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Becker v. Beechcraft Corp.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 21, 2017

DARREN DALE BECKER, Individually and as Executor of the Estate of DONALD DALE BECKER, Plaintiff,
BEECHCRAFT CORPORATION., et al., Defendants.



         Presently pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Continental Motors Inc. ("Continental") pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the "Motion"). (D.I. 33) Continental argues that Plaintiff Darren Dale Becker, individually and as executor of the estate of his son, Donald Dale Becker ("Plaintiff"), has failed to allege plausible products liability claims against Continental. For the reasons that follow, the Court recommends that Continental's Motion be GRANTED in the manner set out below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff filed this action against a multitude of Defendants, including the four now-remaining Defendants: Continental, Beechcraft Corporation ("Beechcraft"), Engine Components, Inc., and Engine Components International (collectively, "Defendants"). (D.I. I)[1] The Complaint seeks redress from these Defendants for injuries arising out of an August 3, 2013 aircraft accident in Conway, South Carolina. (Id. at ¶¶ 40, 50-52) According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs son was invited to take a ride in a Beechcraft D55 Baron airplane (the "subject airplane"). (Id. at ¶ 40) The subject airplane was "powered by two 10 520 (C)(3B) piston engines ... designed, manufactured, overhauled, supplied by, and supported by" Continental. (Id. at ¶ 54; see also Id. at ¶ 121) "During a practice approach, when the pilot attempted to extend the flaps, the [subject airplane] suffered a split flap condition, with one flap extending, and the other actuator failing to extend." (Id. at ¶ 46) The split flap condition caused the "aircraft to fly erratically and lose control[.]" (Id. at ¶ 47) The pilot was "unable to overpower the split flap condition and was unable to gain sufficient engine power to gain altitude and land safely." (Id. at ¶ 48) As a result, the subject airplane "descended and impacted [a] pole, " several components separated from the airframe, and the plane caught on fire. (Id. at ¶ 50) Plaintiffs son was fatally injured due to this crash. (Id. at ¶ 52)

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff originally filed a suit for damages arising from the subject accident against H & H Air Service, LLC in the Court of Common Pleas of the State of South Carolina (the "South Carolina Action" or, when referring to the Court, the "South Carolina Court") on April 13, 2015. (D.I. 37 at 1 n.l)[2] Plaintiff joined the Defendants in that case via an Amended Complaint filed on July 30, 2015. (Id.)

         Thereafter, Plaintiff commenced two savings actions-the instant case on August 3, 2015 and one in a Kansas state court (the "Kansas Action"). (D.I. 20, ex. 1 at 5)[3] With regard to the instant case, on January 29, 2016, Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark referred the case to the Court to hear and resolve all pretrial matters, up to and including the resolution of case-dispositive motions.

         Continental then filed the instant Motion, in lieu of filing an Answer, on October 17, 2016.[4] (D.I. 33) The Motion was fully briefed on November 14, 2016. (D.I. 38)

         The Court deferred resolution of the instant Motion for a time, in light of the pendency in the South Carolina Action of certain motions to dismiss based on a lack of personal jurisdiction (and, later, motions for reconsideration of the denial of those motions to dismiss) that had been filed there by certain Defendants. (D.I. 53 at 1) Those motions to dismiss were denied in the South Carolina Action as to Beechcraft and Continental on April 4, 2016, and the motion to dismiss as to Engine Components, Inc. was denied on June 2, 2016. (Id.) Each of these Defendants moved the South Carolina Court to reconsider its rulings, (id.; D.I. 20 at 1), and by May 19, 2017, that Court had denied all three such motions.. (D.I. 48; D.I. 53 at 1) Currently, Continental "is considering renewing its challenge of personal jurisdiction in South Carolina based upon the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 3873 (June 19, 2017)." (D.I. 53 at 1)


         The sufficiency of pleadings for non-fraud claims is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). When presented with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court conducts a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the court separates the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepting "all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but [disregarding] any legal conclusions." Id. at 210-11; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) ("[A] court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint... [, but] [t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."). Second, the court determines "whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). In assessing the plausibility of a claim, the court must '"construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Id. at 210 (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)).


         Continental moves here for dismissal of three products liability counts against it-Count IV's strict liability claim, Count V's negligence claim, and Count VI's claim for breach of express and implied warranties-on the same two grounds. (D.I. 1) First, it argues that Plaintiff did not allege sufficient facts to support the conclusion that there was a defect in Continental's IO-520 engines found on the subject airplane. (D.I. 34 at 1, 8) And second, it asserts that Plaintiff failed to allege facts to support the proximate cause element of its claims against Continental. (Id.) Plaintiff argues in response that he ...

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