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Abbasi v. Leading Edge Aviation Services, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 29, 2017

Dr. Hamid Abbasi and MWBS Holdings, LLC, Plaintiffs,
Leading Edge Aviation Services, Inc., Defendant.

          Donald Chance Mark, Jr., Esq., Tyler P. Brimmer, Esq., and Christopher R. Sall, Esq., Fafinski Mark & Johnson, P.A., Eden Prairie, MN, on behalf of Plaintiffs.

          Timothy R. Schupp, Esq., Ryan O. Vettleson, Esq., and Daniel P. Brees, Esq., Gaskins Bennett Birrell Schupp, LLP, on behalf of Defendant.




         On July 18, 2017, the undersigned United States District Court Judge heard oral argument on Defendant Leading Edge Aviation Services, Inc.'s (“Leading Edge”) Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 48]. Plaintiffs Dr. Hamid Abbasi (“Dr. Abbasi”) and MWBS Holdings, LLC (“MWBS”) oppose the Motion. For the reasons set forth below, Leading Edge's Motion is granted.


         In November 2012, Dr. Abbasi, through his company MWBS, purchased a 2010 Cirrus SR22T aircraft (the “Aircraft”). Sall Decl. [Docket No. 54] Ex. 13. On March 29, 2013, while piloting the Aircraft on approach to the Alexandria, Minnesota Municipal Airport, the Aircraft experienced a malfunction of the right flap. Sall Decl. Ex. 10 (“Dr. Abbasi Dep.”) 168:23-169:4. After unsuccessfully attempting to correct the problem through piloting maneuvers, Dr. Abbasi deployed the Aircraft's parachute system. Id. 178:24-179:1. The parachute system allowed Dr. Abbasi, his wife, and two children to walk away from the crash, but the Aircraft was a total loss.

         Dr. Abbasi alleges that when Leading Edge performed maintenance on the Aircraft's right flap between November 2010 and August 2011, it failed to properly install the safety wire on the mounting bolt on the right flap actuation fitting. See Compl. [Docket No. 1-1]. This allegedly allowed the flap rod end to disconnect from the flap actuation fitting, causing the Aircraft's de-stabilization and subsequent crash.

         A. The Aircraft's History Prior to Being Purchased by Dr. Abbasi

         In November 2010, the Aircraft that was then owned and piloted by John Dutchak (“Dutchak”), struck a parked truck while taxiing in Clearwater, Florida. Sall Decl. Ex. 1 (“Holloran Dep.”) 17:2-4; 41:18-25. Although the Aircraft was only traveling 5 miles per hour, the crash caused extensive damage to the Aircraft. Id. 42:1-6. Isaiah Holloran (“Holloran”), a flight instructor at the flight school Dutchak attended, determined the Aircraft to be unairworthy as a result of the accident. Id. 42:9-11.

         After learning of the accident, Leading Edge's Director of Maintenance, Steve Miller (“Miller”), drove to Clearwater to inspect the Aircraft. Sall Decl. Ex. 2 (“Miller Dep.”) 82:9-14. During his initial inspection, Miller observed damage to the Aircraft's wing tip, the outboard TKS panel, flaps, and the wing root fairing. Id. 75:7-22. Miller completed initial repairs in Clearwater, and obtained a Special Flight Permit to pilot the Aircraft to Leading Edge's facility in Tampa, Florida for further maintenance. Id. 76:9-25; Sall Decl. Ex. 3.

         On November 18, 2010, Leading Edge created a shop order for the Aircraft. Sall Decl. Ex. 4. The shop order noted eight discrepancies, including damage to the left wing tip, cracks on the aft floor under the rear seats, and composite damage in the fuselage skin under the left wing aft spar attach clip. Id.

         Leading Edge performed repair and maintenance on the Aircraft over the following eight months. Id. Miller recorded the work performed in the Aircraft's logbook. Miller Dep. 39:12-24; Sall Decl. Ex. 5. One logbook entry specifically noted that “R&R both left and right flaps with new flaps P/N 16891-001-05 & P/N 16891-002-05 as required.” Sall Decl. Ex. 5. “R&R” is an abbreviation for removed and replaced. Miller Dep. 86:17-20.

         To remove and replace the right flap, Miller needed to remove the safety wire on the bolt in the Aircraft's right flap linkage. Id. 91:6-9. Although the same bolt could be reused once the repairs were made, safety wires may only be used once, so a new safety wire needed to be installed. Id. 71:19-72:6. Miller testified that when he examined the Aircraft after all the maintenance had been completed, “clearly without question the safety wire was present.” Id. 9:11-13.

         Miller signed off on the repairs in an August 3, 2011 logbook entry. Sall Decl. Ex. 5. That same day, Paul Stern (“Stern”), Leading Edge's shop foreman, performed an annual inspection of the Aircraft. Id. 38:14-16; Sall Decl. Ex. 6; Schupp Aff. [Docket No. 51] Ex. 7 (collectively, “Stern Dep.”) 22:6-9. Stern's standard practice prior to performing an inspection is to review the logbook to see if any major repair work had recently been completed. Stern Dep. 21:22-6. Stern testified that by reviewing the logbook, he would have been aware that the Aircraft recently underwent repair and maintenance work, including maintenance on the Aircraft's right wing flap. Id. 21:20-24; 22:25-23:4. Stern further testified that his annual inspection would have included inspecting the maintenance that was performed on the Aircraft's right wing flap. Id. 22:25-23:7. Stern also testified that, although he could not explicitly recall the condition of the Aircraft's flap, he would have specifically looked to ensure that the bolt on the right wing flap assembly was safety wired. Id. 23:8-21. During the annual inspection, Stern performed service bulletin SB 2X-27-16 R1, a flap actuator modification, which required replacing a piece of hardware due to the rod ends length changing. Id. 31:12-32:24. This work did not require Stern to manipulate any of the hardware on the wing flap itself, and all the work was performed in the Aircraft's fuselage. Id. 33:4-8.

         While performing his inspection, Stern used a checklist that had a specific check-off for the security of bolts. Id. 48:12-22. Stern testified that he understood the inspection for the security of bolts included checking for the presence of safety wire. Id. 48:23-49:1. Although Stern recalls the Aircraft being in the shop, he was unable to specifically remember inspecting this Aircraft. Id. 6:12-20. Relying on his past practice, Stern nevertheless testified that his signature on the annual inspection means that safety wire was in place. Id. 49:5-10.

         On August 3, 2011, the same day Miller logged his repairs and Stern logged his annual inspection, Cirrus Design Corporation Test Pilot Nathan Alm (“Alm”) performed a post-maintenance test flight of the Aircraft. Sall Decl. Ex. 7; Schupp Aff. Ex. 2 (collectively, “Alm Dep.”) 23:4-10; 56:1-3; Sall Decl. Ex. 9. Prior to the test flight, Alm reviewed the Aircraft's logbook so he could verify during his pre-flight inspection that the repairs noted in the logbook had been performed. Alm Dep. 29:6-22; 31:2-14. Alm's review of the Aircraft prior to the test flight is a more extensive pre-flight review, and includes an intensive inspection of all areas noted in the maintenance entries as having been repaired. Id. 31:15-19; 32:17-20. Alm testified that “you're going to be down on your hands and knees and - and verifying all the connections, the safety wires and - and whatnot that are throughout.” Id. 31:24-32:2.

         Alm stated that he was responsible for making sure the Aircraft was in an airworthy condition before the flight, and that if safety wires were missing the Aircraft would not be in an airworthy condition. Id. 56:7-15. Thus, to ensure the Aircraft was airworthy, Alm would check for the presence of safety wire on both the right and left flaps. Id. 56:16-22. Alm testified that he checks for safety wire on the flap rod end during every pre-flight, and that he would not have flown the Aircraft if the safety wires were missing. Id. 50:9-22.

         After Alm's test flight, Dutchak and Holloran traveled to Leading Edge's facility to pick up the Aircraft. Holloran Dep. 35:16-18. Upon arriving at Leading Edge, Dutchak and Holloran performed an extensive pre-flight walk-through, spending 30 minutes to an hour inspecting the Aircraft rather than their usual ten minute walk-around. Id. 35:19-36:15. Neither Dutchak nor Holloran were licensed mechanics certified to perform repairs, conduct annual inspections, or certify an aircraft as airworthy, and they did not use a checklist to complete their walk-through. Id. 36:21-25; 40:24-41:10; Stern Dep. 50:23-51:3. When asked about the safety wires on the flaps, Holloran testified that he did not have a specific recollection of seeing them, but that he would not have flown the Aircraft if the safety wires were missing. Holloran Dep. 37:4-18. Holloran also testified that it was his custom and practice to ensure safety wires were in place prior to flying a Cirrus airplane, and that it was something he checked before every flight. Id. 37:18-38:2. Holloran stated that the Aircraft flew like “brand new” after the repair. Id. 39:17-19.

         On July 10, 2012, the Aircraft underwent another annual inspection at Leading Edge's facilities. Sall Decl. Ex. 10. Former Leading Edge employee Jonathan Bennett (“Bennett”) completed the inspection. Id. Bennett was unable to specifically recall whether he checked the Aircraft's flaps or saw that the safety wire was installed as part of his inspection. Sall Decl. Ex. 11; Schupp Aff. Ex. 8 (collectively, “Bennett Dep.”) 63:4-9. Bennett, however, followed the Aircraft's Maintenance Manual's checklist when conducting his inspection. Id. 23:4-6. The checklist provides a list of items that need to be completed as part of the annual inspection. Id. 23:7-10. It was Bennett's practice to follow the checklist and verify each item on the list. Id. 23:11-13. Bennett testified that at part of his annual inspection, he “absolutely” would look for the presence of safety wire on the bolts that connect various components of the wing assembly. Id. 23:19-24:2. The checklist itself demands that bolts are checked for “security, ” and that the visual inspection consists of checking for “safety wiring” on bolts and nuts. Schupp Aff. Ex. 9. Based upon his checklist and the annual inspection signoff, Bennett testified without qualification that safety wires were present on the Aircraft. Bennett Dep. 78:18-79:3.

         B. Dr. Abbasi Purchases the Aircraft

         On November 5, 2012, Dr. Abbasi purchased the Aircraft. Sall Decl. Ex. 13. Prior to completing the purchase, Douglas Duncan Aviation (“DDA”) performed a pre-purchase examination of the Aircraft.[1] Dr. Abbasi Dep. 21:4-14. No ...

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