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Murray v. Cirrus Design Corp.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 7, 2019

NANCY MURRAY, individually and as Independent Executor of the Estate of STEVEN MARK MURRAY, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
CIRRUS DESIGN CORPORATION, d/b/a CIRRUS AIRCRAFT, a corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          Nancy E. Brasel United States District Judge

         In this products liability case resulting from a fatal airplane crash, Defendant Cirrus Design Corporation (“Cirrus”) argues that Plaintiff Nancy Murray, the executor of her husband's estate, lacks standing because she was not appointed as a trustee to bring the action, which is required under Minnesota law. Murray does not dispute that she was not appointed a trustee, but argues that Texas law, not Minnesota law, governs the case, and Texas law contains no trustee appointment requirement. For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees that Texas law applies and denies the motion to dismiss.

         BACKGROUND

         In August 2015, Steven Mark Murray was piloting a Cirrus SR22 aircraft from Illinois to Arkansas, when the aircraft experienced mechanical difficulties and crashed in Kewanee, Illinois. [ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) at ¶¶3, 6.] Murray sustained fatal injuries in the crash. (Id.) Murray's wife, Nancy Murray, brought this suit in her individual capacity and as the court-appointed Independent Executor of the Estate of Steven Mark Murray. (Id., ¶1.) Nancy Murray (“Murray”) is, and Steven Murray was, a resident of Texas. (Id., ¶1.) Defendant Cirrus is incorporated in Wisconsin and has its principal place of business in Minnesota. (Id.) Murray asserts four claims against Cirrus, alleging the aircraft was defectively designed and negligently designed, manufactured, assembled, and sold. (See generally id.) The Complaint alleges the wrongful death of Steven Murray, stating “[h]ad Decedent survived, he would have been entitled to bring an action for damages, and such action has survived him.” (Id., ¶7.)

         Cirrus argues that Murray failed to petition this Court or any other court to appoint her as trustee to bring this action, as required by Minn. Stat. § 573.02, or that she was so appointed before filing the Complaint. Minnesota law requires this appointment prior to the filing of a wrongful death suit:

When death is caused by the wrongful act or omission of any person or corporation, the trustee appointed as provided in subdivision 3 may maintain an action therefor if the decedent might have maintained an action, had the decedent lived, for an injury caused by the wrongful act or omission.
Any other action under this section may be commenced within three years after the date of death…

Minn. Stat. § 573.02, subd. 1. The statute also provides the procedure for appointing the required trustee:

Upon written petition by the surviving spouse or one of the next of kin, the court having jurisdiction of an action falling within the provisions of subdivisions 1 or 2, shall appoint a suitable and competent person as trustee to commence or continue such action and obtain recovery of damages therein. The trustee, before commencing duties shall file a consent and oath….

Minn. Stat. § 573.02, subd. 3. Maintaining a wrongful death action under Minnesota law thus requires the surviving spouse or next of kin to petition the court within three years of the decedent's death so that the court can appoint the trustee. Id.

         Murray does not deny that she has not been and cannot now be properly appointed as trustee under Minn. Stat. § 573.02. Rather, she asserts that Texas's wrongful death statute governs the claims under Minnesota's choice of law analysis, and Texas law has no such trustee appointment requirement. Under Texas's wrongful death statute, “[a]n action for actual damages arising from an injury that causes an individual's death may be brought if liability exists under this section.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 71.002(a). The statute sets forth the persons who may benefit from and bring a wrongful death action:

(a) An action to recover damages as provided by this subchapter is for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased.
(b) The surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased may bring the action or one or more of those individuals may bring ...

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