Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co.

Decision Date28 May 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-3324,90-3324
Citation932 F.2d 170
PartiesGraeme MacArthur LACEY, Appellant, v. CESSNA AIRCRAFT COMPANY, a corporation; Hanlon & Wilson Company, a corporation; Teledyne, Inc., a corporation; and John Does 1-10.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Herbert E. Adelman (argued), Arlington, Va., Michael Louik, Berger, Kapetan, Malakoff & Meyers, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellant.

Eric N. Anderson (argued), Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek, Eck & Hall, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellee Cessna Aircraft Co.

Robert L. Potter (argued), Strassburger, McKenna, Gutnick & Potter, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellee Hanlon & Wilson Co.

Eric P. Reif (argued), Amy Acheson, Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellee Teledyne, Inc.

Before BECKER and NYGAARD, Circuit Judges, and POLLAK, District Judge. *


BECKER, Circuit Judge.

This appeal requires us to revisit the doctrine of forum non conveniens and to explore again the impact of Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 102 S.Ct. 252, 70 L.Ed.2d 419 (1981), on that doctrine. The setting is the marathon struggle of Graeme MacArthur Lacey, an Australian citizen who suffered severe burns as a result of a plane crash in British Columbia, to litigate his products liability action in the Western District of Pennsylvania. Lacey's antagonists are Cessna Aircraft Company ("Cessna"), the manufacturer of the aircraft; Teledyne, Inc. ("Teledyne"), the manufacturer of the aircraft's engines; and Hanlon & Wilson Company ("Hanlon & Wilson"), the manufacturer of the aircraft's exhaust system. These defendants insist that Lacey's action cannot proceed fairly in the Western District of Pennsylvania, and that instead it should be litigated in British Columbia.

The district court, accepting defendants' arguments, dismissed Lacey's suit on forum non conveniens grounds. We reversed, holding, inter alia, that the defendants had not submitted sufficient evidence to facilitate proper forum non conveniens analysis, and that the district court had not adequately considered the relevant private and public interest factors outlined in Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 67 S.Ct. 839, 91 L.Ed. 1055 (1947), and in Piper. Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 862 F.2d 38 49 (3d Cir.1988). On remand, the district court again dismissed Lacey's suit, conditioning its dismissal on the fulfillment of several requirements, most notably on the defendants' agreement to "make available to plaintiff in British Columbia, for discovery and trial, all relevant witnesses and documents within defendants' control." Lacey v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 736 F.Supp. 662, 669 (W.D.Pa.1990). The district court, in response to our earlier reversal, accorded specific deference to Lacey's forum choice and analyzed seriatim the private and public interest factors. In so doing, the court concluded that the relevant factors preponderate strongly in favor of proceeding in British Columbia. This appeal followed.

Lacey challenges the court's second forum non conveniens dismissal on numerous grounds. Positing that there is a special obligation on defendants to proceed expeditiously with forum non conveniens motions, Lacey attacks as an abuse of discretion the court's decision to admit certain untimely materials, particularly Hanlon & Wilson's "statement of position." Absent this submission, Lacey claims, defendants' forum non conveniens motions would have failed as a matter of law. Additionally, Lacey insists that the district court's forum non conveniens analysis is flawed because the court failed: (1) to indicate with the requisite precision the amount of deference due plaintiff's forum choice; (2) to "entangle" itself sufficiently in the facts of the case; and (3) to analyze adequately and correctly the relevant private and public interest factors.

With respect to this latter point, Lacey places particular emphasis on the court's assessment of three factors, namely, relative ease of access to sources of proof, application of foreign law, and relative advantages and obstacles to a fair trial. He argues that the district court's treatment of these factors was in error because it incorrectly: (1) assumed that the evidence essential to plaintiff's products liability claim is in defendants' control; (2) concluded that plaintiff would be able to discover in British Columbia evidence in the possession of non-parties in the United States; (3) determined that British Columbia law would apply if this case were to proceed in the Western District of Pennsylvania; and (4) assigned dispositive weight to the possibility of joining all potentially culpable parties in British Columbia.

Many of Lacey's challenges fall well short of the mark. In particular, we think that the district court: (1) acted within its discretion in accepting Hanlon & Wilson's untimely submission; (2) accorded adequate weight to plaintiff's forum choice; and (3) immersed itself sufficiently in the facts of the case. Furthermore, we are mindful that the district court's forum non conveniens determination may be reversed only if there has been a clear abuse of discretion. If the district court has considered and balanced reasonably all of the relevant private and public interest factors, we must affirm. Piper, 454 U.S. at 257, 102 S.Ct. at 266-67. Despite our deferential standard of review, we believe, regretfully, that Lacey has identified a serious shortcoming in the district court's analysis that requires yet another remand.

At this stage of the litigation, the crux of Lacey's complaint is that a defect in the aircraft's exhaust system, which allegedly was manufactured by Hanlon & Wilson in Pennsylvania, caused the crash. That theory is supported by the final report of the Canadian Aviation Safety Board ("CASB"). In May of 1985, however, Hanlon & Wilson sold its aircraft exhaust system business to an Oklahoma corporation and transferred to that company all of the documents pertaining thereto. As a result, and contrary to the assumption on which the district court's order overtly depends, Hanlon & Wilson now represents that no documents relating to or personnel familiar with the company's prior aircraft exhaust business are under its control. Lacey therefore contends that the court's order requiring defendants to produce in British Columbia all relevant witnesses and documents in their custody is inadequate to ensure his access to sources of proof. We agree. Lacey also submits that this problem is exacerbated by his inability to discover in British Columbia, or, still more important, ultimately obtain, evidence within the control of non-parties in the United States. We think that this submission has force as well.

In dismissing Lacey's action, the district court did not consider the impediments that Lacey might face in gaining access to sources of proof in British Columbia, impediments that potentially rob British Columbia of its practical value as a forum. In view of this error, as well as other subsidiary points discussed below, we are unable to defer to the district court's conclusion "that the public and private interests both preponderate strongly in favor of dismissal." 736 F.Supp. at 669. Rather, we think that an order which dismisses a suit on forum non conveniens grounds without taking into account a critical limitation on the plaintiff's ability to prosecute his or her action in the alternative forum constitutes an abuse of discretion. We therefore will reverse the district court's dismissal of Lacey's suit and remand the case with instructions to determine whether Lacey would have access in British Columbia to witnesses and documents essential to his products liability action. If Lacey would not have access to essential evidence at trial in British Columbia, we believe that the court must deny defendants' motions to dismiss. In the course of our extended discussion, we will explain why this holding fully comports with the Supreme Court's decision in Piper.


Because the instant undertaking represents the fifth published opinion this case has spawned, 1 we will abbreviate our recitation of the facts. Lacey is an Australian citizen who, in 1985, was working temporarily in British Columbia for that province's forest service. Lacey boarded a Cessna 421A aircraft for a non-scheduled passenger flight from Invermere Airport to Kamloops, both of which are in British Columbia. Five people, in addition to Lacey, were on board--the pilot, Chris Pederson, and four other passengers, all of whom were residents of British Columbia. Almost immediately after takeoff, the aircraft's right engine lost power, and the plane crashed in a clearing not far from the runway. Lacey, the other passengers, and the pilot were able to exit the aircraft, but they sustained serious burn injuries. Lacey was treated for three months at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, and then transferred to a hospital in Melbourne, Australia. After the crash, certain parts of the aircraft were sent to the CASB for examination. The CASB's final report attributed the crash to the plane's exhaust system, stating that "[t]he right engine lost power when metal pieces from the deteriorating internal sliding sleeves in the exhaust stack entered the turbocharger and prevented the turbine from turning."

The Cessna 421A in which Lacey was a passenger was manufactured by Cessna, a Kansas corporation with its principal place of business in Kansas. The aircraft's engines were manufactured by Teledyne, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in California, and the aircraft's exhaust system was manufactured by Hanlon & Wilson, a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in Pennsylvania. The actions of the following non-party British Columbia corporations were also implicated by the crash: Sunrise Aviation Ltd., which operated the aircraft; ...

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