Thursday, October 7, 2010

Northern California Judge dismisses plane crash case against Air France

Air France is the Defendant in this Multi-District Litigation
Federal Judge Charles Breyer dismissed a class action multi-district litigation case against Air France resulting from a plane crash off the coast of Brazil on June 1, 2009.  The Court found that France was the appropriate forum for this case.

The Court explained, that the Montreal Convention (MC) is the treaty which governs the rights of passengers to sue airlines.  The treaty states that litigation may be brought in a country, "in which, at the time of the accident, the passenger has his or her principal and permanent residence."  The only people alleged to confer jurisdiction upon the United States are Mr. and Mrs. Harris.  The had lived in Brazil for the past year, but owned a house in Texas where they also filed tax returns and owned a house.  Air France argued that "principal and permanent residence" should mean residence and since the Harrises' lived in Brazil at the time of the accident the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the MC.  The Plaintiffs argued that "principal and permanent residence" should mean domicile and since the Harrises' owned property in Texas and intended to return the court has subject matter jurisdiction under the MC.  The Court stated that the word "permanent" was closer to domicile than residence since it implied more than a temporary presence at the time of departure.  Accordingly, the Court had subject matter jurisdiction.

However, the Court stated it was not the convenient forum for the challenge.  Judge Breyer explained that Air France had the burden to demonstrate 1) that France was an adequate alternate forum and 2) the balance of private and public interests favor dismissal.  With regard to the first factor, the Plaintiffs did not argue that France was not an adequate forum, simply that it took a long time to handle complex matters.  The Court discounted the argument and found France and adequate alternate forum.    With regard to the second factor, Air France noted that most of the witnesses and evidence (including the wreckage and investigation) were in France.  The Plaintiffs countered that the domestic defendants had their witnesses in America.  On balance, the Court found France to be a superior forum.  

Interestingly, Plaintiff's counsel stated he had no interest in pursuing this action in France.  Rather, he would file an action in Brazil.  The Court responded, "such is, of course, their prerogative."  The Court dismissed the case for forum non conviens.

The Case is In re Air Crash Over the Mid-Atlantic on June 1, 2009 No. C 10-2144 and the opinion is below the jump.

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