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Rehl v. Romec

April 26, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sifton, Senior Judge.


Plaintiffs Mark Rehl and Dawn DeRatier,*fn1 individually and as co-administrators of the estate of decedent Matthew Rehl, filed a diversity action on December 14, 2004 in the District of Connecticut against defendants Lear Romec, a Division of Hydro-Aire, Inc., ("Lear Romec") and Master Aviation, Inc., asserting wrongful death and survival claims*fn2 in relation to an airplane crash near Woodbury, Connecticut in which Matthew Rehl was killed. Plaintiffs and decedent Matthew Rehl are New York domiciliaries. Hydro-Aire is a California corporation with its principal place of business in California, and the Lear Romec division is based in Ohio.*fn3 Master Aviation is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Connecticut.

On April 14, 2007, Master Aviation filed a Third-Party Complaint in this action against M.K. Two, Inc., a New York corporation based in New York, Teledyne Mattituck Services, a Delaware corporation also based in New York, and Kelly Aerospace, an Alabama corporation based in Alabama, seeking contribution and indemnification.

The case was transferred to this Court in July 2005 by the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation ("MDL Panel"). See In re Air Crash Near Woodbury, Connecticut, 374 F.Supp.2d 1358 (Jud.Pan.Mult.Lit. 2005).*fn4 Now before this Court is plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ.

Pro. 56, seeking to establish that, as a matter of Connecticut law, their damages are not limited to pecuniary losses.*fn5

Defendant Lear Romec has cross-moved for partial summary judgment to dismiss plaintiffs' claims for such damages on the grounds that recovery of non-pecuniary damages is barred as a matter of New York law.*fn6 For the reasons discussed herein, plaintiffs' motion is denied and defendant Lear Romec's motion is granted.


The following facts are drawn from plaintiffs' Complaint and the submissions of the parties in connection with this motion. Disputes are noted.

Factual History

On December 20, 2002, Matthew Rehl was piloting a Piper Saratoga airplane which departed from Rutland, Vermont and was bound for Farmingdale, New York. Paul Knopf, a Vermont domiciliary, was the only passenger.*fn7 During the flight, the plane crashed near Woodbury, Connecticut and both Rehl and Knopf were killed.

According to plaintiffs' Complaint, as amplified by their filings in connection with this motion, the crash was the result of a defective fuel pump which caused an in-flight fire.*fn8 The plaintiffs state that the aircraft was maintained by Master Aviation for the six-month period prior to the crash and that the fuel pump was designed and manufactured by Lear Romec.

According to defendants, the plane was owned by M.K. Two, Inc., and Farmingdale was the plane's home-base. The plane was manufactured by Piper Aircraft Corp. in Vero Beach, Florida and used an engine manufactured by Lycoming Engines in Pennsylvania. Master Aviation performed annual inspections of the airplane in Connecticut and helped identify engine overhaul facilities for M.K. Two, Inc. In September 2002, M.K. Two, Inc. selected Teledyne Mattituck to overhaul the engine. At the request of M.K. Two, Inc., Master Aviation removed the engine and sent it to Teledyne Mattituck in New York; M.K. Two, Inc. paid for the shipping and the overhaul of the engine.*fn9 Teledyne Mattituck completed the engine overhaul at its facility in New York, which included installing an overhauled fuel pump. The fuel pump was originally manufactured in Ohio by Lear Romec in 1978 and had been overhauled by Kelly Aerospace Power Systems, Inc. in Alabama. After its overhaul, Teledyne Mattituck returned the engine to Master Aviation in Connecticut which then installed the engine in the plane in October, 2002 and completed an annual inspection; this installation involved, among other things, connecting the airplane fuel line to the fuel pump.*fn10

State Court Proceedings

In addition to the federal action, plaintiffs have filed, as already noted, an action in New York State Supreme Court stating claims against the defendants and third-party defendants in this case as well as against two additional parties. The additional state defendants are: (1) Lycoming Engines,*fn11 which manufactured the engine in Pennsylvania; and (2) Piper Aircraft (a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Florida), which manufactured the plane in Florida.

Federal Court Proceedings

On February 16, 2007, plaintiffs filed the present motion for partial summary judgment,*fn12 arguing that Connecticut wrongful death law, which permits recover for non-pecuniary damages, should apply.*fn13 Lear Romec cross-moved on March 19, 2007, arguing that New York wrongful death law should apply and, accordingly, that claims for non-pecuniary losses should be dismissed as a matter of law.*fn14

Discussion Summary Judgment Standard

A court must grant a motion for summary judgment if the movant shows that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and that "the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(c). Summary judgment is appropriate "[w]hen the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the ...

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