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Katz v. Spiniello Companies

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 22, 2017

DREW KATZ et al., Plaintiffs,
SPINIELLO COMPANIES et al., Defendants. SK TRAVEL, LLC, Third-Party Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Third-Party Defendant.



         I. Introduction

         This case arises out of a May 31, 2014 airplane crash that occurred in Bedford, Massachusetts during the takeoff rotation of a Gulfstream G-IV aircraft, killing all passengers onboard. Plaintiffs Drew Katz and Melissa Silver (“Plaintiffs”), individually and as the co-personal representatives of the estate of Lewis A. Katz, a passenger on the flight, have filed this lawsuit against numerous defendants including Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation (Georgia) (“Gulfstream Georgia”), Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation (Delaware) (“Gulfstream Delaware”), Gulfstream Aerospace Services Corporation (“Gulfstream Services”) and Rockwell Collins, Inc. (“Rockwell”), alleging claims of wrongful death and conscious suffering predicated on theories of negligence and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. D. 1-3, 1-4. Plaintiffs have also brought claims under Mass. Gen. Laws c. 93A. D. 1-3, 1-4. Rockwell, Gulfstream Services, Gulfstream Georgia and Gulfstream Delaware have all moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. D. 64, 67, 70, 82.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS all but Gulfstream Services' motion to dismiss.

         II. Standard of Review

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction without holding an evidentiary hearing, a district court must apply the prima facie standard of review. United States v. Swiss Am. Bank, Ltd., 274 F.3d 610, 618 (1st Cir. 2001). Under the prima facie standard, Plaintiffs must “demonstrate the existence of every fact required to satisfy both the forum's long arm statute and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, ” to meet their burden pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). Id. (citing United Elec. Radio and Mach. Workers of Am. v. 163 Pleasant St. Corp., 987 F.2d 39, 44 (1st Cir. 1993)). The Court considers the facts alleged in the pleadings as well as the parties' supplemental filings. Sawtelle v. Farrell, 70 F.3d 1381, 1385 (1st Cir. 1995); Ticketmaster-N.Y., Inc. v. Alioto, 26 F.3d 201, 203 (1st Cir. 1994). The Court will “take specific facts affirmatively alleged by the plaintiff as true (whether or not disputed) and construe them in the light most congenial to the plaintiff's jurisdictional claim.” Mass. Sch. of Law at Andover, Inc. v. Am. Bar Ass'n, 142 F.3d 26, 34 (1st Cir. 1998). In doing so, the Court will “not “credit conclusory allegations or draw farfetched inferences, ” Ticketmaster-N.Y., 26 F.3d at 203, and must keep in mind that Plaintiffs need to “do more than simply surmise the existence of a favorable factual scenario; [they] must verify the facts alleged through materials of evidentiary quality.” Killion v. Commonwealth Yachts, 421 F.Supp.2d 246, 252 (D. Mass. 2006) (quoting Barrett v. Lombardi, 239 F.3d 23, 27 (1st Cir. 2001)). “Thus, allegations in a lawyer's brief or legal memorandum are insufficient, even under the relatively relaxed prima facie standard, to establish jurisdictional facts.” Id. (quoting Barrett, 239 F.3d at 27). The Court is also required to “add to the mix facts put forward by the defendants, to the extent that they are uncontradicted.” Mass. Sch. of Law, 142 F.3d at 34.

         III. Factual Allegations

         These allegations are taken from the operative complaint and the affidavits filed by Gulfstream Services, Gulfstream Georgia, Gulfstream Delaware and Rockwell in support of their motions to dismiss. For the purposes of the instant motions, the Court presumes the allegations put forth by the Plaintiffs to be true and also considers the Defendants' uncontradicted factual allegations. The Court has already extensively laid out the alleged facts in this case in its December 12, 2016 Order regarding Plaintiffs' motion to remand, D. 135, and incorporates the articulation of those facts into this Memorandum and Order. Thus, for present purposes, the Court only recounts facts relevant to the motions to dismiss of Gulfstream Georgia, Gulfstream Delaware, Gulfstream Services and Rockwell.

         On May 31, 2014, a Gulfstream G-IV aircraft, Serial Number N121JM, (the “G-IV”) crashed during its takeoff rotation as it was departing from Laurence G. Hanscom Field in Bedford, Massachusetts. D. 1-2 ¶¶ 1, 59. The accident resulted in the deaths of seven people, including Lewis A. Katz, his three companions, the flight attendant and pilots. Id. ¶¶ 1, 8, 69.

         Gulfstream Georgia, a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the state of Georgia, designed and manufactured the G-IV. D. 66 ¶¶ 3, 7. Gulfstream Georgia neither has any design or manufacturing facilities in Massachusetts nor is it registered or authorized to do business in the Commonwealth. Id. ¶¶ 4, 5. No agent for service of process exists for Gulfstream Georgia in Massachusetts and Gulfstream Georgia has not consented to jurisdiction in Massachusetts. Id. ¶ 4. In addition, Gulfstream Georgia does not utilize a network of distributors or retailers in the sale of its aircraft, instead opting to sell its aircraft directly to consumers. Id. ¶ 6. The G-IV at issue here was sold by Gulfstream Georgia to Rim Air LLC, a Delaware corporation, in 2000. D. 66 ¶ 9; D. 66-1. Rim Air LLC subsequently sold the G-IV to SK Travel LLC (“SK Travel”), a North Carolina corporation that is a separate defendant in this case, in 2007. D. 66 ¶ 10; D. 66-2. Prior to the initial sale of the G-IV, Gulfstream Georgia never tested, operated or serviced the aircraft in Massachusetts. D. 66 ¶ 8. At present, Plaintiffs have filed suit in Georgia state court against Gulfstream Georgia that is a near-identical lawsuit to the instant action. D. 71 at 2.

         Gulfstream Delaware, the parent holding company of Gulfstream Georgia and Gulfstream Services, is not incorporated in Massachusetts and does not have its principal place of business in Massachusetts. D. 69 ¶¶ 3-4. Additionally, Gulfstream Delaware is not registered or authorized to do business in Massachusetts, does not have an agent for service of process here and has never consented to jurisdiction in Massachusetts. Id. ¶ 8. Gulfstream Delaware did not design or manufacture the particular G-IV that crashed in Bedford, nor has it designed or manufactured any other G-IV or any other component of a G-IV aircraft. Id. ¶ 7.

         Gulfstream Services is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Gulfstream Delaware and is organized under the laws of the state of Delaware. D. 72 ¶¶ 3-4. Gulfstream Services' corporate headquarters are in Georgia. Id. ¶ 3. Like Gulfstream Delaware, Gulfstream Services did not design or manufacture the particular G-IV that crashed in Bedford, nor has it designed or manufactured any other G-IV or any other component of a G-IV aircraft. Id. ¶ 6. Gulfstream Services has also never been the type certificate holder for the Gulfstream G-IV product line, which was instead held by Gulfstream Georgia. Id. ¶ 5. Rather, Gulfstream Services specializes in the repair and maintenance of Gulfstream aircraft and it has several service facilities located throughout the country, including one in Westfield, Massachusetts (the “Westfield Facility”). Id. ¶ 7. Gulfstream Services' business records reveal that employees from the Westfield Facility provided maintenance to the G-IV on a single occasion in January 2013. Id. ¶ 8; D. 72-1. On that occasion, the G-IV's auxiliary power unit (“APU”) was malfunctioning and, at the request of SK Travel, two technicians were sent from the Westfield Facility to repair the issue in Delaware. D. 72 ¶ 8.

         Rockwell designed, manufactured and sold the G-IV's interlock mechanism and gust lock at issue in this case. D. 1-4 ¶¶ 354, 358. Rockwell does not have an office in Massachusetts; it has never had a principal place of business in Massachusetts; it does not maintain bank accounts in Massachusetts; nor has it ever manufactured any component of the gust lock system in Massachusetts or sold, marketed or distributed the gust lock system to a Massachusetts customer. D. 83-1 ¶¶ 5-11. Rockwell delivered the last pedestal assembly in 2004 and the last G-IV sector assembly in 2008 and neither was to Massachusetts. Id. ¶ 11. In 2001, Rockwell registered as a foreign corporation to do business in Massachusetts and also identified a registered agent in the Commonwealth. Id. ¶ 12. From 2001 until 2005, Rockwell leased property in Massachusetts, but it has not leased any property since that time, and does not own property in Massachusetts. Id. ¶ 13. Additionally, for one month-from January 1, 2013 until February 1, 2013-Rockwell had one employee, out of its 19, 000 employees, who was located in Massachusetts. Id. ¶ 14.

         IV. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in this action on May 27, 2016 in Suffolk Superior Court. D. 1-4. The case was removed to this Court on July 1, 2016. D. 1. Gulfstream Services, Gulfstream Georgia and Gulfstream Delaware subsequently filed motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. D. 64, 67, 70. Rockwell also filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. D. 82. On July 29, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand this case to state court, D. 86, and this Court otherwise stayed the case pending resolution of that matter. D. 112. After denying the motion to remand, D. 135, the Court heard the parties on the pending motions on February 9, 2017 and took these matters under advisement. D. 170.

         V. Discussion

         The Court's personal jurisdiction over a defendant may derive from either general or specific jurisdiction. Plaintiffs do not maintain that this Court has general jurisdiction over Rockwell, Gulfstream Services, Gulfstream Georgia or Gulfstream Delaware and, as such, the Court must only determine whether Plaintiffs have asserted facts sufficient to exercise specific jurisdiction over these defendants. To establish specific personal jurisdiction, Plaintiffs “must demonstrate that the Massachusetts long-arm statute grants jurisdiction over [them] and that the exercise of that jurisdiction comports with the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.” Adelson v. Hananel, 510 F.3d 43, 48 (1st Cir. 2007). The First Circuit, however, has “construed the Massachusetts long-arm statute as being coextensive with the limits permitted by the Constitution.” Adelson v. Hananel, 652 F.3d 75, 80-81 (1st Cir. 2011) (footnote omitted). It is, therefore, acceptable to “sidestep the statutory inquiry and proceed directly to the constitutional analysis.” Daynard v. Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, P.A., 290 F.3d 42, 52 (1st Cir. 2002).

         Due process requires the Court to determine whether the defendant has maintained “certain minimum contacts” with the forum state “such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). Accordingly, “[t]he accepted mode of analysis for questions involving personal jurisdiction concentrates on the quality and quantity of the potential defendant's contacts with the forum.” Phillips Exeter Acad. v. Howard Phillips Fund, Inc., 196 F.3d 284, 288 (1st Cir. 1999). The specific jurisdiction inquiry is threefold: relatedness, purposeful availment and reasonableness. Astro-Med, Inc. v. Nihon Kohden Am., Inc., 591 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2009) (citing N. Am. Catholic Educ. Programming Found., Inc. v. Cardinale, 567 F.3d 8, 16 (1st Cir. 2009); N. Laminate Sales, Inc. v. Davis, 403 F.3d 14, 25 (1st Cir. 2005)). The Court must find that all three are present to assert personal jurisdiction over a defendant. See id. Accordingly, the Court shall now address this three-prong standard as to each of the Defendants.

         A. Rockwell

         1. Relatedness

         Plaintiffs allege no facts that would satisfy the relatedness prong as it pertains to Rockwell. The relatedness inquiry focuses on whether “the claim underlying the litigation . . . directly arise[s] out of, or relate[s] to, the defendant's forum-state activities.” Newman v. Eur. Aeronautic Def. & Space Co. EADS N.V., No. 09-cv-10138-DJC, 2011 WL 2413792, at *4 (D. Mass. June 16, 2011) (alterations in original) (quoting Astro-Med, 591 F.3d at 9). This is a “flexible, relaxed standard, ” id. (quoting Astro-Med, 591 F.3d at 9), but still requires a causal relationship between Plaintiffs' claim and Defendants' forum-related conduct. Harlow v. Children's Hosp., 432 F.3d 50, 61 (1st Cir. 2005). Though not precisely proximate cause, “due process demands something like a ‘proximate cause' nexus.” Id. (quoting Cambridge Literary Props. Ltd. v. W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik G.m.b.H & Co. Kg., 295 F.3d 59, 65 (1st Cir. 2002)). “[T]he defendant's in-state conduct must form an important, or [at least] material, element of proof in the plaintiff's case.” Id. at 61 (alteration in original) (quoting United Elec., Radio & Mach. Workers of Am. V. 163 Pleasant St. Corp., 960 F.2d 1080, 1089 (1st Cir. 1992)). Furthermore, a court may have specific jurisdiction in situations where there is only a single contact with the forum state, but that contact must be “meaningful.” Nowak v. Tak How Invs., Ltd., 94 F.3d 708, 717 (1st Cir. 1996) (citing Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 475 n. 18 (1985); McGee v. Int'l Life Ins. Co., 355 U.S. 220, 223 (1957)).

         Here, Plaintiffs' claims against Rockwell are premised on the allegation that the G-IV's gust lock system, which the pilots had failed to disengage prior to takeoff and which allegedly contributed to the crash, contained “design defects, manufacturing defects, and inadequate and unreasonably dangerous instructions and warnings.” D. 1-4 ¶¶ 354, 358. Rockwell, however, has never manufactured any part of the gust lock system in Massachusetts, nor has it marketed, sold or distributed this component in the Commonwealth. D. 83-1 ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiffs have not contested these facts. Although Rockwell registered as a foreign corporation to do business in Massachusetts and briefly rented space and had a single employee here, id. ¶¶ 12-14, these limited contacts do not relate to Plaintiffs' allegations regarding the gust lock system. Harrell v. Repp, 759 F.Supp.2d 128, 131 (D. Mass. 2010) (finding no personal jurisdiction where “[n]one of [Defendant's] supposed contacts is connected to the litigation”). As such, the Court cannot conclude that any of Plaintiffs' claims against Rockwell relate to Rockwell's alleged negligence or misconduct in Massachusetts.

         2. Purposeful Availment and ...

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