This matter was referred to NELF by Textron, a NELF supporter headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island. It involves a pending Third Circuit appeal, Sikkelee v. Lycoming. The respondent, Lycoming Engines, is a division of AVCO, a Textron subsidiary that is also headquartered in Providence. Lycoming sold a certain aircraft engine in 1969. Nearly thirty years later the engine was installed "factory new" on a Cessna aircraft, even though the engine was not actually certified for that particular airframe (Lycoming was not involved in the installation of the engine). Lycoming and others were sued by Jill Sikelee, the widow of a newly licensed pilot who died in a crash of the Cessna, under product liability theories of design defect and failure to warn. The issue that Textron asked us to support is its preemption defense, based on which it obtained summary judgment in the trail court, i.e. that state law standards of care are preempted by the pervasive federal regulation of aircraft safety, and that the FAA's certification of the design of the engine preempts Sikkelle's claims. Because this appeal is in the Third Circuit, after discussion with our Rhode Island Advisory Council member from Textron, Julie Duffy, NELF joined with the Atlantic Legal Foundation, whose remit includes Pennsylvania (indeed, Atlantic Legal was for years headquartered in Philadelphia). NELF and ALF jointly filed an amicus brief supporting Lycoming in the Third Circuit, arguing that the pervasive nature of federal air safety regulation requires preemption of state law claims.
On April 19, 2016, the Third Circuit issued its opinion. Disagreeing with NELF and ALF, it held that the plaintiff’s claims in this case were not pre-empted by federal law. Lycoming moved for a rehearing en banc, and, since that was unsuccessful, is now seeking certiorari from the Supreme Court. NELF and ALF will be filing an amicus brief in support of the Petition for Certiorari.