S.A. Empresa De Viacao Aerea Rio Grandense (Varig Airlines) v. U.S., s. 81-5366

Decision Date26 October 1982
Docket NumberNos. 81-5366,81-5399,s. 81-5366
Citation692 F.2d 1205
PartiesS.A. EMPRESA DE VIACAO AEREA RIO GRANDENSE (VARIG AIRLINES), Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee. Emma Rosa MASCHER; Alfred Rosa; Guido Rosa; Raymond Rosa; Bruno Rosa; Corido Rosa; and Ernest Rosa, individually and as Heirs and Legatees of Elio Rosa, deceased, et al., Appellants, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Robert R. Smiley, III, Smiley, Murphy, Olson & Gilman, Washington, D.C., for appellant.

John C. Hoyle, Washington, D.C., argued for appellee; Andrea Sheridan Ordin, U.S. Atty., Los Angeles, Cal., Leonard Schaitman, Washington, D.C., on brief.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before CHAMBERS, GOODWIN and PREGERSON, Circuit Judges.

GOODWIN, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2671, et seq., for the loss of a Boeing 707 aircraft that crash landed after a lavatory unit caught fire. 1 The Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) had certified that the lavatory unit complied with F.A.A. fire protection standards. Varig alleged that the unit did not comply. The trial court granted the United States summary judgment on the grounds that the certification did not come within California's good samaritan rule and that, even if it did, liability was precluded by the misrepresentation and discretionary function exception clauses of the Federal Tort Claims Act.

On July 11, 1973, Varig Airlines Flight 820, a nonstop flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, was a few minutes from its scheduled landing at Orly Airport near Paris. Although the flight had progressed without incident, a passenger who used the restroom reported smoke in a lavatory. Within four to six minutes, a fire in the aft lavatories caused thick, black smoke to fill the cabin and cockpit. Because of the smoke, the crew and passengers could not see the exits or each other; the pilots could not see each other or any of the instruments.

The pilots then opened the sliding windows of the cockpit and put their heads out in order to make a crash landing in a field near the airport. The plane crash landed six minutes after the smoke had first been discovered. Of a total of 135 persons on board, ten crew members and one passenger survived. The rest died from asphyxiation or the effects of toxic gases.

The aircraft had been manufactured fifteen years earlier by Boeing Aircraft and had been sold to Seaboard Airlines which subsequently resold the plane to Varig Airlines. Before Boeing manufactured the plane, its designs, plans, specifications and performance data were inspected and certified as acceptable by the United States government.

Civil Air Regulation 4b.381(d) requires:


"Sec. 4b.381 Cabin interiors. All compartments occupied or used by the crew or passengers shall comply with the following provisions.

* * *

"(d) All receptacles for used towels, papers, and waste shall be of fire-resistant material, and shall incorporate covers or other provisions for containing possible fires."

For purposes of summary judgment, we assume that the lavatory sink unit on the 707 contained flammable material, lacked a cover, and had large holes which made the compartment incapable of containing smoke or fire. 2

Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the government may be liable in tort only if a private individual would have been liable under "the law of the place where the act or omission occurred." 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1346(b). Here, the United States' inspection of the designs, plans, specifications and performance data of the 707 and certification of the plane all occurred in Los Angeles.

An individual inspecting and certifying aircraft design for safety in California would be judged by the rule set forth in Restatement (Second) Torts, Secs. 323 and 324A. Therefore, the United States is to be judged under the same rule. United Scottish Ins. Co. v. United States, 614 F.2d 188 (1979), affirmed this day following remand, 692 F.2d 1209 (9th Cir. 1982).

Under the Restatement rule, a defendant may be liable if it negligently performed a service either for the injured party or to another for the protection of the injured party. United Scottish Insurance Co., supra; Ingham v. Eastern Airlines, 373 F.2d 227 (2d Cir. 1967). Under the Restatement, this negligently performed service must have either increased the risk of injury to the injured person or have caused him to rely on proper performance of the service.

The United States claims that it was not performing a service and that, in any case, its actions did not increase the risk of injury or cause reliance on their proper performance. The United States contends it was performing a regulatory duty rather than a service and that, unlike an air traffic controller, an F.A.A. inspector is not engaged in operational activities and, therefore, owes no duty to those dependent on his performance.

The government cites Clemente v. United States, 567 F.2d 1140 (1st Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 1006, 98 S.Ct. 1876, 56 L.Ed.2d 388 (1978). Roberto Clemente was killed in the crash of a private plane in Puerto Rico. His widow sued the United States. She alleged that the F.A.A. was negligent in failing to inform the passengers that the plane was overweight and lacked a proper flight crew. Because only a local F.A.A. directive then required that "[c]lear indication of alleged illegal flight ... be made known to flight crew and persons chartering the service," id. at 1143, n.3, and because there was no indication that anyone had ever relied upon the kind of warning the widow was asserting to be a governmental duty, the First Circuit held that there was no good samaritan duty in the Clemente case.

In the instant case, Civil Air Regulation 4b.381(d) specifically requires waste receptacles to be made of fire-resistant material and to incorporate covers or other provisions for containing possible fires. A statute, 49 U.S.C. Sec. 1421, requires that the F.A.A. conduct a comprehensive inspection for compliance with all safety regulations before a certificate of airworthiness will issue. Aircraft purchasers rely upon these inspections.

The United States, through the F.A.A., has voluntarily undertaken the inspection and certification of all civilian aircraft. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958, 49 U.S.C. Sec. 1301, et seq., requires the F.A.A. "to promote safety of flight of civil aircraft in air commerce" and to perform its duties "in such manner as will best...

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