Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co.

Decision Date21 November 1988
Docket NumberNo. 87-3822,87-3822
Citation862 F.2d 38
PartiesGraeme MacArthur LACEY, Appellant, v. CESSNA AIRCRAFT COMPANY, a corporation; Hanlon & Wilson Company, a corporation; Teledyne Inc., a corporation; and John Does 1--10, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Michael Louik, Berger, Kapetan, Malakoff & Meyers, Pittsburgh, Pa., Herbert E. Adelman (argued), Ennis, Friedman & Bersoff, Washington, D.C., for appellant.

Eric Reif (argued), Amy Acheson, Reed Smith Shaw & McClay, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellees Teledyne Continental Motors, Aircraft Products, a Division of Teledyne Industries, Inc.

Before BECKER, STAPLETON, and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges.


BECKER, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Graeme MacArthur Lacey appeals from the district court's dismissal of his products liability complaint on forum non conveniens grounds. Plaintiff, an Australian citizen, was injured in a plane crash in British Columbia. He later instituted this diversity action in the district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania seeking damages for personal injuries. Named as defendants were appellees, Cessna Aircraft Company, the manufacturer of the aircraft in which plaintiff was a passenger at the time of the crash, and Hanlon & Wilson Company and Teledyne, Inc., the manufacturers of allegedly defective parts. 1 Hanlon & Wilson, the manufacturer of the exhaust system, which the plaintiff contends was the prime factor in the crash, is located in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Our polestar when dealing with a forum non conveniens issue is Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 102 S.Ct. 252, 70 L.Ed.2d 419 (1981). Piper requires the defendant who files a motion to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds to provide enough information to enable the district court to balance the parties' interests. Piper, 454 U.S. at 258, 102 S.Ct. at 267. This appeal presents two threshold Piper-oriented issues. First, we must consider whether the defendants submitted sufficient information to allow the district court properly to undertake the forum non conveniens analysis. Second, we must decide whether the district court appropriately analyzed the factors to be considered in a forum non conveniens motion. In making this determination, we must also decide whether the district court sufficiently considered the contentions plaintiff raised in opposition to the motions and whether the court's findings and conclusions are sufficiently detailed and supported by the record.

For the reasons that follow, we hold that a district court abuses its discretion when it summarily grants or denies a motion to dismiss on forum non conveniens grounds. Rather, the district court is required to develop adequate facts to support its decision and to articulate specific reasons for its conclusion. On this record, we conclude that the defendants did not submit adequate information of record to facilitate the forum non conveniens analysis. We also conclude that the district court did not hold the defendants to their burden of persuasion; that it did not adequately consider the contentions raised by plaintiff; that it did not adequately consider and balance the relevant private and public interest factors; that its findings and conclusions on the forum non conveniens issue are insufficient; and that they are not completely supported by the record. Since these failures constitute an abuse of discretion, we will reverse and remand for further proceedings. Moreover, clarifying an area of our forum non conveniens jurisprudence, we hold that where a foreign plaintiff is forced to choose between two inconvenient fora, the plaintiff's choice of forum should be given some weight.


This case arises out of an air crash that took place in British Columbia on July 20 1985. Plaintiff is an Australian citizen who was working temporarily in British Columbia with Canadian forest fire fighters. The British Columbia Forest Service arranged for plaintiff to fly on a non-scheduled passenger flight from Invermere Airport to Kamloops, British Columbia. Appellant boarded a Cessna 421A aircraft, which was operated by Sunrise Aviation Ltd., a British Columbia corporation. The aircraft was owned or leased by Warner Aviation Ltd. or Capital Glass Ltd., also British Columbia corporations. It was manufactured by Cessna, a Kansas corporation. The aircraft's engines were manufactured by Teledyne, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in California. The aircraft's exhaust system was manufactured by Hanlon & Wilson, a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in Jeannette, Pennsylvania. The aircraft was maintained by Shaffer Aero Ltd., a British Columbia corporation with its principal place of business in Penticton, British Columbia.

When the aircraft took off from Invermere Airport, six people were on board: pilot Chris Pedersen, from British Columbia, and five passengers, including plaintiff. Within minutes after takeoff, after the aircraft had reached an altitude of approximately 100 feet, the right engine failed or lost most of its power. The aircraft veered to the right, lost altitude and crashed in a clearing approximately one-half mile from the end of the runway. The aircraft and surrounding area were engulfed in flames.

Plaintiff and the other passengers exited the aircraft through the left passenger door, suffering severe burns. Plaintiff was transported to a nearby hospital and subsequently transferred to the Foothills Hospital in Calgary, Alberta. Nearly three months later, he was transferred to a hospital in Melbourne, Australia for further treatment.

After the crash, an engine turbocharger and sections of the aircraft's exhaust system were submitted to the Canadian Aviation Safety Board ("CASB") for examination. The CASB engineering report indicated that "[t]he outer tips of the turbocharger turbine blades were broken and burned," and concluded that "[t]he damage to the tips of the turbocharger turbine blades could not be positively tied to the internal break-up of the exhaust system but there appeared to be little doubt that this was the cause."

On July 17, 1987, plaintiff instituted this action seeking compensatory and punitive damages. The complaint alleged that the air crash was caused by engine failure, which in turn was caused by defects in the design and manufacture of the aircraft's exhaust system and other defects. The action was based upon theories of negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty. Cessna, Hanlon & Wilson and Teledyne filed separate motions to dismiss the complaint on forum non conveniens grounds. These motions were designed to show that the litigation could not fairly proceed in the Western District of Pennsylvania. 2

In its motion to dismiss, Cessna argued that there were "good faith issues of liability as to parties who are citizens of British Columbia, Canada and not subject to the jurisdiction of this Court." In particular, Cessna claimed that pilot Pedersen negligently loaded the aircraft in excess of its permissible weight capacity, failed to ensure that the exhaust system had been properly inspected, and failed to carry out appropriate emergency procedures. Cessna also alleged that the accident was caused in whole or in part by the plane's operator Sunrise Aviation, its maintenance contractor Shaffer Aero, and its owner/lessor Capital Glass. Cessna represented that all of these parties would be subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of British Columbia and that the district court would be required to apply the law of British Columbia and/or Australia to this case.

Teledyne's motion to dismiss argued that plaintiff's suit is more appropriately brought in British Columbia, because that is where the accident occurred, where the wreckage and engine parts are presumed to be located and where pertinent witnesses are believed to reside. Teledyne asserted that litigation arising out of the same accident is pending in British Columbia against several Canadian parties, including Capital Glass, Pedersen and Shaffer, and that these parties are indispensible to this litigation yet are not subject to the jurisdiction of the district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Teledyne attached to its motion a copy of the pleading filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on behalf of The British Aviation Insurance Company Limited, hull insurer of the aircraft. Strangely, however, Teledyne submitted no affidavits to support its motion to dismiss, nor were any affidavits filed by Cessna or Hanlon & Wilson. Plaintiff, on the other hand, submitted several extremely detailed affidavits in opposition to the defendants' motions.

First, an affidavit filed by plaintiff's attorney identified the persons whom plaintiff might depose and/or call as witnesses, including past and present employees of Hanlon & Wilson, Teledyne and Cessna, Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") officials in Wichita, Kansas, and Stainless Steel Products Company personnel in California. 3 Plaintiff also submitted the affidavits of three persons residing in British Columbia, including the pilot Pedersen, who stated they would make themselves available for depositions in connection with this litigation. 4 Pedersen also stated that he had retained the parts of the aircraft that failed in the crash and would make the parts available for inspection and testing. He represented that most of the aircraft has been sold for parts.

In another submission by the plaintiff, Elsie Sands, a barrister and solicitor in Vancouver, British Columbia, identified the four witnesses to the crash, all of whom live in Canada 5 and stated that CASB officials indicated to her their willingness, on proper notice, to be deposed in Ottawa, Ontario. She also revealed that FAA data on defects and malfunctions of Cessna aircraft can...

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