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Cunningham Charter Corp v. Learjet Inc

July 12, 2012

CUNNINGHAM CHARTER CORP., PLAINTIFF,
v.
LEARJET INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge:

ORDER

Before the Court is defendant Learjet Inc.'s supplemental motions in limine (Doc. 196). Plaintiff Cunningham Charter Corporation filed a response in opposition (Doc. 213).*fn1 For the reasons that follow, defendant's motions are denied (Doc. 196).

In defendant's supplemental motion, defendant seeks the preclusion of any of the following topics in the presence of the jury: 1) evidence that the windshield failures experienced on plaintiff's aircraft or any other Learjet Model 45 aircraft affected flight safety because the Federal Aviation Administration ("the FAA") already determined that such windshield failures did not affect flight safety; 2) evidence related to plaintiff's unilateral decision to ground the aircraft; 3) evidence that the aircraft's windshields were defective; 4) evidence of windshield failures by other Learjet Model 45 aircrafts; 5) evidence related to the windshield manufacturing process; 6) evidence related to the submission of warranty claims to defendant which plaintiff claims were wrongfully denied or improperly adjudicated; 7) any statements from employees of the windshield manufacturer within the Dayton Report -- or any other evidence derived from these statements -- as such evidence is hearsay and is not subject to any exception to the hearsay rule; and 8) any reference to the home state of any counsel for the parties to this action. The Court will address each issue in turn.

I. Applicable Rules

Federal Rule of Evidence 401 holds evidence is relevant if it "has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence." FED. R. EVID. 401. Further, relevant evidence is admissible unless a binding rule holds otherwise, while irrelevant evidence is inadmissible. See FED. R. EVID. 402. Lastly, "[t]he court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." FED. R. EVID. 403. "The trial court's evidentiary decisions, including its rulings on motions in limine, are reviewed for abuse of discretion." United States v. Bradley, 145 F.3d 889, 892 (7th Cir. 1998).

II. Windshield Failures and Flight Safety

Defendant seeks to preclude plaintiff from presenting any evidence that the windshields affect flight safety. In essence, defendant contends that because it is undisputed that the FAA did not revoke the aircraft's airworthiness certificate and plaintiff has not identified nor designated any expert who is qualified to testify that the FAA's determination not to revoke was incorrect, plaintiff should be precluded from offering any evidence that the windshields where unsafe or caused a flight safety issue. Plaintiff responds by arguing that the motion is over broad and does not refer to specific evidence which defendant seeks to preclude. Plaintiff believes that the motion should be denied on that basis alone. Moreover, plaintiff asserts that the evidence relating to flight safety is directly relevant to plaintiff's claims in any event, including defendant's knowledge and plaintiff's damages. Plaintiff also points to the fact that in a 1999 PowerPoint presentation titled "Learjet 45 Windshield Failures" instructed pilots not to fly the aircraft if the windshields shattered because of concerns arising from a "complete loss of visibility and windshield" and to land the aircraft immediately. The Court also notes that the "Abnormal Procedures" checklist for a shattered or cracked windshield instructed pilots to "[m]aintain 25,000 feet or below or minimum safe altitude" and "[l]and as soon as practical."

Clearly the windshield failures affected "flight safety" and this is evidence relevant to the claims in this case. The FAA's determination regarding air worthiness certificates is a different issue than the issues involved here, and defendant's own internal documents illustrate that windshield failures were related to flight safety. Simply because the FAA chose to issue air worthiness certificates does not make this evidence irrelevant to the claims at issue in this case. Defendant's knowledge of the safety of these windshields and what defendant disclosed are highly relevant to the issues at hand. Accordingly, defendant's motion is denied.

III. Evidence Related to the Grounding of the Aircraft

Defendant argues that plaintiff should be precluded from presenting any evidence that it unilaterally decided to ground the aircraft because there is no competent evidence that the aircraft is unsafe for operation. As such, defendant contends that plaintiff's decision to ground the aircraft in February 2011, approximately two-and-a-half years after the last windshield failure, is not based on any competent evidence and will be unduly prejudicial to defendant. Defendant also asserts that "the unilateral decision to simply park the [a]ircraft and let it deteriorate is a clear and unacceptable violation of [p]laintiff's duty to mitigate its alleged damages in this case." Plaintiff counters that this evidence is clearly relevant and that its decision to ground the aircraft was based upon sound reasons, including expert advice and the risk of great liability. As to defendant's mitigation of damages argument, plaintiff argues that this is matter that can be explored on cross-examination. The Court agrees with plaintiff.

Here again the evidence is clearly relevant. Even if the evidence goes to the question of whether plaintiff properly mitigated its damages, that is a question of fact for the jury to determine and is relevant to this case. Despite defendant's arguments, it cannot explain why a customer being fearful of wanting to fly a plane when the windshield keeps malfunctioning would not be relevant to this case. Thus, defendant's motion is denied.

IV. Defective Windshields

Third, defendant contends that plaintiff should be precluded from presenting evidence that the windshields were defective because the windshields were not defective; they just were "not as reliable as hoped." Further, defendant states that plaintiff "cannot, as a matter of law, allege that the windshields provided on the [a]ircraft were defective and should be precluded from introducing any evidence to that effect." Plaintiff again argues that this motion is overly broad and the more proper course of action would be to raise objections to specific evidence at trial. Moreover, it is plaintiff's position that defendant's definition of defect is too narrow and whether the windshields were "defective" and defendant's knowledge of those defects are at the heart of plaintiff's claims.

Here, clearly whether the quality of the windshields and what defendant knew about them and disclosed to plaintiff are at issue in this case. Otherwise, why bother with a trial? Furthermore, defendant's suggestion that plaintiff "cannot, as a matter of law, allege that the windshields provided on the [a]ircraft were defective and should be precluded from introducing any evidence to that effect" is misplaced. Apparently defendant has confused the standard to be used in a motion in limine as opposed to a motion for summary judgment. The ...


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