Category Archives: Casualty

The MMTJA and the Battle to Establish General Personal Jurisdiction in Foreign Aviation Disasters

Scott Brooksby wrote the following article, which was published in the American Bar Association’s Mass Torts Summer newsletter:

The MMTJA and the Battle to Establish General Personal Jurisdiction in Foreign Aviation Disasters

By Scott Brooksby – June 21, 2016

Foreign aviation disasters very often result in litigation in the United States. Many cases arising from foreign crashes brought by foreign plaintiffs against foreign defendants are dismissed based on forum non conveniens. However, a recent case decided under the Multiparty, Multiforum Trial Jurisdiction Act (MMTJA), 28 U.S.C. § 1369, illustrates the exacting standard for establishing general personal jurisdiction in foreign aviation disasters when plaintiffs seek to litigate in the United States, even when national service of process is permitted. Siswanto v. Airbus S.A.S., 2015 WL 9489952 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 30, 2015).

The Montreal Convention
Before considering the MMTJA in the context of an aviation disaster, it is important to recall that claims against air carriers, in contrast to claims against manufacturers, are governed by the Montreal Convention. The Montreal Convention of 1999 was ratified by the United States in September 2003 and went into effect in November 2003. It limits the forums in which foreign plaintiffs can file lawsuits against air carriers. The Montreal Convention is a successor to the Warsaw Convention of 1929 and, in addition to important new provisions, consolidates and clarifies prior provisions of the Warsaw Convention. Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, opened for Signature at Montreal on 28 May 1999, ICAO Doc. No. 4698 [hereinafter Montreal Convention].

The Montreal Convention applies to “all international carriage of persons, baggage or cargo performed by aircraft for reward.” Montreal Convention, supra, art. 1 § 1. When the Montreal Convention governs, damages provided under the convention are the only remedy available to foreign plaintiffs against a carrier. In El Al Israel Airlines v. Tseng, 525 U.S. 155 (1999), the Court held that personal injury claims arising from aircraft operations within the scope of the convention are not allowed unless permitted under the terms of the convention. Id. at 176. In light of the holding in Tseng, other federal courts have held that the damages available under the convention are the sole cause of action. See, e.g., Ugaz v. Am. Airlines, 576 F. Supp. 2d 1354 (S.D. Fla. 2008).

For purposes of forum non conveniens motions, Article 33 of the Montreal Convention provides that there are five forums in which a plaintiff may bring claims against a carrier:

1. the domicile of the carrier;

2. the principal place of business of the carrier;

3. the place where the airline ticket was purchased;

4. the place of destination; and,

5. in personal injury cases, the principal and permanent place of residence of the plaintiff

The so-called fifth jurisdiction, the plaintiff’s principal and permanent place of residence, was added by the Montreal Convention and expanded on the Warsaw Convention provisions governing proper forums. Under the Montreal Convention, the principal and permanent residence is the “one fixed and permanent abode of the passenger at the time of the accident.” Montreal Convention, supra, art. 33 § 3(b).

Under the fifth jurisdiction principle, a plaintiff may bring the lawsuit for personal injuries in the forum in which he or she has his or her principal and permanent place of residence, and to or from which the carrier operates flights, and in which the carrier leases or owns commercial premises by itself or by another carrier with which it has a commercial agreement. A “commercial agreement” means an agreement made between carriers and related to joint service of passengers by air. Montreal Convention, supra, art. 33 § 3(a).

The MMTJA and Foreign Aviation Disasters
Although the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions addressed many aspect of air crash litigation, they did not specifically address U.S. federal court handling of mass disaster litigation, and they addressed only aviation-related cases against carriers. In 2002, the MMTJA was enacted to create greater efficiency in disaster cases in the federal system. The MMTJA grants district courts original jurisdiction where minimal jurisdictional requirements are met and where the cases arise out of a “single accident, where at least 75 natural persons have died in the accident at a discrete location[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1369(a). The permissible lawsuits include both wrongful death and personal injury.

The first case arising under the MMTJA was the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, on November 20, 2003, in which 100 people were killed and 230 injured. Lawsuits were filed throughout New England in state and federal courts. Passa v. Derderian, 308 F. Supp. 2d 43 (D.R.I. 2004).

The MMTJA widely broadens federal jurisdiction in mass disaster cases and provides that the district courts will have original jurisdiction wher

(1) a defendant resides in a State and a substantial part of the accident took place in another State or other location, regardless of whether that defendant is also a resident of the State where a substantial part of the accident took place;

(2) any two defendants reside in different States, regardless of whether such defendants are also residents of the same State or States; or

(3) substantial parts of the accident took place in different States.

28 U.S.C. § 1369(a)(1)–(3).

Under the MMTJA, “minimal diversity” exists between adverse parties if any party is a citizen of a state and any adverse party is a citizen of another state or a foreign state. Corporations are deemed to be a citizen of any state in which it is incorporated, or has its principal place of business, and is deemed to be a resident of any state in which it is licensed to do business or is doing business. 28 U.S.C. § 1369(c)(1)–(2). The district courts must abstain from hearing any action in which the “substantial majority” of all plaintiffs are citizens of a single state in which the primary defendants are also citizens, and from hearing any claims that are governed primarily by state law. 28 U.S.C. § 1369 (b)(1)–(2). Therefore, the MMTJA provisions providing for removal are much broader than the diversity jurisdiction requirements under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Siswanto v. Airbus S.A.S., 2015 WL 9489952 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 30, 2015), arose from the December 28, 2014, crash of Air Asia Flight No. 8501, an Airbus A320-216 flying from Indonesia to Singapore. During flight, a rudder system malfunctioned. Subsequent miscommunication between the pilots and a crew member’s removal of a circuit breaker disengaged the autopilot and caused the plane to roll and enter a prolonged stall before crashing into the Java Sea. All 155 passengers and 7 crewmembers were killed. The investigation was handled by the Indonesia National Transportation Safety Committee, which released its final report on December 1, 2015. Komite Nasional Keselamatan Transportasi, Republic of Indonesia, Final Aircraft Accident Investigative Report (2015).

The heirs and personal representatives of the deceased brought product liability and negligence claims against several defendants, including Airbus. Airbus moved to dismiss for lack of minimum contacts under the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause. The plaintiffs proceeded only under a theory of general personal jurisdiction arising from Airbus’s extensive contacts with the United States as a whole.

The court reasoned that because the case was brought under the MMTJA, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(l)(C) and the MMTJA enabled the court to consider Airbus’s contacts with the United States as a whole, and not just with the state of Illinois. However, nothing in the statutes overrode Airbus’s constitutional due process protections governing the court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction. Siswanto, 2015 WL 9489952, at *1.

Early in its jurisdictional analysis, the court noted that despite the geographic expansion of service and, in turn, the initial scope of personal jurisdiction, Rule 4(k)(1)(C) and section 1697 do not override the controlling constitutional limitations of the court’s exercise of general or specific personal jurisdiction imposed by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Siswanto, 2015 WL 9489952, at *2 (citing KM Enters., Inc. v. Global Traffic Techs., Inc., 725 F.3d 718, 723, 730–31 (7th Cir. 2013)). The court noted that the traditional “minimum contacts” test from International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945),still governs even when the basis of personal jurisdiction involves a statute providing for nationwide service of process. Siswanto, 2015 WL 9489952, at *2.

Judge Blakey reasoned that when defendants are domiciled in the United States, the due process analysis under a nationwide service of process is straightforward. Because domestic companies and individuals “almost by definition” have minimum contacts with the United States, there may be general personal jurisdiction in any federal court in the country.Id. at *3.

The court noted that because Airbus is not a domestic company, the plaintiffs must show its contacts with the United States are sufficient to support either general or specific jurisdiction, and that general personal jurisdiction required “continuous and systematic general business contacts” such that Airbus is “essentially at home in the forum,” here, the United States as a whole, and not just the state of Illinois. Id. at *4 (citing Abelesz v. OTP Bank, 692 F.3d 638, 654, 656 (7th Cir. 2012)). The court concluded that, under Abelesz, the court’s inquiry is not whether Airbus’s contacts with the forum are simply “extensive in the aggregate.” Id. at *3 (internal citations omitted).

There was no dispute that Airbus was incorporated and had its principal place of business in France. For at least the five previous years, Airbus had not maintained any offices or employees or owned or rented property in the United States. All manufacturing on the aircraft occurred in Europe, and none of Airbus’s subsidiaries in the United States undertook this work. The A320-216 had been issued a type certificate by the European Safety Agency but not by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The aircraft was sold to Air Asia Berhad, a Malaysian airline carrier that did not operate in the United States, and the aircraft had never been flown in the United States. Id. at *2.

The plaintiffs argued that four categories of contacts between Airbus and the United States warranted the court’s exercise of general personal jurisdiction. First, the plaintiffs pointed to aircraft sales in the United States, which amounted to 811 aircraft, or 6.73 percent of Airbus’s sales. The court rejected this argument, ruling that none of the sales gave rise to the crash, and noted that the Supreme Court has instructed that imputing general personal jurisdiction from a defendant’s sales in the forum, even if sizable, would stretch general personal jurisdiction beyond its reach. Id. at *4 (citing Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 760–62 (2014)).

Second, the plaintiffs argued that Airbus spends 42 percent of its aircraft-related procurement in the United States. The court also rejected this argument, stating that mere purchases, “even if occurring at regular intervals,” do not establish general personal jurisdiction when the underlying cause of action is not related to those purchases. Id. (citingHelicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 418 (1984)); accordDaimler, 134 S. Ct. at 757.

Third, the plaintiffs argued that contacts from Airbus’s “separately incorporated” subsidiaries should be imputed to Airbus because they maintained a physical presence in the United States. The court rejected this argument on the basis that the general rule is that jurisdiction contacts of a subsidiary are not imputed to the parent. Id. (citing Abelesz, 692 F.3d at 658–59 (internal citations omitted)).

Fourth, the plaintiffs cited a 2006 article showing that the FAA certified another aircraft model, the Airbus A380. The court also rejected this argument, finding that the isolated fact of the certification of another model aircraft had no special significance as far as personal jurisdiction is concerned. Id.

Having rejected the plaintiffs’ jurisdictional arguments, Judge Blakey turned to the plaintiffs’ alternative argument that venue in the Northern District of Illinois was proper because at least one other defendant, Motorola, resided in that district. The court rejected that argument, noting that establishing venue does not establish jurisdiction and that there was no legal basis for the court to conflate jurisdiction and venue. Id. at *6.

Thus, on December 30, 2015, the court granted Airbus S.A.S.’s Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. In doing so, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that dismissing Airbus would set the dangerous precedent of effectively exempting Airbus from the MMTJA. The court reasoned that “[a]lthough Airbus’ contacts with the United States may have been extensive, plaintiffs have fallen far short of showing the de factorelocation that the Supreme Court has required for a foreign corporate defendant to satisfy general personal jurisdiction.” Id. at *5 (emphasis in original).

Conclusion
The significance of Siswanto and the MMTJA is that jurisdiction is analyzed on a nationwide basis, and not merely on a state-by-state basis or by looking at any particular state. Airbus’s contacts with Illinois or any other individual state are not discussed. Therefore, under the MMTJA, the court could have found that if Airbus was subject to jurisdiction in any state, jurisdiction would have been proper in Illinois as the state where the MMTJA case against Airbus was pending. Even under the statute’s broad jurisdictional sweep, encompassing the United States as a whole, a major non-American aircraft manufacturer was not in Siswanto, and may well not be in future cases, subject to personal jurisdiction anywhere in the country

Scott Brooksby featured as speaker and moderator regarding birds, pets, lasers, and other hot topics in aviation

On June 1, 2016, Scott Brooksby was featured as a speaker and moderator on a panel entitled “Birds, Pets, Lasers, Stowaways, and Other Hot Topics in Aviation”, at the American Bar Association’s 22nd Annual National Institute on Aviation Litigation, at the University Club of New York in New York, New York.

Scott and the other distinguished panelists provided an overview of emerging security issues for airlines, airports, manufacturers, and governments with respect to bird and animal strikes, laser strikes, and wheel well stowaways. Each pose the danger of catastrophic mass torts.  The topics discussed included the following issues:

• Bird strikes are the second-leading cause of death in aviation, with more than 400 deaths globally. Learn about required airport wildlife management plans and mitigation techniques, and how airports and the government can address liability risks.
• Flight crews are increasingly targets of inexpensive, and increasingly powerful hand-held green lasers. More than 7,000 laser strikes were reported to the FAA in 2015. This panel will discuss efforts by prosecutors pursuing criminal charges, and liability issues arising from laser strikes.
• Pigs, snakes and turkeys are just some of the pets, or emotional support animals, that airlines are confronting. The safety of other passengers, who may be the victims of physical injury of property damage, present liability issues for airports and airlines.
• The number of wheel well stowaway incidents are rising which poses security risks for airports and airlines, and it is not inconceivable that the stowaway with destructive intent could cause a catastrophic mass tort.

Oregon Law Requires Places of Public Assembly (Including Large Brick and Mortar Retailers) To Have At Least One Automated External Defibrilator

Premises owners should be aware that at least one automated external defibrillator (“AED”) may be required in their buildings.  On January 1, 2010, Senate Bill (S.B.) 556, codified as ORS 431.690, took effect, requiring certain building owners to place at least one automated external defibrillator (“AED”) on their “premises.”  The requirement applies to “places of public assembly” which are defined as “facilities” that have at least “50,000 square feet” of “floor space” and where: (1) the “public congregates for purposes such as deliberation, shopping, entertainment, amusement or awaiting transportation;” or “business activities are conducted;” and (2) at least 25 people “congregate” there on a “normal business day.”  S.B. 556 (1)(a)-(b).

In 2011, S.B. 1033 amended ORS 431.690 to require the placement of at least one AED in public and private schools and health clubs as well.

In other words, businesses and facilities with over 50,000 square feet of floor space must have a defibrillator on their premises if at least 25 people “congregate” there on a normal day.  A copy of the statute requiring AEDs is found at http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/431.690

It is safe to assume that most product manufacturing facilities comprise 50,000 or more square feet.  However, despite the fact that this law has been in effect for more than three years, many Oregon businesses affected by the law are not compliant.

Discussion

The AED law does not provide a definition for the word “congregate,” nor does it specify whether 25 people must be present at one time or can come and go over the course of an entire business day.  When Oregon courts interpret ambiguous language, they focus primarily on the text and context of the statute and secondarily on legislative history.  State v. Gaines, 346 Or. 160, 172, 206 P.3d 1042 (2009).  When analyzing the text of a statute, it is useful to consider the dictionary definition of any ambiguous words.  The dictionary definition of “congregate” is “to come together; to assemble; to meet,” or “to collect into a group, crowd, or assembly.”   Black’s Law Dictionary 301 (6th ed., West 1990), Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 243 (10th ed., Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1997)

Given the dictionary definitions, one could reasonably argue that the new law applies only to businesses that have at least 25 people present at some point during the day (i.e. “assembled” or “together” at one time).  However, the legislative history of the bill may suggest a different interpretation.  S.B. 556 originally had no 25-person requirement, and therefore would have applied to all businesses with floor space exceeding 50,000 square feet.  This specification requiring at least 25 people to congregate was added by way of an amendment suggested during a work session of the Health Care and Veterans’ Affairs Committee (held on April 4, 2009).  At that meeting, Senator Wayne Morse expressed concern that the bill would require industrial warehouses with very few employees to install AEDs.  One of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Jeff Kruse, agreed and said that they intended the bill to apply to “big department stores,” shopping centers, “office buildings” and the like, but not sparsely populated warehouses.  Relying on this legislative history, it is more likely that the 25 person requirement was not intended to exempt stores that have more than 25 visitors during a day even if they are not all present at the same time.

For a business such as a large brick and mortar retailer, there are two threshold questions that determine whether ORS 431.690 (S.B. 556 applies).  First, does the store or other business have over 50,000 square feet of floor space?  And, second, do at least 25 people congregate at the business on a typical business day?  If the answer to both questions is yes, the business is subject to the AED requirement.  If a minimum of 25 people did not congregate during a typical business day, then there is a good argument that the business would be exempt from the law.

Note that the statute places no limitations on the reason the 25 people have congregated in one place.  The statute provides a nonexclusive list of some of the reasons people have for gathering in these places – “deliberation, shopping, entertainment, amusement or awaiting transportation.”  In the context of a “big box” retailer, for example, the 25 people would likely consist of any person present in the store including, but not limited to, all employees, shoppers, repair or maintenance contractors, or anyone else visiting the store.

Although this insight into the legislative history may be interesting, businesses should not get lost in debating the letter of the statute or meaning of what “congregate” signifies.  If the business believes it might in any way meet the parameters of the statutory requirements, they should simply install an AED.

The law does not specify where the AED should be located or contain any provisions regarding access.  The law merely specifies that the AED shall be “on the premises.”  Based on the absence of any specification, it does not appear that the AED necessarily need be available to any member of the public in the establishment at the time the AED is needed.

Part of S.B. 556 (now codified at ORS 30.802) Provides Protection From Liability For Those Who Comply With The AED Requirement

A provision of S.B. 556, now codified at ORS 30.802, provides a fairly broad immunity provision for those locations which comply with the statutory requirement and maintain an AED on premises, so long as the business is in compliance with the particulars of the immunity provision such as making sure there are employees trained in the use of the AED.  A copy of the statute providing liability protection is found at  http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/30.802

The cost of AEDs has dropped precipitously with increased competition and more efficient mass production.  The benefits of compliance with the Oregon statute, including immunity from suit, vastly outweigh the risks of non-compliance.  Moreover, there is conclusive evidence that AEDs save lives.  If you have questions, please contact our office.

Olson Brooksby often represents national retailers with large brick and mortar locations.