Oklahoma Corporations Sued in New York For Plane Crash in Virginia:

Would Mississippi Pilot’s Claim Land Here or Take Flight?

A Mississippi pilot sued two Oklahoma corporations in New York for injuries suffered when his plane crashed in Virginia. Needless to say, a motion to dismiss followed.

On April 11, 2014, an airplane flown by Vester Harrison Robison, III, crashed in the vicinity of Louisa, Virginia. Robison filed suit in New York asserting causes of action for negligence and breach of contract against Gibson & Sons, Inc. and Gibson Aviation, LLC, who moved to dismiss, alleging a lack of personal jurisdiction.

A New York court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-domiciliary who, in person or through an agent, transacts any business within the state or contracts anywhere to supply goods or services in the state.  To do so, the defendant must have conducted sufficient activities to have transacted business in the state. And the claim must arise from those transactions.

Jurisdiction may be proper even though a defendant never entered New York provided that the defendant’s activities here were purposeful and there is a substantial relationship between the transaction and the claim asserted. Purposeful activities are those with which a defendant, through volitional acts, avails itself of the privilege of conducting activities here, thus invoking the benefits and protections of our laws.

On a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff bears the ultimate burden of proof to establish a basis for jurisdiction. However, a plaintiff need only make out a prima facie showing that the defendant was subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction, and the facts alleged in the complaint are deemed true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Robison was a resident of Mississippi. The Gibson entities were incorporated and had their principal places of business in Oklahoma. And Robison crashed his plane in Virginia.

In support of the motion to dismiss, the Gibson corporations submitted unrefuted evidence that, on December 13, 2013, Robison ordered aircraft parts by telephone and directed the parts to be shipped to Cawley’s Aviation Service in LaGrangeville, New York. The vice-president of both Gibson entities asserted that neither corporation had any physical presence in the State of New York, and they did not maintain any bank accounts, offices, mailing addresses, or telephone numbers in the state. He further asserted that neither entity had ever entered into a contract within the state and was not licensed or registered to do business here. And the vice president acknowledged that the entities had made sales to customers in New York but asserted that between the years 2010 and 2017, such sales amounted to only .00933 percent of the entities’ gross revenue and constituted less than one percent of their nationwide sales. Robison offered no substantive evidence in opposition to the motion.

The Court found that the facts did not establish minimum contacts with New York- and maintenance of the action against the Gibson entities here would offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. Having reviewed the record as a whole and the parties’ contentions, there was nothing demonstrating that those corporations engaged in conduct for which they could reasonably anticipate being hauled into court in the State of New York. They made a telephonic sale of aircraft parts while in the State of Oklahoma to a customer ordering such parts from the State of Mississippi. The mere fact that the customer requested that the parts be shipped to an entity in the State of New York was not a sufficient basis upon which to confer personal jurisdiction.

Even construing the facts in a light most favorable to Robison, the Court did not find that he made a prima facie showing that the Gibson entities purposely availed themselves of the privilege of conducting activities in New York, thereby invoking the benefits and protections of its laws. The fact that they maintained an internet presence was not enough, particularly as their website did not provide for direct purchase. Instead, a prospective purchaser had to initiate contact as Robison did in this case while he was physically located in Mississippi. The Court did not find that the mere shipping of the products to New York was sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction as it was done solely pursuant to Robison’s direction.


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