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Thornton v. Hamilton Sundstrand Corp.

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

July 8, 2014

TRAD THORNTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HAMILTON SUNDSTRAND CORP., HONEYWELL INTERNATIONAL, INC., MATTHEW HIER, and JEPPESEN SANDERSON, INC., Defendants,
v.
AIRSERVICES AUSTRALIA, INC., Third-Party, Defendant

Page 930

For Trad Thornton, Administrator of the estate of Sally Urquhart, Fiona Norris, Administrator of the estate of Paul Norris, Olive Bagie, Special Administrator of the estate of Helena Woosup, Rev. Erris Eseli, Special Administrator of the estate of Fred Bowie, Francis Bowie, Special Administrator of the estate of Mardie Bowie, Elizabeth Stephen, Co-Special Administrator of the estate of Gordon Kris, Wanika Mooka, Co-Special Administrator of the estate of Gordon Kris, Lionel Solomon, Special Administrator of the estate of Frank Billy, Denise J Kalin, Co- Administrator of the estate of Timothy Ross Langdon Down, Roger Down, Co- Administrator of the estate of Timothy Ross Langdon Down, Gillian Hurst, Administrator of the estate of Kenneth Hurst, Gregory Robert Hotchin, Aministrator of the estate of Brett Andrew Hotchin, Tamlin Harris, Administrator of the estate of Edward Green, Kerri Sonter, Administrator of the estate of Arden Sonter, Janet Maree Lewis, Administrator of the estate of Noel Marvin Lewis, Melissa Brady, Administrator of the estate of Paul Brady, Plaintiffs: Floyd A. Wisner, LEAD ATTORNEY, Wisner Law Firm, P.C., Geneva, IL.

For Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., a corporation, Matthew Hier, Defendants: Gregory Micheil Canfield, LEAD ATTORNEY, Austin William Bartlett, Christopher Jason Raistrick, Michael Gerard McQuillen, Adler, Murphy & McQuillen LLP, Chicago, IL; Jonathan R Buck, Perkins Coie LLP, Chicago, IL.

For Honeywell International, Inc., a corporation, Defendant: Gregory Micheil Canfield, LEAD ATTORNEY, Austin William Bartlett, Christopher Jason Raistrick, Kevin William Murphy, Michael Gerard McQuillen, Adler, Murphy & McQuillen LLP, Chicago, IL; Jonathan R Buck, Perkins Coie LLP, Chicago, IL.

For M7 Aerospace, LP, a limited partnership, Defendant: Michael A. Pope, LEAD ATTORNEY, McDermott, Will & Emery LLP (Chicago), Chicago, IL; Rachael L. Mamula, McDermott, Will, & Emery LLP, Chicago, IL.

For Jeppersen Sanderson, Inc., a corporation, Defendant, Cross Defendant: Richard C. Coyle, LEAD ATTORNEY, Grant J. Silvernale, III, Michael E. Scoville, Perkins Coie Llp, Seattle, WA; Jonathan R Buck, Perkins Coie LLP, Chicago, IL; William Thomas Cahill, Perkins Coie LLC, Chicago, IL.

For Hamilton Strand Corp, a corporation, Honeywell International, Inc., a corporation, Matthew Hier, Thirdparty Plaintiff: Gregory Micheil Canfield, LEAD ATTORNEY, Austin William Bartlett, Christopher Jason Raistrick, Michael Gerard McQuillen, Adler, Murphy & McQuillen LLP, Chicago, IL.

For Airservices Australia, Inc., a corporation, Third Party Defendant, Cross Claimant, Cross Defendant: Richard Alan Walker, Telly Andrews, Kaplan, Massamillo & Andrews, LLC, Chicago, IL.

For Jeppersen Sanderson, Inc., a corporation, Counter Claimant: Richard C. Coyle, LEAD ATTORNEY, Grant J. Silvernale, III, Perkins Coie Llp, Seattle, WA; Jonathan R Buck, Perkins Coie LLP, Chicago, IL; William Thomas Cahill, Perkins Coie LLC, Chicago, IL.

For Gregory Robert Hotchin, estate of Brett Andrew Hotchin, Denise J. Kalin, Co- Administrator of the estate of Timothy Ross Langdon Down, Roger Down, Co- Administrator of the estate of Timothy Ross Langdon Down, Counter Defendants: Floyd A. Wisner, LEAD ATTORNEY, Wisner Law Firm, P.C., Geneva, IL.

For Honeywell International, Inc., a corporation, Austin William Bartlett, Christopher Jason Raistrick, Michael Gerard McQuillen, Thirdparty Plaintiffs: Gregory Micheil Canfield, LEAD ATTORNEY, Adler, Murphy & McQuillen LLP, Chicago, IL.

For Roger Down, Co- Administrator of the estate of Timothy Ross Langdon Down, Gregory Robert Hotchin, Aministrator of the estate of Brett Andrew Hotchin, Denise J Kalin, Co- Administrator of the, Cross Defendants: Floyd A. Wisner, LEAD ATTORNEY, Wisner Law Firm, P.C., Geneva, IL.

For Hamilton Strand Corp, a corporation, Matthew Hier, Honeywell International, Inc., a corporation, Cross Defendants: Gregory Micheil Canfield, LEAD ATTORNEY, Austin William Bartlett, Christopher Jason Raistrick, Michael Gerard McQuillen, Adler, Murphy & McQuillen LLP, Chicago, IL.

For M7 Aerospace, LP, Cross Defendant, Cross Claimant: Michael A. Pope, LEAD ATTORNEY, McDermott, Will & Emery LLP (Chicago), Chicago, IL; Rachael L. Mamula, McDermott, Will, & Emery LLP, Chicago, IL.

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OPINION AND ORDER

SARA L. ELLIS, United States District Judge

This suit involves the crash of a commuter airplane in Queensland, Australia in May of 2005 that killed all fifteen individuals onboard. Plaintiffs, as administrators and special administrators of the estates of fourteen of the deceased, sued Defendants for their alleged roles in the crash. Defendants seek summary judgment via four separate motions. The Court grants summary judgment in favor of all Defendants.

Defendant Jeppesen Sanderson Inc. (" Jeppesen" ) seeks summary judgment on all claims against it, asserting that Plaintiffs have not established a prima facie case that its navigational chart contributed to the cause of the crash. Because there is no evidence properly before the Court that Jeppesen's chart probably contributed to the cause of the crash, the Court grants Jeppesen's motion for summary judgment [197].

Defendants Hamilton Sundstrand and Matthew Hier also seek summary judgment on all claims against them, asserting that they cannot be held liable for any alleged defects in the plane's ground proximity warning system (" GPWS" ) computer because Hamilton Sundstrand sold its GPWS business to Honeywell International, Inc. (" Honeywell" ) in 1993, seven years before the purchase of the GPWS computer allegedly onboard the aircraft. For the same reason, Hamilton Sundstrand and Mr. Hier argue that they cannot be liable

Page 932

for failing to advise the operator of the aircraft, Australian airline Transair, that a superior product was available. Because the evidence does not reveal that the GPWS unit was defectively designed and because Hamilton Sundstrand and Mr. Hier owed no duty to warn of the existence of a superior product about which Transair already knew or after Hamilton Sundstrand exited the industry, the Court grants Hamilton Sundstrand and Mr. Hier's motion for summary judgment [186].

In a separate motion, Defendants Hamilton Sundstrand and Honeywell move for summary judgment on all claims against them, arguing that there is no evidence that any defect in the design or manufacture of the GPWS computer contributed to the cause of the crash and that they owed no duty to advise Transair of the existence of a superior product. Because Plaintiffs' claims of defect are not supported by any evidence properly before the Court and because Honeywell likewise owed no duty to inform Transair of a product of which it was already aware, the Court grants Hamilton Sundstrand and Honeywell's motion for summary judgment [188].

Finally, all Defendants seek summary judgment against seven Plaintiffs (representing six decedents) on the basis that those Plaintiffs are barred from suing because representatives of those decedents already recovered from Transair in a suit in Queensland. Because the Court grants the above motions for summary judgment in their entirety, the Court declines to substantively rule on this motion [184].

In addition to the motions for summary judgment before the Court, Plaintiffs seek leave to appeal the Court's April 2014 order denying their motion for remand. Because this opinion grants summary judgment on all claims, Plaintiffs no longer require leave to appeal the Court's rulings. Therefore, the motion for leave to file an interlocutory appeal [266] is denied as moot.

BACKGROUND

On May 7, 2005, a Metro 23 commuter plane operated by Transair departed from Bamaga for Cairns with an intermediate stop in the Lockhart River Aerodrome in Queensland, Australia. While descending toward the Lockhart River, the airplane crashed into a ridge killing both pilots and all thirteen crew onboard.

The flight path into Lockhart River Runway 12 required the aircraft to descend over South Pap, a ridge that rises approximately 1,450 feet above sea level less than seven miles north of the runway. Because cloud cover did not allow the flight crew to make a visual approach into Runway 12, the pilots used an RNAV instrument approach. An RNAV instrument approach is a non-precision approach using cockpit instruments, including a global positioning system, to navigate from waypoints along a pre-planned flight path. Australian aviation authorities require both pilots to obtain RNAV certification before a flight is authorized to make an RNAV instrument approach into Lockhart River. Co-pilot Timothy Down lacked RNAV endorsement at the time of the crash.

Jeppesen and third-party Defendant Airservices Australia (" ASA" ) both produce and sell charts for pilots to use while performing instrument approaches into the Lockhart River Aerodrome. ASA, which is wholly owned by the Australian government, designed the approach procedure into Lockhart River and provided Jeppesen with source data for its approach charts. The pilots of the aircraft subscribed to Jeppesen's chart service, but it is not clear that the pilots actually used Jeppesen's chart while descending into Lockhart River on the day of the crash.

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Jeppesen's approach chart included an overhead view and a profile view of the prescribed flight path. The chart indicated the descent angle, the location of various waypoints along the descent path, and the minimum altitude at any point along the path into Lockhart River. Jeppesen's chart did not, however, indicate the topography of the terrain below the descent path. The aircraft descended at a steeper angle than prescribed in Jeppesen's chart and flew below the 2,060-foot minimum safe altitude for its location. The aircraft crashed into the South Pap ridge at an altitude of approximately 1,210 feet, still above the cloud line.

A GPWS computer is designed to alert the crew of an " excessive closure rate to terrain." Doc. 194 at ΒΆ 26. In 2003, the aircraft was equipped with a GPWS computer manufactured by Honeywell, model MK VI, unit number 2767. Honeywell manufactured GPWS unit 2767 in 2000. However, investigators could not identify a GPWS computer in the aircraft's wreckage. Hamilton Sundstrand began designing MK VI GPWS computers in 1990, but sold its GPWS business to Honeywell in 1993. In the sale agreement, Honeywell agreed to take on all liabilities incurred related to the GPWS business after the date of ...


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