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U.S. Supreme Court Denies Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Katt, Kearns and Geary Aviation Matter, Cementing Precedential Ninth Circuit Victory

July 8, 2020

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision secured by Bill Katt (Partner-Milwaukee), Patrick Kearns (Partner-San Diego) and Kevin Geary (Associate-Milwaukee) in favor of a major helicopter operator in a case involving multiple fatalities will remain undisturbed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue presented involved the attempted use of “federal officer” jurisdiction for product manufacturers to remove a case to federal court. The opposing party originally removed the case to federal court claiming that because the FAA had delegated it some self-certification functions, it was “acting under” the direction of federal officer. Bill, Patrick and Kevin successfully moved for remand, arguing that the authority given by the FAA was insufficient to confer “federal officer” status. On appeal to the Ninth Circuit, they highlighted the potential consequences of the opposing party’s position, noting that if product manufacturers in highly regulated industries were to have a universal “free pass” to federal court jurisdiction, preemption defenses could effectively eliminate state-court products liability entirely for certain manufacturers, leaving an imbalance in liability exposure for operators. The Ninth Circuit agreed, and following its decision, the opposing party filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court. In their opposition to the petition, Bill, Patrick and Kevin highlighted that the Ninth Circuit’s decision was in line with Supreme Court precedent and other circuits of the U.S. Court of Appeals that have addressed the issue of “federal officer” jurisdiction. Additionally, they argued that the rarity of this issue reaching the U.S. Court of Appeals rendered further review inappropriate and premature. The Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of certiorari, allowing the Ninth Circuit’s decision affirming the remand to state court to stand. After nearly two years litigating this issue, the case will proceed in state court. 

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