479 F.Supp. 727 (M.D.Pa. 1979), Civ. A. 77-1159, Reyno v. Piper Aircraft Co.

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 77-1159
Citation:479 F.Supp. 727
Party Name:Reyno v. Piper Aircraft Co.
Case Date:October 19, 1979
Court:United States District Courts, 3th Circuit, Middle District of Pennsylvania

Page 727

479 F.Supp. 727 (M.D.Pa. 1979)

Gaynell REYNO, Personal Representative of William Fehilly, Liam Stuart Fehilly, William James McDougall Storm, David Vincent Moran and Peter Cunningham Scott, Plaintiffs,


PIPER AIRCRAFT COMPANY, a corporation, Avco Lycoming Engine Division, a Division of Avco Corporation, Hartzell Propeller, Inc., a corporation, Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 77-1159.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania.

Oct. 19, 1979

Page 728

Michael D. Moorhead, Magana, Cathcart & McCarthy, Los Angeles, Cal., Lee C. Swartz, Hepford, Zimmerman & Swartz, Harrisburg, Pa., for plaintiffs.

Chase, Rotchford, Drukker & Bogust, Peter P. Brotzen, Los Angeles, Cal., Ronald C. Scott, Philadelphia, Pa., for Hartzell Propeller, Inc.

Charles J. McKelvey, Williamsport, Pa., Kirtland & Packard, Los Angeles, Cal., for Piper Aircraft.


HERMAN, District Judge.

This action arises out of an airplane crash near Tulla, Scotland on July 27, 1976 in which all persons aboard were killed. The Plaintiff, Gaynell Reyno, instituted this suit as the personal representative of five decedents, William Fehilly, Liam Stuart Fehilly, William James McDougall Storm, David Vincent Moran, and Peter Cunningham Scott. Gaynell Reyno seeks general damages for the heirs and next of kin of the above decedents and damages for funeral and burial expenses in this suit styled as one for wrongful death on the basis of products liability and negligence theories. The remaining Defendants, Piper Aircraft Company and Hartzell Propeller, Inc., were the manufacturers of the aircraft and propeller respectively. A number of motions are presently before the court, a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Hartzell Propeller, a motion for judgment on the pleadings or for summary judgment filed by Piper Aircraft, and two motions to strike a responsive brief filed by the Plaintiff. After reviewing the extensive materials submitted by all parties, we have concluded that this action must be dismissed on the ground of Forum non conveniens. This dismissal will be conditioned on the Defendants abiding by their stipulation to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts of Scotland and their waiver of the Scottish statute of limitations.

Several issues were raised by the motions of the Defendants. Other than their main

Page 729

argument that the action should be dismissed under the doctrine of Forum non conveniens, the Defendants also asserted that under applicable choice of laws rules that the law of Scotland would control this action and that pursuant to Scottish law, the Plaintiff neither has standing nor a right to proceed under the theory of strict tort liability. This question of the applicable law is interrelated with the analysis for Forum non conveniens and because of our decision that the Defendants have shown overwhelming reasons for dismissal under this doctrine, we need not directly confront the standing and liability issues. The Plaintiff has also raised the question of estoppel which we have found to be unpersuasive.

Our primary attention therefore is focused on the factors applicable to the doctrine of Forum non conveniens and the question whether we should exercise jurisdiction over this action brought by reason of an aircraft accident in Scotland, in which Scottish citizens who were passengers and a Scottish pilot, acting in the course of his employment with a Scottish Air Service, were killed while flying in Scottish airspace and when all decedents' survivors, the real parties in interest, are citizens and residents of Scotland and more particularly, when the only contact with Pennsylvania is that it was the site of the manufacture of the airplane involved in this litigation, not the propeller which was manufactured and designed in Ohio, over seven years prior to the date of the fatal accident. Too much has happened from the date the airplane left the plant of Piper Aircraft, which goes to the heart of the question of liability, that the contact with this forum with respect to this action can at best be described as plainly insignificant.

The procedural history of this case is important to our decision of dismissal. The action was instituted by Plaintiff Reyno in the Superior Court of the state of California for the county of Los Angeles in July of 1977. After being removed to federal court in August of that year, Defendant Hartzell filed a motion to dismiss the action for lack of personal jurisdiction or in the alternative to transfer the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. s 1404(a). Defendant Piper then joined in Defendant Hartzell's motion to transfer the action on November 23, 1977. The District Court entered an order on December 21, 1977 granting Defendant Hartzell's motion to quash service of process and granting the motion to transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The quashing of service of process to Hartzell was based on due process considerations set forth in International Shoe Company v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945). The court did not dismiss the action against Defendant Hartzell since valid service against it was possible in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The importance of the transfer of the action and the quashing of service against Hartzell lies in the applicable choice of laws rule that is relevant to each Defendant under rules of Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 84 S.Ct. 805, 11 L.Ed.2d 945 (1964) and Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing, 313 U.S. 487, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1944).

The facts as noted center on the crash of an aircraft on July 27, 1976 in which the pilot and all passengers were killed in the navigable air space near Tulla, Scotland. The aircraft involved in the accident was a Piper Model TA-23 bearing British registration mark G-AYSF which was manufactured by Defendant Piper at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. The plane's propeller was designed and manufactured by Defendant Hartzell Propeller, Inc. in Ohio. The aircraft was being piloted at the time of the accident by a Scottish citizen and resident, over mountainous terrain in southern Scotland. Subsequent to the manufacture of the aircraft involved in this accident it was sold and delivered to a purchaser in Ohio for use in the United States. By a chain of events, apparently still unknown to the Defendants, the plane came to be owned and operated by a Scottish air-taxie company in Scotland and the British Isles. The plane was owned, operated, maintained, and serviced by the Scottish owner for several years preceding the accident of July 27,

Page 730

1976. The British Department of Trade Investigation investigated the accident shortly after its occurrence. Presently, what remains of the wreckage is in the possession of the British Department of Trade Investigation.

The Plaintiff, Gaynell Reyno instituted this action as the personal representative of the estates of five of the decedents. All of these decedents were citizens and residents of the country of Scotland. Also, all heirs and next of kin, and all those persons entitled to recover by virtue of the deaths of the passengers, (if any recovery is decreed), are citizens and residents of the country of Scotland. Plaintiff Reyno is a citizen and resident of California and is not related to the decedents.

The Defendants assert that the accident was due to pilot error or improper maintenance and servicing of the aircraft and in this respect have stated their desire and inability to join the operating company by whom the pilot was employed, the pilot's estate, and the owner and maintainer of the aircraft. A lawsuit has been brought before the courts of Scotland naming as defendants the operating company, MacDonald Aviation, Ltd., the owner of the plane, Air Navigation and Trading Company, Ltd., the executor of the pilot's estate, and the Civil Aviation Authority. Also an action was commenced in the courts of Great Britain against Piper Aircraft and Hartzell Propellers along with MacDonald Aviation and Air Navigation and Trading Company by a personal representative of the sixth passenger in the aircraft at the time of the accident, the only passenger not represented by Gaynell Reyno in the instant action. Therefore at least one action is pending before the courts in the United Kingdom against the present Defendants and other involved parties.

We now begin with a discussion of the factors that we believe substantially point to the dismissal of this action under the doctrine of Forum non conveniens. We have the inherent power to refuse jurisdiction over a case such as this one where the interests of justice require that the suit be brought in a foreign country. Gulf Oil Corporation v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 67 S.Ct. 839, 91 L.Ed. 1055 (1947); DeMateos v. Texaco, Inc., 562 F.2d 895 (3d Cir. 1977), Cert. denied 435 U.S. 904, 98 S.Ct. 1449, 55 L.Ed.2d 494 (1978); Fitzgerald v. Texaco, Inc., 521 F.2d 448 (2d Cir. 1975) Cert. denied 423 U.S. 1052, 96 S.Ct. 781, 46 L.Ed.2d 641 (1976); Dahl v. United Technologies Corporation, 472 F.Supp. 696 (D.Del.1979).

The general factors that we must consider in determining whether to dismiss an action for Forum non conveniens were set forth by the Supreme Court in Gulf Oil Corporation v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 67 S.Ct. 839, 91 L.Ed. 1055 (1947). Mr. Justice Jackson enumerated in that decision numerous private and public interests that should be considered under the doctrine. The factors pertaining to the private interests of the litigants are the "relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling, and the cost of obtaining attendance of willing, witnesses; possibility of view of premises, if view would be appropriate to the action; and all other practical problems...

To continue reading