cases through avoidance of piecemeal decisions; (2) fairness to parties to an action and to others with a material interest in it; and (3) efficiency and avoidance of waste and delay. See DiTrolio v. Antiles, 142 N.J. 253, 662 A.2d 494, 502 (N.J. 1995). As an equitable doctrine, its application is flexible, with a case-by-case appreciation for fairness to the parties.

          The entire controversy doctrine is an affirmative defense, waived if not pleaded or otherwise timely raised. See Brown v. Brown, 208 N.J.Super. 372, 506 A.2d 29, 35 (N.J. S.Ct. App.Div. 1986). Notwithstanding that principle, the District Court held that failure to raise the doctrine in a responsive pleading should be viewed in light of the federal policy of liberally allowing amendments if the issue was raised at a pragmatically sufficient time. See Kleinknecht v. Gettysburg College, 989 F.2d 1360, 1374 (3d Cir. 1993). Although the defendants had not formally raised the entire controversy defense until their motion for summary...

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