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Tonya Helman, Individually and As v. Alcoa Global Fasteners

March 14, 2011

TONYA HELMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF AND SUCCESSORS-IN-INTEREST TO THE SUCCESSOR ESTATE OF CORY HELMAN, DECEASED;
JIM HELMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF AND SUCCESSORS-IN-INTEREST TO THE SUCCESSOR/ESTATE OF CORY HELMAN, DECEASED;
SANDY HELMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF AND SUCCESSORS-IN-INTEREST TO THE SUCCESSOR/ESTATE OF CORY HELMAN, DECEASED; B.W., A FEMALE MINOR, BY AND THROUGH THEIR GUARDIAN AD LITEM, VICTORIA WILL; B.W., MALE MINOR, BY AND THROUGH THEIR GUARDIAN AD LITEM, VICTORIA WILL; VICTORIA WILL, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF AND SUCCESSORS-IN-INTEREST TO THE SUCCESSOR/ESTATE OF CHRISTOPHER WILL, DECEASED; CRAIG WILL, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF AND SUCCESSORS-IN-INTEREST TO THE SUCCESSOR/ESTATE OF CHRISTOPHER WILL, DECEASED; DAVID DYER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF AND SUCCESSORS-IN-INTEREST TO THE SUCCESSOR/ESTATE OF ADAM DYER, DECEASED; STEPHANIE DYER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF AND SUCCESSORS-IN-INTEREST TO THE SUCCESSOR/ESTATE OF ADAM DYER, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
ALCOA GLOBAL FASTENERS, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION;
PACIFIC SCIENTIFIC, A CORPORATION; HISHEAR CORPORATION, A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION;
SIKORSKY AIRCRAFT CORPORATION, A CORPORATION; SIKORSKY SUPPORT SERVICES, INC., A CORPORATION;
PARKER-HANNIFIN CORPORATION, A CORPORATION; GENERAL ELECTRIC, A CORPORATION,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



D.C. No.2:09-cv-01353-SVW-FFM Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Stephen V. Wilson, District Judge, Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Fletcher, Circuit Judge:

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Argued and Submitted December 6, 2010-Pasadena, California

Before: Betty B. Fletcher, Marsha S. Berzon, and Consuelo M. Callahan, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge B. Fletcher

OPINION

Appellants bring this interlocutory appeal challenging the district court's grant of a motion to dismiss and a motion for judgment on the pleadings in Appellees' favor based on its conclusion that Appellant's state law claims are preempted by the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). On September 16, 2009, we granted the petition for permission to appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), giving us jurisdiction to consider this issue. We now affirm.

I. Appellants are the personal representatives and successors in interest to three United States Navy crewmen killed in a helicopter crash. In 2007, while performing training exercises from the USS Bonhomme Richard, the helicopter lost control and crashed into the Pacific Ocean approximately 9.5 nautical miles off the coast of Catalina Island, California.

Appellants filed a complaint in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, alleging that defects in the helicopter and its component parts caused the accident, and seeking damages for wrongful death. The complaint asserts causes of action for strict products liability, negligence, failure to warn, breach of warranty, and wrongful death and sur- vival under California law and general maritime law. The case was then removed to federal court by Appellees Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and Sikorsky Support Services, Inc. (collectively "Sikorsky"). Sikorsky filed a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that DOHSA preempts certain causes of action brought by Appellants because the accident occurred "on the high seas beyond three nautical miles from the shore of the United States." See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(c). The remaining Appellees filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, alleging that certain of Appellants' claims failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted based on DOHSA preemption.

The district court issued a ruling granting these motions, holding that DOHSA preempts Appellants' state law and general maritime causes of action for wrongful death. More specifically, the district court held that DOHSA applies to noncommercial aircraft accidents "beyond three nautical miles from shore," and that Presidential Proclamation No. 5928, 54 Fed. Reg. 777 (Dec. 27, 1988) ("Proclamation 5298"), which extended the territorial sea of the United States from three to twelve nautical miles from shore, did nothing to alter DOHSA's applicability. In its holding, the district court relied on then-Judge Sotomayor's dissent in the seminal case of In re Air Crash Off Long Island, New York, on July 17, 1996, 209 F.3d 200 (2d Cir. 2000) (hereinafter the "TWA Flight 800 Case"), and declined to follow the majority opinion. Pursuant to Appellants' request, the district court certified the decision for interlocutory appeal, as a case of first impression in our circuit.

II. We review the district court judgment de novo. See Knieval v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir. 2005) (dismissal for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is reviewed de novo); Dunlap v. Credit Protection Ass'n, L.P., 419 F.3d 1011, 1012 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (dismissal on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) is reviewed de novo).

A. [1] DOHSA provides a federal statutory remedy for wrongful death occurring at sea. The current version of the statute reads:

When the death of an individual is caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default occurring on the high seas beyond 3 nautical miles from the shore of the United States, the personal representative of the decedent may bring a civil action in admiralty against the person or vessel responsible. The action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the ...


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