Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Aviation
United States v. Fitzgerald
In 2016, commercial air pilot Sean Fitzgerald showed up for work "rip-roaring drunk." He was set to fly in the morning, so he readied the jet for take-off: he conducted a walk-around safety check before entering the cockpit, where he calibrated the altimeter, programmed the flight-management system, turned on the auxiliary power unit, and requested flight clearance from air- traffic control. Before passengers boarded, Fitzgerald’s co-pilot recognized his inebriation and alerted airline executives, who in turn notified local law enforcement. Fitzgerald was arrested and charged under 18 U.S.C. 342, which makes it a crime to operate a common carrier while intoxicated. A jury convicted Fitzgerald, and the district court sentenced him to one year and one day in prison and to three years of supervised release. On appeal, Fitzgerald contended that the actions he performed were not enough to operate the aircraft within the meaning of section 342, that the jury was wrongly instructed, and that the district court erred at his sentencing. Finding no reversible error, the Sixth Circuit affirmed Fitzgerald's conviction. View "United States v. Fitzgerald" on Justia Law
SPA Rental, LLC v. Somerset-Pulaski County Airport Board
Airports, including Lake Cumberland Regional Airport, must make “standard grant assurances” (49 U.S.C. 47101) to receive federal funds. Assurance 22 requires an airport to “make the airport available . . . without unjust discrimination to all types ... of aeronautical activities.” Assurance 23 prohibits the airport from granting exclusivity to any aeronautical-services provider. Assurance 24 requires the airport to “maintain a fee and rental structure ... which will make the airport as self-sustaining as possible.” SPA’s director, Iverson, is an aircraft maintenance technician. SPA, at the Airport since 1986, leases hangars to store Iverson’s aircraft. SPA formerly provided maintenance services but now only refurbishes and re-sells aircraft. The Airport Board notified SPA of its intent to let SPA’s lease expire. Finding that there was an unmet need for maintenance services, it solicited bids. SPA did not bid. The Board picked Somerset and agreed to pay up to $8000 toward Somerset’s public liability insurance and forgo rent. The regional FAA office determined that the contract violated Assurance 24. The Board then conditioned the incentives on Somerset’s performing at least 10 aircraft inspections annually, making the contract more economically viable for the Airport, and agreed to terminate Somerset's agreement after one year to solicit new bids. The FAA approved. SPA asked to remain at the Airport “on fair and equal terms.” The Board sent SPA proposed agreements with the same terms, including provision of maintenance services, but refused to allow Iverson to personally lease a hangar. SPA refused to vacate. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in favor of the Board. The FAA standard for unjust discrimination is whether similarly situated parties have been treated differently. SPA is not situated similarly to Somerset. View "SPA Rental, LLC v. Somerset-Pulaski County Airport Board" on Justia Law
Mokdad v. Sessions
Mokdad, a naturalized U.S. citizen, sought injunctive relief against the Attorney General, the FBI, and the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) based on alleged instances where he was denied boarding on commercial airline flights between the U.S. and his native country, Lebanon. Claiming that his application for redress under the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) was not adequately resolved, he requested that the court order his removal from the No Fly List and any other such list. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s conclusion that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction On remand, TSC re-examined Mokdad’s DHS TRIP request, notified him that he was not on the No Fly List, and issued a declaration that Mokdad is not on the No Fly List and will not be placed back on the list based on the currently available information. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Mokdad’s case is moot in light TSC’s declaration. Even if Mokdad has been placed on another watch list, or is experiencing delays as he alleged, Mokdad did not identify any other lists or defendants, precluding effectual relief. If Mokdad believes that he is on another government list, the remedy is to file a new action. View "Mokdad v. Sessions" on Justia Law
Flight Options, LLC v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 1108
Flight Options announced that it would merge with Flexjet. The Teamsters Union already represented Options' pilots. Flexjet pilots elected the Teamsters to represent them. The existing Options collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) requires the parties to modify the agreement “to permit the integration” of new pilots within nine months; if they reach an impasse, they must submit to binding arbitration. However, the CBA became “amendable” under the Railway Labor Act after the merger, so that either party could propose broad changes affecting the pilots’ rates of pay and working conditions, 45 U.S.C. 156, by serving a “Section 6” notice. The union served a Section 6 notice before the parties began their CBA negotiations. The airlines maintain that they must resolve their CBA negotiations before turning to the Section 6 proposals. The union argues that both negotiations should happen simultaneously. The union obtained a preliminary injunction ordering the airlines to bargain the Section 6 proposals in good faith. The Sixth Circuit vacated. The district court incorrectly assumed the parties’ dispute over the order of negotiations was “major” under the Act, and, therefore, required good-faith bargaining. Given that the airlines’ claim is consistent with the CBA and the union has failed to identify any contradictory language, the dispute is minor; Whether the terms of the CBA allow the airlines to delay Section 6 negotiations must be determined in arbitration. View "Flight Options, LLC v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 1108" on Justia Law
Doe v. Etihad Airways, P.J.S.C.
Doe and her daughter flew aboard Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi to Chicago. During the journey, Doe’s tray table remained open because a knob had fallen off. Doe’s daughter found the knob on the floor; Doe placed it in a seatback pocket. When a flight attendant reminded Doe to place her tray in the locked position for landing, Doe attempted to explain by reaching into the seatback pocket to retrieve the knob. She was pricked by a hypodermic needle that lay hidden within, which drew blood. Doe sought damages from Etihad for her physical injury and her “mental distress, shock, mortification, sickness and illness, outrage and embarrassment from natural sequela of possible exposure to” various diseases. Her husband claimed loss of consortium. The court granted Etihad partial summary judgment, citing the Montreal Convention of 1999, an international treaty, which imposes capped strict liability “for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft.” The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court erred in reading an additional “caused by” requirement into the treaty and concluding that Doe’s bodily injury did not cause her emotional and mental injuries. The Convention allows Doe to recover all her “damage sustained” from the incident. View "Doe v. Etihad Airways, P.J.S.C." on Justia Law
United States v. Kumar
Kumar was 19 years old and in his first year in the Aviation Technology Program at Bowling Green State University when he was assigned to fly alone from Wood County Airport near Bowling Green to Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, and back, after 10:00 p.m. The flight plan required him to fly over part of Lake Erie. On the return trip, Kumar observed what he believed to be a flare rising from a boat. He reported this sighting to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and was instructed to fly lower for a closer look. Kumar could not then see a boat. Fearful of hurting his chances of one day becoming a Coast Guard pilot, he reported that he saw additional flares and described a 25-foot fishing vessel with four people aboard wearing life jackets with strobe lights activated. Kumar’s report prompted a massive search and rescue mission by the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Canadian Armed Forces. A month later, Kumar admitted that his report had been false. He pleaded guilty to making a false distress call, a class D felony per 14 U.S.C. 88(c)(1), which imposes liability for all costs the Coast Guard incurs. He was sentenced to a prison term of three months and ordered to pay restitution of $277,257.70 to the Coast Guard, and $211,750.00 to the Canadian Armed Forces. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Kumar" on Justia Law
Washburn v. Lawrence Cnty. Bd. of Comm’rs
In 2008, Washburn was seriously injured when the door of an airplane hangar, T-hangar 12, blew off and hit her in the face and torso during a storm at an airpark owned by Lawrence County and operated by Attitude Aviation. Watson had leased T-hangar 12 for more than 20 years at the time of the accident; his lease made him responsible for the condition of the hangar. Attitude was never included in any of the hangar lease negotiations or lease renewals. Rejecting Washburn’s suit on summary judgment, the district court held that the County and Attitude owed no duty of care to Washburn because they had no control over the hangar. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Washburn v. Lawrence Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs" on Justia Law
Crouch v. Honeywell Int’l, Inc.
Crouch was piloting his Piper Lance II single-engine airplane with Hudson as passenger. After losing engine power at an altitude of 5000 feet, and finding it impossible to reach an airport, Crouch made a forced landing in a field near Bardstown. The plane’s engine was manufactured in 1978 and overhauled in 2005, with installation of a rebuilt magneto that allegedly detached, causing the crash. Both occupants survived but suffered serious permanent injuries, including paraplegia. The district court dismissed, on summary judgment, their allegations that the aircraft engine manufacturer was liable for negligently failing to warn airplane owners and operators, and failing to notify regulatory authorities, of defects in the engine and its components, finding that the allegations failed to make out a claim in avoidance of the applicable period of repose under the General Aviation Revitalization Act, 49 U.S.C. 40101. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs did not show or even allege that a revised overhaul manual contained a substantive alteration that caused harm and the evidence did not support a theory that defendants withheld information. View "Crouch v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law
Boggs v. City of Cleveland
The owners bought property in 1995 and live there with their daughter. It is under the flight paths of runways of the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. In 2002, the owners filed a class-action mandamus action, seeking to compel the city to initiate appropriation proceedings, claiming that the level and frequency of flights so interfered with their use and enjoyment that the property had been taken for public use without just compensation. The state court dismissed. They tried again in 2008, citing expansion projects. The city removed the case to federal district court, which dismissed with prejudice. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. The district court erred in applying res judicata; the claims based upon the 2004 and 2007 expansions could not have been raised in the 2002 Action and are premised on a new transaction or occurrence distinct from the subject matter of the 2002 Action.
Nat’l Air Traffic Controllers Ass’n v. Sec’y of the Dep’t. of Transp.
In 1993, the FAA decided to privatize all Level I air traffic control towers. About 1500 controllers were forced to leave the field, be trained to operate higher level towers, or secure employment with the private contractors. Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 prohibits the federal government from performing an activity that could be performed for less cost by the private sector. Before privatizing a function, an agency must determine whether that function is inherently governmental or commercial. A governmental function must be performed by government employees. The district court first dismissed, but, on remand, instructed the FAA to undergo Circular A-76 analysis. The FAA continued to privatize towers and controllers again brought suit. The district court again remanded to the FAA for analysis, but refused to terminate private contracts already in place. The court later granted the FAA partial summary judgment, based on a 2003 amendment to 49 U.S.C. 47124, indicating that work in Level I towers is not an inherently governmental function, then dismissed remaining claims for lack of standing. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Every tower privatized in the 1993 program fit within the section 47124(b)(3) mandate.