Downing v. Losvar

Decision Date14 April 2022
Docket Number36298-1-III
Parties Sandra Lynne DOWNING, individually and as Personal Representative of The Estate of Brian Downing, Deceased, and on behalf of Kristyl Downing and James Downing, Death Beneficiaries of The Estate of Brian Downing, Respondents, v. Blair LOSVAR, Personal Representative of The Estate of Albert E. Losvar. Deceased, Respondent, Lycoming, a Division of Avco Corporation, a Delaware corporation and subsidiary of Textron Aviation, Inc., a foreign corporation; and John Does 1-20, Defendants, Textron Aviation, Inc., a Kansas corporation formerly Cessna, Aircraft Company, Petitioner.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

PUBLISHED OPINION

Fearing, J.

¶1 "[T]his exact fact pattern (a resident-plaintiff sues a global [aviation] company, extensively serving the state market ... for an in-state accident)’ also effectively functions ‘as an illustration—even a paradigm example—of how specific jurisdiction works." Cohen v. Continental Motors, Inc. , 2021-NCCOA-449, 279 N.C.App. 123, 864 S.E.2d 816, 827 (2021), review denied , ––– N.C. ––––, 868 S.E.2d 859 (2022) (alterations in original) (quoting Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court , ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 1017, 1028, 209 L. Ed. 2d 225 (2021) ).
We're not [only] in Kansas anymore. Paraphrase of Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz .

¶2 This appeal presents the first opportunity for a Washington appellate court to review and apply the United States Supreme Court's recent ruling, in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court , ––– U.S. ––––, 141 S. Ct. 1017, 209 L.Ed.2d 225 (2021), explicating the basis for personal jurisdiction over a nonresident manufacturer. Textron Aviation Inc., the successor corporation to Cessna Aircraft Company, challenges the superior court's ruling that Washington courts possess personal jurisdiction over the aviation company in this lawsuit brought as the result of a crash of a Cessna airplane in Okanogan County. In so arguing, Textron Aviation takes flight in order to dissociate and distance itself from the company's promotional material that boasts of its manufacturing planes for a worldwide market and brags about its far ranging and quick service throughout the nation. Because the owner of the Cessna plane resided in Washington State, because the crash occurred in Washington State, because Cessna Aircraft Company possessed extensive contacts with Washington State, and because this lawsuit relates in part to those contacts, we affirm the superior court's finding of personal jurisdiction under Washington's long-arm statute and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court compels our ruling.

FACTS

¶3 This lawsuit arises from the crash of a Cessna T182T Skylane, four-seat light piston-engine aircraft. The impact killed pilot Albert Losvar and passenger Brian Downing. The estate of Brian Downing initiated this suit against the estate of Albert Losvar on the theory of pilot error and failure to maintain the aircraft. After some discovery, Downing's estate concluded that the plane likely malfunctioned, and the estate added Textron Aviation Inc., the successor corporation to the manufacturer of the plane, Cessna Aircraft Company, as a defendant. The estate of Albert Losvar cross claimed against Textron Aviation.

¶4 We purloin our facts from the complaint of the estate of Brian Downing, the cross claim of the estate of Albert Losvar, and affidavits filed by the parties in support of and in opposition to Textron Aviation's motion to dismiss. These facts extend to the nature and extent of Cessna Aircraft Company's and Textron Aviation's business, Cessna's activities in Washington State, the provenance of the Cessna T182T involved in the Okanogan County crash, and the few facts known about the crash. We refer to Textron Aviation Inc. as "Textron Aviation" and its parent company Textron Inc. as "Textron." We refer to Cessna Aircraft Company as "Cessna." We refer to the respective estates simply as Downing and Losvar. For purposes of this appeal, Downing and Losvar hold the same interests and forward the same arguments.

¶5 Cessna designed and manufactured the T182T model aircraft in Kansas. In 2008, Cessna, not Textron Aviation, sold the Cessna T182T craft at issue to an authorized Cessna dealer in Napa, California. The Napa dealer retrieved the plane from Independence, Kansas, and the dealer later sold the plane to a customer in San Francisco. In 2012, Albert Losvar purchased the plane from the San Francisco owner.

¶6 Cessna received notice of Albert Losvar's purchase of the used plane and Losvar's Washington address. Between August 2012 and October 2014, Cessna sent Losvar, in Washington State, six notices or service bulletins concerning the Cessna T182T. For example, in March 2014, Cessna sent a service letter to Losvar explaining that a suspect fuel pump might have been installed on his plane. This service letter advised Losvar to inspect his plane's paperwork or the plane's fuel pump to determine if the suspect pump had been installed. As required by law, Textron Aviation mails service bulletins to all registered owners of aircraft covered by the given service bulletin.

¶7 On August 13, 2015, the Cessna T182T plane owned by Albert Losvar departed the airport in Oroville, Washington. Fifteen minutes after taking off, the plane crashed, killing pilot Losvar and passenger Brian Downing.

¶8 Following the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) examined the fuel selector valve from Losvar's plane. The NTSB found "[a] black, rigid solid" material inside the valve. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 722. Nevertheless, the Board could not determine the nature of the material because it had "decomposed to elemental carbon and water" when exposed to high temperatures. CP at 722.

¶9 After the NTSB's examination, an independent aviation accident investigator and reconstructionist, Mark Pottinger, concluded that the black, rigid solid substance, found in the fuel selector valve, contained glass fibers. Pottinger, a man prouder of his aviation engineering background than his law degree, teaches engineering at University of Southern California. Pottinger opined that the glass fibers likely entered the fuel system during manufacturing, and the fibers migrated through the fuel system until they completely obstructed the fuel selector valve. Textron Aviation denies any manufacturing defect and contends the material found inside the valve was deposited in the selector valve only because of the heat immediately following the crash.

¶10 Although Downing and Losvar sue Textron Aviation, we first review the background of Cessna, a predecessor company of Textron Aviation. Tinkerer Clyde Cessna built his first plane in 1911 on the Oklahoma salt plains. By 1927, Cessna, then a car dealer in Enid, Oklahoma, moved his upstart plane construction operation from Enid to Wichita, Kansas, because Enid bankers refused to lend him money. That same year, Cessna formed the Cessna Aircraft Company, which in the mid-to-late twentieth century, functioned as one of the highest volume and most diverse producers of general aviation aircraft. With Cessna and other plane works, Wichita vied with Seattle as Air Capital of the World.

¶11 General Dynamics purchased Cessna in 1985. In 1992, Textron Inc. purchased Cessna from General Dynamics, and Cessna for the next twelve years functioned as a subsidiary of Textron. In March 2014, Textron purchased plane manufacturers Beechcraft and Hawker Aircraft. Cessna then ceased operations as a subsidiary company of Textron and joined the two other manufacturers as one of three distinct brands produced by Textron Aviation Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Textron. At first Textron Aviation was the sole shareholder of Cessna. As a result of a merger in 2017, Textron Aviation became the successor corporation to Cessna. LNS Enterprises LLC v. Continental Motors, Inc. , 22 F.4th 852, 857 (9th Cir. 2022).

¶12 Textron Aviation, a Delaware corporation, is registered as a foreign corporation in Washington. Its headquarters lies at One Cessna Boulevard, in Wichita, Kansas. Textron Aviation continues to design and manufacture Cessna and other planes in Kansas.

¶13 In support of its motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, Textron Aviation submitted the Textron Inc. 2017 Fact Book (Fact Book) , a book concerning the parent company's operations. Textron, the parent company, is a $14.2 billion multi-industry company with 37,000 employees. According to the Fact Book , the Company leverages its global network of aircraft, defense, industrial, and finance businesses to provide customers with innovative products and services. The world-wide public knows Textron "for its powerful brands" such as Bell Helicopters, Cessna, Beechcraft, Hawker, Jacobsen, Kautex, Lycoming, E-Z-GO, Greenlee, Textron Off-Road, Arctic Cat, Textron Systems, and TRU Simulation + Training. According to Textron's 2017 Annual Report, the company provides its customers with "groundbreaking technologies, innovative solutions, and first-class service." CP at 299. Textron's stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange. Textron garners revenue from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Latin America, Europe, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa.

¶14 According to Textron's...

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