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Lu v. The Boeing Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 11, 2014

JUNHONG LU, as Mother and Next Friend of SHEN HAOCHEN, a Case Minor, Plaintiff,
v.
THE BOEING COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, District Judge.

These cases are before the Court for consideration of Plaintiffs' Motions to Reconsider. In seven of these cases, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order on December 16, 2013 that granted Plaintiffs' Motions to Remand. Defendant Boeing Company has asked the Court to reconsider that ruling. After considering the evidence submitted by the parties, the Court concludes that it lacks jurisdiction to hear these cases. For the reasons stated herein, the Motions to Reconsider are denied.

The rest of these cases were filed after the original ruling was issued, and the Motions to Remand are pending. The parties have stipulated that all of these cases involve the same jurisdictional issues, and that except for one potential issue related to the time when evidence became available, all Plaintiffs are situated similarly. Because the Court resolves the jurisdictional issue on the evidence presented, this ruling applies to all Plaintiffs. The Court will enter a separate order in those cases that grants the remand motions for the reasons discussed in this Opinion and the Court's December 16, 2013 Opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

These cases arise out of the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 into the seawall at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013. At the end of the flight, the airplane was flying over the waters of the San Francisco Bay toward runway 28L, where it was due to land. Runway 28L is separated from the bay by a seawall. The airplane's approach was too low and too slow, and just as the airplane reached the runway, the rear landing gear and tail struck the seawall and broke off. The plane skidded, out of control, along the runway.

Plaintiffs allege that the passengers and crew suffered a variety of injuries. Several flight attendants were hurt when they were thrown - still in their seats - from the plane onto the runway. The emergency evacuation slides deployed inside the aircraft and pinned some of the passengers in their seats. Some seatbelts jammed, which required flight attendants and rescue workers to use knives to free the trapped passengers. Many of the oxygen masks failed to deploy, which left those passengers stuck inside the smoke-filled plane with limited available oxygen.

Several passengers filed tort claims against Defendant Boeing, the airplane's manufacturer, in Illinois state court. Defendant removed the cases to this Court, asserting both admiralty and federal officer jurisdiction. Plaintiffs filed Motions to Remand, and the cases were consolidated so that the Motions could be considered together. On December 16, 2013, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order that granted the remand motions after finding that admiralty and federal officer jurisdiction were lacking. ECF No. 22. The Court lacked admiralty jurisdiction because Plaintiffs' injuries neither occurred on water nor became inevitable over water: "[t]he passengers on Flight 214 never faced inevitable injury, and thus their tort was consummated when the airplane struck the terrain." ECF No. 22 at 7. Federal officer jurisdiction was lacking because "Plaintiffs have not challenged any of [Defendant's] actions taken under color of law." ECF No. 22 at 20. Defendant has asked the Court to reconsider its jurisdictional holdings.

Defendant points to evidence (the parties dispute whether the evidence is "new") that purports to show that the crash became inevitable while the plane was still over water. This evidence includes measurements of the airplane's precise altitude, speed, and pitch, as well as a recording of cockpit audio from the moments leading up to the crash. Seventeen seconds before the plane hit the seawall, one pilot said "it's low." About eight seconds before impact, the same pilot said "speed." At that point, the engine thrust levers were at the idle position, and one of the pilots moved the levers to full throttle. Three seconds before impact, the pilot said "go around, " meaning abort the landing by applying full power to the engines and climbing in altitude before attempting to land again. At that time, the plane was 35 feet above ground level, moving at 103 knots, which was 34 knots slower than the correct approach speed. Two seconds before impact, the pilots attempted to control the airplane's pitch, and the plane sped up as the engines responded to the increased thrust. Despite these recovery maneuvers, the plane crashed onto the runway after its rear landing gear got caught approximately five feet below the top of the seawall.

In addition to this flight data, Defendant has submitted derivative evidence, including simulations of how the airplane might have responded to other possible last minute adjustments. The National Transportation Safety Board Aircraft Performance Group (the "NTSB Group") examined what would have been required for the airplane to safely "go around." The Group concluded that

The simulation results indicated that the [airplane] had adequate performance capability to accomplish a go-around initiated no later than 11 to 12 seconds prior to ground impact (depending on technique), assuming a minimum aft fuselage clearance during the maneuver of 30 feet above ground level (AGL). For reference purposes, the accident flight crew initiated a go-around by advancing the throttles about 7 seconds prior to ground impact.

ECF No. 37, Ex. A-1, at 2.

Defendant has also submitted commentary on the evidence, in the form of declarations from aeronautical engineers and other experts. From the NTSB Group's conclusion, Defendant's air safety investigation "Associate Technical Fellow" opined that "the accident became inevitable while the accident aircraft was still over water on approach to San Francisco International Airport." ECF No. 37, Ex. A, at ¶ 10. Defendant's "Technical Lead Engineer" for the class of airplane at issue explains in his declaration that "[t]he pilots were using all available pitch control and engine control to arrest their descent and avoid contact with the ground or water." ECF No. 42-1 at ¶ 11. Based on his review of the data, the same engineer concluded that "the airplane's speed and altitude were so low that recovery of the airplane was impossible and a crash was inevitable." ECF No. 42-1 at ¶ 3.

Defendant also relied on the declaration of John Hansman ("Hansman"), a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Hansman analyzed the flight data and explained that the flight crew initiated the "maximum performance escape maneuver" at 2.1 seconds prior to impact, while the airplane was still over the Bay. ECF No. 37, Ex. B, at ¶ 24. Hansman noted that the "maximum performance escape maneuver was not successful" - meaning that the crash happened despite the fact that, at that time, the pilots could not have added more thrust or done any more to avoid the crash. Id. From ...


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