Miller v. United Technologies Corp., No. 15012

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtKATZ; BORDEN, Associate Justice, with whom PALMER
Citation660 A.2d 810,233 Conn. 732
Parties, 64 USLW 2041 Sigmund MILLER, Temporary Administrator (Estates of Mohamed Abdul-Samed Dighidi et al.) v. UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION et al. Sigmund MILLER, Administrator (Estates of Mohamed Abdul-Samed Dighidi et al.) v. UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION et al.
Docket NumberNo. 15012
Decision Date27 June 1995

Page 810

660 A.2d 810
233 Conn. 732, 64 USLW 2041
Sigmund MILLER, Temporary Administrator (Estates of Mohamed
Abdul-Samed Dighidi et al.)
v.
UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION et al.
Sigmund MILLER, Administrator (Estates of Mohamed
Abdul-Samed Dighidi et al.)
v.
UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION et al.
No. 15012.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued Jan. 13, 1995.
Decided June 27, 1995.

Page 814

[233 Conn. 734] Rosalind J. Koskoff, with whom were Michael P. Koskoff and, on the brief, Mark C. Durkin and Richard A. Bieder, Bridgeport, for the appellant (plaintiff as administrator of the estate of Mohamed Abdul-Samed Dighidi).

Steven E. Arnold, with whom was Jack G. Steigelfest, Hartford, for the appellee (named defendant).

Patrick J. Monahan, with whom, on the brief, was Charles P. Reed, New Haven, for the appellee (defendant General Dynamics Corp.).

Keith D. Dunnigan, with whom, on the brief, was Kevin S. Coyne, Bridgeport, for the appellee (defendant Chandler-Evans, Inc.).

Before [233 Conn. 732] BORDEN, BERDON, NORCOTT, KATZ and PALMER, JJ.

[233 Conn. 734] KATZ, Associate Justice.

This appeal requires us to decide whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, United Technologies Corporation (United Technologies), Chandler-Evans, Inc. (Chandler-Evans), and General Dynamics Corporation (General Dynamics), and against the plaintiff, Sigmund Miller, based on the government contractor [233 Conn. 735] defense. The threshold issue before the court is whether the government contractor defense, which affords United States government contractors immunity from state tort liability, can apply in a case involving military equipment that the United States government had purchased for resale to a foreign government. If we determine that the defense can apply in such circumstances, we must then decide whether these defendants are entitled, as a matter of law, to immunity under the government contractor defense from the plaintiff's claims alleging design defect and failure to warn.

The trial record, including testimony taken during depositions, reveals the following undisputed facts. On January 20, 1983, two Egyptian pilots embarked on a training mission in a single engine F-16B jet fighter aircraft that had been supplied to the Egyptian government by the United States government as part of the Camp David Accord. 1 This aircraft was owned and operated by the Egyptian government. One of the pilots, Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Abdul-Samed Dighidi, was the squadron commander and a highly trained and experienced instructor in the operation of F-16 aircraft. The second pilot was Major Gamal Al-Maghraby Hassan. The purpose of the mission was for Dighidi to "check out" Hassan in preparation for his solo flight. A second F-16B flown by two United States Air Force (Air Force) pilots, Major Michael Lotti and Major Harry Morgan, accompanied the Egyptian aircraft as part of the mission.

During the course of the mission, Dighidi communicated to Lotti and Morgan that he was experiencing problems with the engine. He first indicated that the generator had shut down. Thereafter, the oil pressure light came on and the engine failed. Dighidi then maneuvered the aircraft in an attempt to make an [233 Conn. 736] emergency landing, but he was

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unsuccessful and the aircraft crashed about one mile short of the runway. Both Dighidi and Hassan were killed in the crash.

A subsequent investigation into the cause of the crash revealed that the Egyptian F-16B had sustained a massive failure of the main fuel pump, a variable displacement vane pump with an inlet vented sideplate (IVSP) configuration, 2 which then caused the engine to fail. The fuel pump had been in use for a total of only 230 hours, which was much less than its expected operational life. 3 It was further determined that damage from cavitation erosion 4 had caused the fuel pump to fail.

[233 Conn. 737] In October, 1985, Miller, as administrator of the estates of Dighidi and Hassan, 5 brought this action 6 for damages against United Technologies, Chandler-Evans and General Dynamics, pursuant to the Connecticut Product Liability Act, General Statutes § 52-572m et seq., and under theories of negligence, recklessness, warranty and strict liability. Miller alleged that the defendants had improperly designed, manufactured and assembled the fuel pump that was incorporated into the F-16B aircraft's engine, and that the defendants had failed to warn of the dangers of fuel pump failure.

The main fuel pump at issue here was manufactured by Chandler-Evans and identified as the MFP-330. The MFP-330 was a component in the F100-PW-200 engine, which was manufactured by Pratt and Whitney Aircraft (Pratt & Whitney), a division of United Technologies. 7 A United States government contract had been awarded to United Technologies for the development and production of the F100-PW-200 engine, and United Technologies had subcontracted with Chandler-Evans for the production of the MFP-330 fuel pumps. A separate[233 Conn. 738] and

Page 816

distinct United States government contract was awarded to General Dynamics for the production of the F-16 air frame and the installation into the air frame of "government furnished aeronautical equipment," including the F100-PW-200 engines, which had been chosen for and supplied to General Dynamics by the United States government. General Dynamics was not responsible for the design or production of the F100-PW-200 engines, but was specifically required by contract to incorporate them into the F-16 air frame.

The plaintiff elected to bring this action in Connecticut state court because both United Technologies and Chandler-Evans are located in Connecticut. 8 After several years of detailed and voluminous discovery, in September and October, 1992, the three defendants filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff's claims against them were precluded on the basis of the government contractor defense and that they were therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff opposed the motions claiming that the government contractor defense applies only to equipment purchased by the United States government for its own use and that, because the F-16B at issue had been purchased by the United States government for resale to the Egyptian government, the defense did not apply. In the alternative, the plaintiff contended that, even if the defense extended to the circumstances of its case, the defendants were not entitled to avoid liability.

In deciding the motions, the trial court relied on Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500, 108 S.Ct. 2510, 101 L.Ed.2d 442 (1988), in which the United States Supreme Court addressed the liability of United States government contractors to third persons under [233 Conn. 739] state tort law. Boyle was a wrongful death action that was brought against an independent government contractor after a military helicopter it had supplied crashed into the ocean and, due to the defective design of the escape hatch, a pilot drowned. The United States Supreme Court concluded that suppliers of military equipment must be protected from state tort liability for design defects under certain circumstances based on the "discretionary function" exemption of the Federal Tort Claims Act. 9 The court determined that if tort liability were imposed on military suppliers of equipment, then they might decline to manufacture the design specified by the government. This would greatly inhibit the United States government's discretionary function of "balancing ... many technical, military, and even social considerations, including specifically the trade-off between greater safety and greater combat effectiveness." Id., at 511, 108 S.Ct. at 2518. The court reasoned that "[t]he financial burden of judgments against the contractors would ultimately be passed through, substantially if not totally, to the United States itself, since defense contractors will predictably raise their prices to cover, or to insure against, contingent liability for the Government-ordered designs." Id., at 511-12, 108 S.Ct. at 2518. Accordingly, the court afforded immunity from state tort liability to government contractors that supply military equipment when a "uniquely federal interest" is in "significant conflict" with state law. Id., at 505-507, 108 S.Ct. at 2514-2516.

[233 Conn. 740] In so doing, the court first recognized that "a few areas, involving 'uniquely federal interests' ... are so committed by the Constitution and laws of the United States to federal control that state law is preempted and replaced, where necessary, by federal law of a content prescribed ... by the courts--so-called 'federal common law.' " (Citations omitted.) Id., at 504, 108 S.Ct. at

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2514. The court then examined two related areas that previously had been defined as uniquely federal interests: the "obligations to and rights of the United States under its contracts"; id.; and "the civil liability of federal officials for actions taken in the course of their duty." Id., at 505, 108 S.Ct. at 2515. It concluded that "the reasons for considering these closely related areas to be of 'uniquely federal' interest apply as well to the civil liabilities arising out of the performance of federal procurement contracts." Id., at 505-506, 108 S.Ct. at 2515. The court concluded, therefore, that the performance of a federal procurement contract involves a uniquely federal interest that justifies the displacement of state law by federal common law. Id., at 507, 108 S.Ct. at 2516.

Such displacement may occur, however, only when a " 'significant conflict' exists between an identifiable federal policy or interest and the [operation] of state law'...." 10 Id. In order to determine if such a conflict[233 Conn. 741] exists, the court adopted a three part test. The court stated that "[l]iability for design defects in military...

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236 practice notes
  • McConologue v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:13–CV–00880 VLB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • March 24, 2014
    ...process which causes the product to deviate from the design standards and intended specifications. Miller v. United Technologies Corp., 233 Conn. 732, 779, 660 A.2d 810 (1995). Contrastly, a design defect claim exists where the product is “unreasonably dangerous.” Potter v. Chicago Pneumati......
  • Rieffel v. Johnston-Foote, No. 37762.
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • May 10, 2016
    ...Summary judgment “is appropriate only if a fair and reasonable person could conclude only one way.” Miller v. United Technologies Corp., 233 Conn. 732, 751, 660 A.2d 810 (1995). “The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue [of] material fact......
  • Morascini v. Commissioner of Public Safety, No. 15270
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 7, 1996
    ...as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.' " Miller v. United Technologies Corp., 233 Conn. 732, 744-45, 660 A.2d 810 (1995). " 'Issue of fact' encompasses not only evidentiary facts in issue but also questions as to how the trier would ch......
  • Ascuitto v. Farricielli, No. 15729
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 12, 1998
    ...as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.... Miller v. United Technologies Corp., 233 Conn. 732, 744-45, 660 A.2d 810 (1995). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
236 cases
  • McConologue v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:13–CV–00880 VLB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • March 24, 2014
    ...process which causes the product to deviate from the design standards and intended specifications. Miller v. United Technologies Corp., 233 Conn. 732, 779, 660 A.2d 810 (1995). Contrastly, a design defect claim exists where the product is “unreasonably dangerous.” Potter v. Chicago Pneumati......
  • Rieffel v. Johnston-Foote, No. 37762.
    • United States
    • Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • May 10, 2016
    ...Summary judgment “is appropriate only if a fair and reasonable person could conclude only one way.” Miller v. United Technologies Corp., 233 Conn. 732, 751, 660 A.2d 810 (1995). “The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue [of] material fact......
  • Morascini v. Commissioner of Public Safety, No. 15270
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 7, 1996
    ...as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.' " Miller v. United Technologies Corp., 233 Conn. 732, 744-45, 660 A.2d 810 (1995). " 'Issue of fact' encompasses not only evidentiary facts in issue but also questions as to how the trier would ch......
  • Ascuitto v. Farricielli, No. 15729
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 12, 1998
    ...as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.... Miller v. United Technologies Corp., 233 Conn. 732, 744-45, 660 A.2d 810 (1995). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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