Moorhead v. Mitsubishi Aircraft Intern., Inc.

Decision Date19 June 1986
Docket NumberM-83-65-CA and M-83-140-CA.,No. M-81-127-CA,M-81-127-CA
Citation639 F. Supp. 385
PartiesRuth Henderson MOORHEAD, et al., v. MITSUBISHI AIRCRAFT INTERNATIONAL, INC., et al. Lynda M. HUTCHINSON, et al., v. UNITED STATES of America, et al. Rose Marie Baker McNEILL, et al., v. MITSUBISHI AIRCRAFT INTERNATIONAL, INC., et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas



Doyle Curry, Scott Baldwin, Jones, Jones, Baldwin, Curry & Roth, Marshall, Tex., for the Moorhead plaintiffs.

Tom Davis, Austin, Tex., Harry L. Cashin, Jr., Cashin & Davis, Atlanta, Ga., for the Hutchinson plaintiffs.

Robert J. Malone, Larry Boyd, Houston, Tex., for the McNeill plaintiffs.

L.S. Carsey, Fulbright & Jaworski, Houston, Tex., Duncan Fraser, Condon & Forsyth, New York City, for defendant Mitsubishi.

Jan Von Flatern, Emily M. Trapnell, Federal Aviation Admin., Washington, D.C., Robert Wortham, U.S. Atty., William Cornelius, Asst. U.S. Atty., Tyler, Tex., for defendant U.S. of America.

L.W. Anderson, Dallas, Tex., for defendant Baker Estate and intervenor.


STEGER, District Judge.

On February 18-21, 1985, came on for trial before the Court, without a jury, the above entitled and numbered consolidated cases and the Court having now heard all testimony presented by the respective parties and having considered all other evidence and exhibits admitted, hereby enters its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in this cause in conformity with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52. Any finding of fact which constitutes a conclusion of law shall be deemed a conclusion of law and any conclusion of law which constitutes a finding of fact shall be deemed a finding of fact.


On September 2, 1981, a Mitsubishi MU-2B-25 aircraft1 crashed near McLeod, Texas, killing the five occupants of the plane. The survivors of those five occupants filed these three consolidated actions, seeking wrongful death damages from three defendants. After careful consideration of the evidence, this Court has concluded that two of these three defendants, the plane's pilot and the plane's manufacturer, are responsible for the crash. The plaintiffs and defendants may be categorized as follows:

1. The Hutchinson Plaintiffs. Three of the plane's occupants, James A. Hutchinson (decedent of Lynda M. Hutchinson), William R. "Bob" Hutchinson (decedent of Ruth P. Hutchinson), and Thomas L. Hutchinson (decedent of Carol H. House), were brothers who together operated Brigadier Industries, a family-owned mobile home manufacturer with eight plants and annual revenues of eighty-five million dollars. In addition to Brigadier Industries, each brother was involved in other profitable business ventures. The Hutchinson plaintiffs are comprised of the mother, wives, and children of the three brothers. All were residents of the state of Georgia at the time suit was filed.

2. The Moorhead Plaintiffs. A fourth passenger on the plane, Harold Brinson Moorhead (decedent of Ruth Henderson Moorhead), was the attorney for Brigadier Industries and the Hutchinson family. The Moorhead plaintiffs are comprised of the parents, wife, and children of Harold Brinson Moorhead. None were permanent residents of the state of Texas at the time this suit was filed.

3. The Baker-McNeill Plaintiffs. The fifth occupant of the plane, Raymond Dean Baker (decedent of Rose Marie Baker McNeill) was the plane's pilot. In addition to work as a corporate pilot, Raymond Baker also owned and operated a construction business. The Baker-McNeill plaintiffs consist of his wife and his three children. None were residents of the state of Texas at the time their complaint was filed.

4. Defendant Mitsubishi. The aircraft involved in the crash was manufactured by Mitsubishi Aircraft International, Inc., a corporation organized and existing under Texas law. The plaintiffs alleged that the aircraft was defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous, and sought to prove Mitsubishi strictly liable for the crash. Just prior to the start of the trial, however, all three groups of plaintiffs settled with Mitsubishi. Mitsubishi remains a defendant in these findings and conclusions solely to determine the right to contribution or setoff of the remaining defendants.

5. Defendant United States of America. Charles Montoya, an Air Traffic Control Specialist at the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) Dallas Flight Service Station, gave pilot Raymond Baker his preflight weather briefing. The plaintiffs maintain that Montoya negligently failed to warn Baker of potential icing conditions on his route of flight, a failure which plaintiffs allege proximately caused an encounter with ice and the ultimate crash. Damages are sought by all plaintiffs against the government pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq. (FTCA).

6. Defendant Raymond Baker. The defendant United States argues that negligence on the pilot's part was the sole proximate cause or a new and independent cause of this crash, thereby rendering the weather briefer's omission of an icing forecast irrelevant for liability purposes. The pilot was also named as a defendant by the Hutchinson and Moorhead plaintiffs in amended complaints filed early in the fall of 1983, and by a cross-claim filed by Mitsubishi.

The relative liability of each of these three defendants is evaluated in the next section. Damages are then assessed in a separate section.

A. Conclusions of Law

1. This Court has jurisdiction over the tort claims against the United States pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). This Court has jurisdiction over the remainder of the claims on the basis of the diversity of citizenship of the parties involved. 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

2. All jurisdictional prerequisites for a suit against the United States based on the Federal Tort Claims Act have been satisfied. 28 U.S.C. § 2675.

3. This cause of action arose as a result of a crash near McLeod, Texas, which is in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas. Venue is therefore proper in this Court. 28 U.S.C. § 1402(b) (proper venue for tort claims actions against the United States); 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a) (proper venue in diversity cases).

4. The Court must determine the liability of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2402. All other parties have waived any right to a trial by jury on issues unrelated to the government's liability.

5. Texas law governs the determination of all issues in this action.

a. Under the FTCA, federal district courts are to apply the law of the place where the act or omission giving rise to the government's liability occurred. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). This has been interpreted to include the whole law of the state where the cause of action arose, including that state's choice of law rules. Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 11, 82 S.Ct. 585, 591, 7 L.Ed.2d 492 (1962); Johnson v. United States, 576 F.2d 606, 611 (5th Cir.1978). Since the crash occurred in Texas, the whole law of Texas applies to the claims against the government in this case.

b. As for the other defendants, in a diversity action the law of the state where the district court sits governs the substantive issues in the case. Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78, 58 S.Ct. 817, 822, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938); Syrie v. Knoll International, 748 F.2d 304, 306 (5th Cir.1984) (applying Texas law in a products liability action). Again, this incorporates the whole law of the state, including its choice of law rules. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 1021, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941). This Texas district court must also apply the whole law of Texas to issues concerning the non-governmental defendants.

c. Texas has adopted the most significant relationship approach embodied in sections 6 and 145 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws as the guide for making choice of law determinations in tort cases. Duncan v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 665 S.W.2d 414, 420 (Tex.1984); Gutierrez v. Collins, 583 S.W.2d 312, 318 (Tex.1979). In weighing the factors listed, trial courts are cautioned to conduct a qualitative rather than a quantitative analysis. Gutierrez, 583 S.W.2d at 319.

d. Application of section 145's list of contacts yields the following results in this case. The injury and the conduct causing the injury occurred in Texas and defendant Mitsubishi resides in Texas, but nearly all of the plaintiffs and defendant Baker resided in Georgia at the time of the crash. None of the plaintiffs had any relevant contractual relationships with any of the defendants. The choice then, appears to be between Texas law and Georgia law.2

e. Section 6's criteria provide the means for qualitatively weighing the contacts uncovered on section 145's list. The relevant policies of the competing forums are the most popular and often the most important of those criteria. See Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws, §§ 6(2)(b), (c) and (e). While Georgia has a legitimate interest in assuring that its citizens are adequately compensated for injuries they suffer, this is important only when Georgia will be forced to bear the burden of providing for injured citizens who are inadequately compensated. On the other hand, Texas has a strong interest in preventing harmful acts of negligence from occurring within its boundaries. Texas also has a strong interest in deterring the design or use of unreasonably dangerously defective products in this state. Finally, Texas law will be easier to apply and better protects the expectations of the parties. For these reasons, Texas law will be employed to resolve all issues in this case. See, e.g., Guillory on Behalf of Guillory v. United States, 699 F.2d 781, 784-87 (5th Cir.1983).

6. With regard to the claims asserted against the pilot and the government, the elements for actionable negligence in Texas are: (1) The existence of a duty on the...

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