Piper Aircraft Company v. Reyno

PETITIONER:Piper Aircraft Company
LOCATION:Kansas State Legislature

DOCKET NO.: 80-848
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 454 US 235 (1981)
ARGUED: Oct 14, 1981
DECIDED: Dec 08, 1981

Daniel C. Cathcart – on behalf of the Respondent
James M. Fitzsimons – on behalf of Petitioner, Piper Aircraft Company
Warner W. Gardner – on behalf of the Petitioner, Hartzell Propeller, Inc

Facts of the case

(This summary was prepared by Tom Feledy.)

A British company, flying an airplane manufactured by Piper, a Pennsylvania company, equipped with propellers made by Hartzell, an Ohio company, conducted a charter flight in Scotland for five Scottish citizens. When the plane crashed, killing all on board, the next of kin, also Scottish, had a Los Angeles-based lawyer sue Piper and Hartzell for wrongful death. The suit was filed in a California state court, then removed to Federal District Court in California, and finally transferred to Federal District Court in Pennsylvania. There it was dismissed forforum non conveniens under the determination that the case should be tried in Scotland: the crash had occurred, the crash investigation had been conducted there by British authorities, and the pilot’s estate, the plane’s owners, and the charter company were all located there. However, respondents successfully appealed, claiming that substantive law in Scotland would be unfavorable to their case. Scotland, unlike Pennsylvania, had no strict liability law, which, along with negligence, respondents were relying upon in order to prevail.


Does the possibility of an unfavorable change in law bar dismissal underforum non conveniens?

Media for Piper Aircraft Company v. Reyno

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 14, 1981 in Piper Aircraft Company v. Reyno

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 08, 1981 in Piper Aircraft Company v. Reyno

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Piper Aircraft Company against Reyno and Hartzell Propeller against Reyno will be announced by Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Third Circuit.

The question presented is whether a motion to dismiss on grounds of forum non conveniens must be denied when dismissal would result in the change in applicable law unfavorable to the plaintiff.

The action arises out of a crash of a small airplane in the Scottish highlands.

The pilot and all five passengers were killed instantly.

The decedents as well as their heirs and next of kin were all Scottish.

The respondent is an American who is acting as representative of the victims in States.

She filed a damage action in the United States District Court against petitioners, the American Corporation that manufactured the aircraft and its propellers.

She concedes that she filed a suit in the United States solely because American law was more favorable than Scottish law.

Petitioners moved to dismiss on the grounds of forum non conveniens claiming that the trial should take place in Scotland.

The District Court granted their motion.

It found that the private interest relating to the convenience of the litigants and the public interest relating to the convenience of the Court itself favored trial in Scotland.

The Court of Appeals reversed.

That Court noted that the dismissal and trial of the cases in Scotland would lead to a change in applicable law that would be unfavorable to the respondents.

It ruled that dismissal should be automatically barred in such circumstances.

The Court of Appeals further held that that dismissal was inappropriate because the District Court had not properly balanced the private and public interests.

Today, in an opinion filed with the clerk, we hold that the possibility of an unfavorable change in law could not automatically bar dismissal on the grounds of forum non conveniens.

Automatic dismissal would be inconsistent with the purposes of a forum non conveniens doctrine and would pose substantial practical problems.

We also hold that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the private and public interest favored trial in Scotland.

Thus, we reverse.

Justice Powell took no part in the decision of these cases.

Justice O’Connor took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.

Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

And Justice Stevens joined by Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice Marshall.