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Media Alerts - County of Erie v. Colgan Air, Inc.
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March 4, 2013
  County of Erie v. Colgan Air, Inc.
Headline: Second Circuit Affirms That Erie County Cannot Recover Costs From Responding to 2009 Plane Crash

Area of Law: Tort Law

Issue(s) Presented: Whether New York's "free public services doctrine" bars Erie County's recovery for emergency and clean-up costs incurred after a plane crash.

Brief Summary: On February 12, 2009, Flight 3407 departed from Newark en route to Buffalo. On descent, the flight crashed into a private residence in Clarence Center, Erie County, approximately five miles from the airport, killing all passengers and crew as well as one person in the house. The crash caused substantial damage to the neighboring properties, including serious environmental clean-up expenses and damages. Erie County sued the relevant airlines to recover its costs in responding to the plane crash. However, the district court found that the County's claims were barred by New York's free public services doctrine, which holds that "public expenditures made in the performance of governmental functions are not recoverable," and the Second Circuit affirmed. To read the full opinion, please go to: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...e414473dad9/2/hilite/.

Extended Summary: On February 12, 2009, Flight 3407 departed from Newark en route to Buffalo. On descent, the flight crashed into a private residence in Clarence Center, Erie County, approximately five miles from the airport. All passengers and crew, as well as one person in the house were killed in the crash. The crash caused substantial damage to the neighboring properties, including serious environmental clean-up expenses and damages. The County of Erie (the "County") was allegedly "forced to expend unprecedented monetary resources in order to provide public services" including overtime pay for police and emergency personnel, major clean-up expenses, and other emergency and counseling services. The County brought numerous tort claims against Colgan Air, Inc., Pinnacle Airlines Corp., and Continental Airlines, Inc. (collectively "defendants") for negligence, public nuisance, liability under New York Public Health Law § 1306, and liability under New York General Business Law § 251.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York granted defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court found that the County's claims were barred by New York's free public services doctrine on the ground that "public expenditures made in the performance of governmental functions are not recoverable." This doctrine is rooted in a recognition that "'the cost of public services for protection from fire or safety hazards is to be borne by the public as a whole, not assessed against the tortfeasor whose negligence creates the need for the service.'"

The Second Circuit affirmed. The court rejected the County's argument that the doctrine lacks support in New York law, explaining that the New York Court of Appeals has not suggested that the doctrine no longer applies. The court disagreed with the County's assertion that New York has implicitly abandoned the doctrine by abandoning New York's fireman's rule, such that individual officers can now recover for personal injuries sustained in the line of duty. The Court reasoned that not only can the doctrine stand on its own without the fireman's rule, but to the extent New York has abandoned the fireman's rule, it has done so through statutes.

Furthermore, the Second Circuit agreed with the district court in finding that New York Public Health Law § 1306 did not provide a statutory exception to the doctrine in this case. The Court agreed with the district court's finding that it is inappropriate to treat the crash itself and the immediate aftermath as a public nuisance. To read the full opinion, please go to: http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/de...e414473dad9/2/hilite/.

Panel: Judges Walker, Cabranes, and Wesley.

Argument: 02/01/2013

Date of Issued Opinion: 03/04/2013

Docket Number: 12-1600-cv

Decided: Affirmed.

Case Alert Author:
Lindsey E. Haubenreich

Counsel (if known): JAMES J. DUGGAN, Duggan & Bentivogli LLP, Williamsville, NY (Michelle Parker, Erie County Attorney's Office, Buffalo, NY, on the brief), for Appellant. DAVID J. HARRINGTON, Condon & Forsyth LLP, New York, NY (Neil A. Goldberg, Goldberg Segalla LLP, Buffalo, NY; Oliver K. Beiersdorf, Reed Smith LLP, New York, NY; Patrick E. Bradley, Reed Smith LLP, Princeton, NJ, on the brief), for Appellees. David A. Berg, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Douglas Mulen, Assistant General Counsel, Airlines for America, Washington, D.C.; Mark E. McGrath, M. Roy Goldberg, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, New York, NY, for Amicus Curiae Airlines for America in support of Appellees.

Author of Opinion:
Judge Wesley

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Emily Gold Waldman

    Posted By: Emily Waldman @ 03/04/2013 06:07 PM     2nd Circuit  

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