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Escobar v. Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

July 21, 2016

VIOLETA ESCOBAR, also known as VIOLETA ESCOBAR CLINE, Individually and as Personal Representative for the ESTATE OF NATHAN CLINE, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
NEVADA HELICOPTER LEASING LLC; AIRBUS HELICOPTERS SAS, formerly known as Eurocopter Deutschland GmbH and Eurocopter, S.A.S., Defendants. NEVADA HELICOPTER LEASING LLC, Cross-Claimant,
v.
AIRBUS HELICOPTERS SAS, formerly known as Eurocopter Deutschland GmbH and Eurocopter, S.A.S., Cross-Defendant. NEVADA HELICOPTER LEASING LLC, Third-Party Plaintiff,
v.
AIRBUS HELICOPTERS, INC., formerly known as American Eurocopter Corporation, Third-Party Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT NEVADA HELICOPTER LEASING LLC’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 127)

          Helen Gillmor United States District Judge.

         On November 10, 2011, a 2010 Eurocopter France model EC130 B4 helicopter, which was piloted by Nathan Cline, crashed on the island of Molokai. Cline and the four passengers onboard the helicopter died as a result of the crash.

         Plaintiff Violeta Escobar, the widow of Nathan Cline, has filed a First Amended Complaint against Airbus Helicopters SAS, and Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC, on behalf of herself and as personal representative for the Estate of Nathan Cline.

         Plaintiff’s Complaint asserts state law claims for negligence and strict products liability against both Defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS, the manufacturer of the helicopter, and Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC, the owner of the helicopter.

         Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC owned the helicopter at issue and leased it to Maui Helicopter Consultants, doing business as Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.

         Blue Hawaiian Helicopters was the employer of Nathan Cline. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters is not a party to the lawsuit.

         Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment asserting that Plaintiff’s state law causes of action are preempted by federal law. Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC argues that pursuant to preemptive federal law, it is immune from liability because it did not have actual possession or control of the helicopter, but merely leased it to Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.

         Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 127) is GRANTED.

         THE PARTIES

         Airbus Group, S.E., [1] is a parent company that coordinates a number of business involving aviation and is headquartered in the Netherlands. Airbus Group, S.E. was never served with the First Amended Complaint and was dismissed from the case.

         Defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS[2] is primarily owned by Airbus Group, S.E., and is responsible for manufacturing of its helicopters. Defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS has its principal place of business in France.

         Defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS designed, manufactured, and tested the EC130 B4 model helicopter at issue in this case. (Defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS’s Answer at ¶¶ 14-15, ECF No. 60). Defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS sold the helicopter at issue in this case to Airbus Helicopters, Inc. in early 2010. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16; Airbus Helicopters, Inc.’s Answer at ¶ 9-10, ECF No. 63).

         Third-Party Defendant Airbus Helicopters, Inc.[3] is a Delaware corporation with two industrial sites in the United States and its principal place of business in Texas. Airbus Helicopters, Inc. is wholly-owned by Airbus Group, Inc., which is a subsidiary of Airbus Group, S.E. (Airbus Helicopters Inc.’s Corporate Disclosure Statement, ECF No. 65).

         Airbus Helicopters, Inc., in this instance, is the entity responsible for the sale and distribution of Airbus helicopters in the United States. Airbus Helicopters, Inc. bought the EC130 B4 helicopter at issue in this case from Airbus Helicopters SAS in early 2010. (Airbus Helicopters, Inc.’s Answer at ¶ 10, ECF No. 63). On or about March 29, 2010, Airbus Helicopters, Inc. sold the EC130 B4 helicopter to Nevada Leasing LLC. (Id. at ¶ 11; Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC’s Answer at ¶ 9, ECF No. 39).

         Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC (“Nevada Leasing”) is a limited liability company registered in the State of Nevada. Nevada Leasing is wholly owned by Blue Hawaiian Holdings, LLC. (Nevada Leasing’s Corporate Disclosure Statement, ECF No. 29).

         Nevada Leasing was formed to take advantage of federal and state tax incentives for entities established to purchase and lease aircrafts. (Woods Aff. at ¶¶ 7, 9, ECF No. 128-2; Chevalier Depo. at p. 49, attached as Ex. 5 to Pla.’s CSF, ECF No. 142-7).

         On or about March 29, 2010, Nevada Leasing purchased the EC130 B4 helicopter at issue in this case from Airbus Helicopters, Inc. (Airbus Helicopters, Inc.’s Answer at ¶ 11, ECF No. 63; Nevada Leasing’s Answer at ¶ 9, ECF No. 39). Nevada Leasing leased the helicopter at issue to Helicopter Consultants of Maui, Inc., doing business as Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.

         Helicopter Consultants of Maui, Inc. doing business as Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (“Blue Hawaiian”) is a business licensed in the State of Hawaii to conduct helicopter tour operations. Blue Hawaiian leased the helicopter at issue from Nevada Leasing pursuant to a long-term lease agreement.

         Blue Hawaiian employed Nathan Cline as a commercial helicopter pilot to conduct helicopters tours of Hawaii.

         On November 10, 2011, Nathan Cline was fatally injured when he piloted the EC130 B4 helicopter at issue when it crashed in mountainous terrain on the island of Molokai.

         Plaintiff Violeta Escobar, also known as Violeta Escobar Cline, is the widow of Nathan Cline. She has filed suit on behalf of herself individually and as the personal representative for the estate of Nathan Cline.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On November 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Complaint. (ECF No. 1).

         On July 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed a FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT against three entities:

(1) Airbus Group, S.E., the parent company;
(2) Airbus Helicopters SAS, the manufacturer of the helicopter; and
(3) Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC, the owner and lessor of the helicopter at issue.

(ECF No. 32).

         On October 27, 2015, Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC filed a THIRD PARTY COMPLAINT against Airbus Helicopters, Inc., the seller of the helicopter. (ECF No. 56).

         On November 10, 2015, Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC filed a CROSSCLAIM against the co-defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS, the helicopter manufacturer. (ECF No. 68).

         On March 10, 2016, Plaintiff filed a NOTICE OF DISMISSAL as to her claims against Airbus Group, S.E., the parent company headquartered in the Netherlands, who was never served with the First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 103).

         Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint remained against Defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS, the helicopter manufacturer, and Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC, the owner/lessor of the helicopter.

         On April 29, 2016, Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC filed a MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT against Plaintiff along with a CONCISE STATEMENT OF FACTS. (ECF Nos. 127, 128).

         On May 12, 2016, Plaintiff requested an extension of time to file her Opposition to Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 131).

         On the same date, the Court issued a Minute Order granting Plaintiff’s request for an extension of time and also provided Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC with an extension of time to file its Reply. (ECF No. 132).

         On May 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed her Memorandum in Opposition and Plaintiff’s Concise Statement of Material Facts in Opposition. (ECF Nos. 136, 137).

         On May 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed her Corrected Memorandum in Opposition and her Concise Statement of Material Facts in Opposition. (ECF Nos. 142, 143). Plaintiff withdrew her incorrectly filed submissions. (ECF No. 147).

         Also on May 25, 2016, both Defendant Airbus Helicopters SAS and Third-Party Defendant Airbus Helicopters, Inc. filed a STATEMENT OF NO POSITION as to Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 141).

         On June 6, 2016, Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC filed its REPLY. (ECF No. 149).

         On June 20, 2016, the Court held a hearing on Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 2, 2001, Defendant Nevada Helicopter Leasing LLC (“Nevada Leasing”) was formed by its original two Members and Managers David J. Chevalier and David B. Griffin as a limited liability company in the State of Nevada. (Affidavit of R. Glen Woods (“Woods Aff.”) at ¶¶ 1-4, attached as Ex. 1 to Def.’s Concise Statement of Fact (“CSF”), ECF No. 128-2).

         David J. Chevalier was the majority owner of Defendant Nevada Leasing and David B. Griffin was the minority owner. (Operating Agreement for Nevada Leasing, attached as Ex. 2 to Pla.’s CSF, ECF No. 142-4).

         Defendant Nevada Leasing did not have any employees. (Woods Aff. at ¶ 10, ECF No. 128-2).

         Defendant Nevada Leasing purchased helicopters that were leased to Helicopter Consultants of Maui, Inc., doing business as Blue Hawaiian Helicopters (“Blue Hawaiian”). (Woods Aff. at ¶ 8, ECF No. 128-2; see Checks from Nevada Leasing to American Eurocopters, attached as Ex. 19 to Pla.’s CSF, ECF No. 142-21).

         David J. Chevalier, the majority owner of Defendant Nevada Leasing, was also a majority owner of Blue Hawaiian and served as Blue Hawaiian’s Chief Executive Officer. (Deposition of David. J. Chevalier (“Chevalier Depo.”) at p. 53, attached as Ex. 5 to Pla.’s CSF, ECF No. 142-7).

         David B. Griffin, the minority owner of Defendant Nevada Leasing, owned the remaining percentages of Blue Hawaiian and served as Blue Hawaiian’s Chief Operating Officer. (Id.)

         On March 17, 2010, Defendant Nevada Leasing purchased the Subject Helicopter, a Eurocopter EC 130 B4 with Serial Number 4909 and Federal Aviation Administration Registration No. N11QV (“Subject Helicopter”) from Third-Party Defendant Airbus Helicopters, Inc., formerly known as American Eurocopter Corporation. (Invoice Number 88101401 from American Eurocopter Corporation to Nevada Helicopter dated March 17, 2010, attached as Ex. 4 to Def.’s CSF, ECF No. 128-5).

         Defendant Nevada Leasing was listed as the registered owner of the Subject Helicopter on the Federal Aviation Administration Registration Certificate. (Federal Aviation Administration Certification issued on April 16, 2010, for Eurocopter EC130B4 with Registration Number 11QV, attached as Ex. 3 to Def.’s CSF, ECF No. 128-4).

         Defendant Nevada Leasing leased the Subject Helicopter to Blue Hawaiian pursuant to a Master Helicopter Lease Agreement with an effective date of March 29, 2010, and an expiration date of March 29, 2015. (Master Helicopter Lease Agreement and Master Lease Schedule, attached as Ex. 5 to Def.’s CSF, ECF No. 128-6). The Master Lease Agreement was Amended on June 1, 2011 with an effective date of June 1, 2011 and an expiration date of June 1, 2016. (Amended and Restated Master Helicopter Lease Agreement, attached as Ex. 6 to Def.’s CSF, ECF No. 128-7).

         The Lease Agreement contained a provision stating that the Subject Helicopter “will at all times be and remain in the possession and control of” Blue Hawaiian. (Id. at ¶ 10, ECF No. 128-7).

         The Lease Agreement also provided that Blue Hawaiian would be responsible for all maintenance, repairs, and inspections for ...


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