United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
RAYMOND C. SELKE, et al., Plaintiffs,
GERMANWINGS GMBH, et al, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Bruce Lee United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Defendant United Airlines,
Inc.'s ("Defendant" or "United")
Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment Pursuant to
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 56. (Dkt. No.
14.) This case concerns a suit for money damages brought by
Plaintiffs Raymond C. Selke and Trevor J. Selke
("Plaintiffs") on two claims against Defendant for
liability in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525, which
resulted in the death of Plaintiffs' family members,
Yvonne C. Selke and Emily E. Selke. First, Plaintiffs allege
that Defendant owes money damages under the liability
parameters of the Convention for the Unification of
Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air
("Montreal Convention" or "Convention"),
international air carriage treaty ratified by the United
States. Second, Plaintiffs in the alternative charge that
Defendant is liable for the deaths of Yvonne C. Selke and
Emily E. Selke ("Selke decedents") based on a claim
of negligence under Virginia law.
are two issues before the Court. The first issue is whether,
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the Court
should grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for lack of
personal jurisdiction, where specific personal jurisdiction
over a nonresident defendant is permitted if the exercise of
jurisdiction satisfies the constitutional requirements under
the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. The Court DENIES
United's Motion to Dismiss because Plaintiffs have made a
prima facie showing that the Court has personal
jurisdiction over United. Specifically, the Court has
personal jurisdiction over United because in registering for
business in Virginia, maintaining an agent for service of
process in Virginia, and employing Virginia residents, United
purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting
activities in the forum. Additionally, because United itself
acknowledged that it has previously brought no fewer than
fourteen lawsuits in Virginia, the Court's exercise of
personal jurisdiction does not offend traditional notions of
fair play and substantial justice as required by the Due
second issue is whether, under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56, the Court should grant Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment, where Plaintiffs advance a theory of
liability under the Montreal Convention and, in the
alternative, negligence under Virginia law. The Court GRANTS
United's Motion for Summary Judgment because even when
viewing all alleged facts in a light most favorable to the
Plaintiffs, United demonstrates that there is no genuine
dispute of material fact for trial. Further, no theory of
liability supports judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs under
the Montreal Convention, which expressly preempts any similar
claims under the common law.
federal question action involves the surviving members of the
Selke family alleging that United is liable for selling
Yvonne C. Selke and Emily E. Selke airline tickets in
Virginia that proximately resulted in their deaths. The Court
has subject matter jurisdiction because the Plaintiffs
submitted a claim for damages under the Montreal Convention,
a treaty ratified by the United States Senate. (See
Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 2.) In the alternative, the Court has
authority to hear the case because the parties have diversity
of citizenship, and the amount in question exceeds $75, 000.
(See Id. ¶ 8.)
Raymond C. Selke is the surviving husband of Yvonne C. Selke
and father of decedent Emily E. Selke, as well as
administrator of both decedents' estates. (Id.
¶ 13.) Trevor J. Selke is the surviving son of Yvonne C.
Selke and brother of Emily E. Selke. (Id.
¶¶ 13, 14.) Plaintiffs filed a two-count Complaint
alleging state law negligence (Count I) and Montreal
Convention liability (Count II). (Id. ¶¶
70, 83.) Plaintiffs charge both Counts against Defendant
United Airlines and three other defendants: Germanwings GmbH
("Germanwings"); Deutsche Lufthansa AG
("Lufthansa"); and Eurowings GmbH
("Eurowings"). (Id. ¶ 3.)
allege that United is a Delaware corporation with its
principal place of business in Illinois, and that United
purposefully availed itself of the jurisdiction of the
Eastern District of Virginia. (Id. ¶ 15.)
Plaintiffs contend that in or around February 2015, United
sold airline tickets to the decedents through United's
online booking system. (Id. ¶ 40.) Plaintiffs
charge that through United's contractual agreements and
Star Alliance membership, United provided decedents with
round-trip air transportation from Washington Dulles airport
in Virginia to Manchester, England. (Id.
¶¶ 35, 41.) Plaintiffs argue that the incentives
associated with United's loyalty membership program,
United Mileage Plus, induced decedent Yvonne C. Selke to book
through United additional flights operated by defendants
Germanwings and Lufthansa to maximize membership rewards
points. (Id. ¶ 42.)
Selke decedents were scheduled to travel March 20, 2015 from
Washington Dulles Airport in Virginia to Munich, Germany on
United, and then from Munich to Barcelona, Spain on
Lufthansa. (Id. ¶ 41.) On March 24, 2015, the
Selke decedents were scheduled to travel from Barcelona to
Diisseldorf, Germany on Germanwings, and then from
Diisseldorf to Manchester, England on Germanwings.
Id. Finally, on March 29, 2015, the Selke decedents
were set to return home from Manchester to Washington Dulles
via carriage provided by United. Id.
on the leg between Barcelona and Dusseldorf on Germanwings
Flight No. 9525 ("Flight 9525"), co-pilot Andreas
Lubitz locked himself in the cockpit and caused the plane to
crash into the French Alps. (Id. ¶ 1.) All 6
crew members and 144 passengers, including the Selkes, were
allege that by not maintaining adequate safety measures
requiring two crew members present in the cockpit at all
times, Germanwings, Eurowings, Lufthansa, and United
negligently controlled Flight 9525. (Id. ¶ 46.)
Plaintiffs allege that as a result of this negligence,
Defendants proximately caused Flight 9525 to crash, resulting
in the death of the Selkes. Id.
Standards of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the Court may
dismiss a case for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). Plaintiffs bear the burden of proving
that personal jurisdiction exists by a preponderance of the
evidence. Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th
Cir. 1989). When a court rules on personal jurisdiction
without an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff must make a
prima facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional
basis to survive the challenge. Id. In such
circumstances, a court must view all relevant allegations in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff and draw all
reasonable inferences for the existence of jurisdiction.
Combs, 886 F.2d at 676; see also Mylan Labs v.
Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 59-60 (4th Cir. 1993).
whether a defendant is subject to specific personal
jurisdiction requires a two-step analysis. First, a court
must conclude that jurisdiction is authorized by the
state's long- arm statute. Mitrano v. Howes, 377
F.3d 402, 406 (4th Cir. 2004). Second, the court must find
that the exercise of personal jurisdiction is consistent with
the constitutional requirements of the Due Process Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. Virginia's
long-arm statute extends personal jurisdiction to the
constitutionally permissible limits. ePlus Tech., Inc. v.
Aboud, 313 F.3d 166, 176 (4th Cir. 2002). Accordingly,
"[b]ecause Virginia's long-arm statute is intended
to extend personal jurisdiction to the extent permissible
under the due process clause, the statutory inquiry merges
with the constitutional inquiry." Consulting
Eng'rs Corp. v. Geometric Ltd., 561 F.3d 273, 277
(4th Cir. 2009).
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the Court must grant
summary judgment if the moving party establishes that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P.
reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the
facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255
(1986). If a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 56 is properly made and sufficiently
supported, an opposing party has the burden of showing that a
genuine dispute exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).
Furthermore, "the mere existence of some alleged factual
dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise
properly supported motion for summary judgment; the
requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material
fact." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.
"material fact, " for the purposes of the summary
judgment inquiry, is a fact that might affect the outcome of
a party's case. Id. at 248; JKC Holding Co.
v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th
Cir. 2001). Similarly, whether a fact is considered
"material" is determined by the substantive law
governing the claims alleged in the complaint. Accordingly,
"only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome
of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude
the entry of summary judgment." Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248; Hooven-Lewis v. Caldera, 249 F.3d 259,
265 (4th Cir. 2001). Likewise, a "genuine" issue
concerning a "material" fact exists when the
evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a
verdict in the nonmoving party's favor.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Additionally, Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) requires that the nonmoving
party go beyond the pleadings and by its own affidavits, or
by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).
Court DENIES Defendant's Rule 12(b)(2) Motion to Dismiss
because Defendant purposefully availed itself of the
jurisdiction of Virginia, and in exercising personal
jurisdiction the Court does not offend traditional notions of
fair play and substantial justice under the Due Process
Clause. The Court GRANTS Defendant's Rule 56 Motion for
Summary Judgment because the Montreal Convention expressly
preempts any claim for state law negligence, and no set of
facts exist that result in liability for Defendant under the
controlling articles of the treaty. Accordingly, the Court
DISMISSES all claims against United because there is no
genuine dispute of material fact as to United's role in
the crash, and United is entitled to judgment as a matter of
Personal Jurisdiction Under Rule 12(b)(2)
Court has personal jurisdiction over United because in
registering for business in Virginia, maintaining an agent
for service of process in Virginia, and employing Virginia
residents, United purposefully availed itself of the
privilege of conducting activities in the forum.
Additionally, because United itself acknowledged that it has
previously brought no fewer than fourteen lawsuits in
Virginia, the Court's exercise of personal ...