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In re Crash of Aircraft N93PC on July 7

United States District Court, D. Alaska

April 3, 2018

In re Crash of Aircraft N93PC on July 7, 2013, at Soldotna, Alaska

          ORDER

          H. Russel Holland United States District Judge

         Motion to Dismiss; Motion to Continue

         Defendant Stolairus Aviation Inc. moves to dismiss the claims against it.[1] This motion is opposed, [2] and in the alternative, plaintiffs and cross-claimant move to continue the motion to dismiss in order to take jurisdictional discovery.[3] The motion to continue is opposed.[4] Oral argument was not requested and is not deemed necessary.

         Background

         On July 7, 2013, a deHavilland DHC-3 “Otter” aircraft operated by Rediske Air, Inc. and piloted by Walter Rediske crashed shortly after take-off from the Soldotna Airport. Rediske and all of the passengers on board were killed in the crash. Rediske's estate and the estates of the passengers [referred to collectively as “plaintiffs” herein] assert wrongful death, negligence, products liability and breach of warranty claims against Stolairus.

         Plaintiffs allege that in April 2010, “Defendant Recon Air Corporation ... modified the subject aircraft when it installed an upgross kit known as Stol Kit STC SA00287NY, a Baron Stol Kit manufactured by Stolairus Aviation, Inc. (‘the Stol Kit') on the DHC-3 Otter.”[5]

         Plaintiffs further allege that in January or February of 2016, the Stol Kit was the subject of an Airworthiness Directive published by Transport Canada.”[6] Plaintiffs allege that “[t]he Airworthiness Directive stated that it was being issued to correct an unsafe condition for DHC-3 airplanes that are modified with the Baron Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) kit....”[7] Plaintiffs allege that

[t]he Airworthiness Directive stated that an investigation of a fatal crash of a turbo-propeller powered DHC-3 airplane modified with a Baron STOL kit determined that the probable cause was a rearward shift in the center of gravity, which resulted in a stall during takeoff. A center of gravity that is too far aft can contribute to a stall during takeoff and may result in loss of control during other phases of flight.[8]

         Plaintiffs allege that the Stol Kit installed on the subject aircraft

caused the aircraft to crash into the ground. The Stol Kit changed the center of gravity, making the center of gravity too far aft and contributed to or caused a stall and or loss of control of the aircraft. Defendant Stolairus failed to inspect, identify and warn of the change in the center of gravity.[9]

         Plaintiffs allege that Stolairus is a Canadian corporation with “its principal place of business” in British Columbia.[10] Plaintiffs allege that jurisdiction of Stolairus is appropriate in this court because Stolairus “provides support for aircraft worldwide, including the United States and specifically Alaska.”[11]

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Stolairus now moves to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against it for lack of personal jurisdiction.[12] In the alterative, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Stolairus moves to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against it on the grounds that they are barred by the statute of limitations.

         Discussion

          “[A] court considering a motion relating to jurisdiction as well as a motion on the merits generally ... decide[s] the jurisdictional issue first[.]” Thornhill Pub. Co., Inc. v. General Tel. & Electronics Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 733-34 (9th Cir. 1979). Thus, the court considers Stolairus's Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction first.

         “Where [a] defendant[] move[s] to dismiss a complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, [the] plaintiffs bear the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is appropriate.” Dole Food Co., Inc. v. Watts, 303 F.3d 1104, 1108 (9th Cir. 2002). If “the motion is based on written materials rather than an evidentiary hearing, ‘the plaintiff need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdictional facts.'” Id. (quoting Sher v. Johnson, 911 F.2d 1357, 1361 (9th Cir. 1990)). “In determining whether [a plaintiff has] met this prima facie burden, uncontroverted allegations in [the] complaint must be taken as true, and ‘conflicts between the facts contained in the parties' affidavits must be resolved in [the plaintiff's] favor....'” Ochoa v. J.B. Martin and Sons Farms, Inc., 287 F.3d 1182, 1187 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Am. Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Compagnie Bruxelles Lambert, 94 F.3d 586, 588 (9th Cir. 1996)). “Additionally, any evidentiary materials submitted on the motion ‘are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all doubts are resolved in [the plaintiff's] favor.'” Id. (quoting Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Neaves, 912 F.2d 1062, 1064 n.1 (9th Cir. 1990)).

         “Where, as here, there is no applicable federal statute governing personal jurisdiction, the district court applies the law of the state in which the district court sits.” Dole Food Co., 303 F.3d at 1110. Alaska's long-arm statute reaches “to the maximum extent permitted by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment[.]” Alaska Telecom, Inc. v. Schafer, 888 P.2d 1296, 1299 (Alaska 1995).

         “[T]here are two forms that personal jurisdiction may take: general and specific.” Picot v. Weston, 780 F.3d 1206, 1211 (9th Cir. 2015). Plaintiffs contend that Stolairus could be subject to both general and specific jurisdiction.

         “[C]ourts have general jurisdiction over a foreign corporation only if the corporation's connections to the forum state ‘are so continuous and systematic as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum State.'” Williams v. Yamaha Motor Co., 851 F.3d 1015, 1020 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011)). “A corporation's ‘continuous activity of some sorts within a state is [generally] not enough to support the demand that the corporation be amenable to suits unrelated to that activity.'” Id. (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Wash., 326 U.S. 310, 318 (1945)). “Rather, in the paradigmatic circumstance for exercising general jurisdiction, the corporate defendant is incorporated or has its principal place of business in the forum state.” Id. “Only in an ‘exceptional case' will general jurisdiction be available anywhere else.” Martinez v. Aero Caribbean, 764 F.3d 1062, 1070 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746, 761 n.19 (2014)).

         Stolairus is not incorporated in Alaska nor does it have its principal place of business in Alaska[13] and thus in order for the court to have general jurisdiction over it, plaintiffs must show that Stolairus is “at home” in Alaska. In order to be at home in a forum, a corporation's contacts with the forum must be “continuous and systematic.” Ranza v. Nike, Inc., 793 F.3d 1059, 1069 (9th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). The corporation must be “heavily engaged in activity in” the forum. BNSF Ry. Co. v. Tyrrell, 137 S.Ct. 1549, 1559 (2017). For example, in BNSF Railway, the Court found it was not sufficient that BNSF had 2000 miles of track and 2000 employees in Montana because “‘the general jurisdiction inquiry does not focus solely on the magnitude of the defendant's in-state contacts. Rather, the inquiry ‘calls for an appraisal of a corporation's activities in their entirety'; ‘[a] corporation that operates in many places can scarcely be deemed at home in all of them.'” Id. (quoting Daimler, 134 S.Ct. at 762, n.20).

         Plaintiffs concede that they cannot establish general jurisdiction without jurisdictional discovery.[14] In their motion to continue, plaintiffs indicated that they were only seeking to take jurisdictional discovery in an attempt to establish specific jurisdiction, [15] but in their reply brief, they indicate that they are seeking to take jurisdictional discovery in an attempt to establish general jurisdiction.[16]

         Jurisdictional “‘[d]iscovery may be appropriately granted where pertinent facts bearing on the question of jurisdiction are controverted or where a more satisfactory showing of the facts is necessary.'” Boschetto v. Hansing, 539 F.3d 1011, 1020 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Data Disc, Inc. v. Systems Tech. Assoc., Inc., 557 F.2d 1280, 1285 n.1 (9th Cir. 1977)). But, “‘[w]here a plaintiff's claim of personal jurisdiction appears to be both attenuated and based on bare allegations in the face of specific denials made by the defendants, the [c]ourt need not permit even limited discovery....'” Pebble Beach Co. v. Caddy, 453 F.3d 1151, 1160 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Terracom v. Valley Nat'l Bank, 49 F.3d 555, 562 (9th Cir. 1995)). It is not an abuse of discretion for the court to deny a request for jurisdictional discovery that is “based on little more than a hunch that it might yield jurisdictionally relevant facts[.]” Boschetto, 539 F.3d at 1020.

[T]he merits of [a] request for jurisdictional discovery depends heavily on the information [the plaintiff] has, now, to support th[e c]ourt's exercise of personal jurisdiction over the [d]efendants. The more information [the plaintiff] has, the more plausible personal jurisdiction is, and the more legitimate the request for limited, jurisdictional discovery will be. The less information [the plaintiff] has, however, the more the request looks like a simple fishing expedition.

NuboNau, Inc. v. NB Labs, Ltd., Case No. 10cv2631-LAB (BGS), 2011 WL 5237566, at *3 (S.D. Cal. Oct. ...


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