#LWLS Case Briefing Guide

Posted by Samantha Lemke on

Case Briefing 101


The case is Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235 (U.S.Pa.,1981.) Samantha was cold-called for this case on the last day of Civil Procedure, the first semester of 1L year. This case brief literally saved her life for that cold-call, and it’s her proudest cold-call yet. 
Read the case above and it should help you follow along with the brief. 

The Case Brief


Piper Aircraft v. Reyno pg 188

 

Facts: (I get really detailed with my facts in my briefs for this class in particular, for other classes I usually only have about 3 sentences of facts.) 

 π: Reyno ∆: Piper Aircraft

  • In July 1976 a small commercial aircraft crashed in the Scottish Highlands during the course of a charter flight. The pilot and five passengers were killed instantly. The decedents were all Scottish subjects and residents. At the time of the crash the plane was subject to Scottish air traffic control.
  • The aircraft that crashed was manufactured in Pennsylvania by Piper Aircraft Co. The propellers were manufactured in Ohio by Hartzell. The aircraft was owned and operated by a Scottish air taxi service McDonald. Both air navigation and McDonald were organized in the United Kingdom.
  • In 1977 California probate court appointed respondent Reyno as the administratrix of the estates of the five passengers. Reyno is not related to and does not now any of the decedents or their survivors, she was a legal secretary to the attorney who filed this lawsuit. Reyno commenced separate wrongful death actions against Piper and Hartzell for negligence and strict liability. Reyno candidly admits that the action against Piper and Hartzell was filed in the USA because of its law regarding liability, since Scottish law does not recognize strict liability in tort.
  • ∆ first removed to federal district court of California invoking diversity jurisdiction. ∆ then sought transfer under §1404(a) to the Middle District of Pennsylvania (where Piper does business)
  • ∆ Hartzell moved to dismiss for want of personal jurisdiction or in the alternative to transfer the case to Middle District of Pennsylvania. (also where they have business)
  • The district court transferred.
  • District court: granted defendant’s motion to dismiss the case on grounds of forum non conveniens. They essentially said it should be in Scotland.

 

  • Court of Appeals: erred in holding that π’s may defeat a motion to dismiss on the grounds of forum non conveniens merely by showing that the substantive law that would be applied in the alternative forum is less favorable to the π’s that that of the present forum. It also erred in rejecting the District Court’s Gilbert analysis.

 

Issue: Should a case be dismissed on the grounds of forum non conveniens when all the witnesses and evidence are in another country, the other country’s jurors would be more connected to the problem, it is inconvenient to the parties to try the case in the jurisdiction where it was brought, and the other country’s law will be applied?

 

 

Procedural Posture: (Notice whether your teacher asks about procedural posture, because the only professor that really cared was my Civil Procedure Professor. You may be able to skip out on adding this part.) 

District court -> Reyno loses.

Court of Appeals -> Reyno wins.

SCOTUS grants certiorari.

 

Rule: A plaintiff may not defeat a motion to dismiss on grounds of forum non conveniens merely by showing that the substantive law that would be applied in the alternative forum is less favorable to the plaintiffs than that of the present forum.


  • Private interest factors: relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling, and the cost of obtaining attendance of willing, witnesses; possibility of view of premises, if view would be appropriate to the action; and all other practical problems that make trial a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.
  • Public factors: local interest in having localized controversies decided at home; the interest in having the trial of a diversity case in a forum that is at home with the law that must govern the action; the avoidance of unnecessary problems in conflict of laws, or in the application of foreign law; and the unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty.

 

H & R: Yes. Judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. Reyno loses.  The district court properly decided that the presumption in factor of the respondent’s forum choice applied with less than maximum force because the real parties in interest are foreign. It did not act unreasonably in deciding that the private interests point in interest are foreign. It did not act unreasonably in deciding that the public interests favored trial in Scotland.

 

Vocab: (This is totally optional, I just like to have this in case the professor asks.) 

forum non conveniens: A doctrine permitting a court to dismiss a case over which it has jurisdiction if an alternate jurisdiction is more convenient for hearing the matter.

Gilbert Analysis: local interest in having localized controversies decided at home.

 


Outline Examples

Example 1: (TF stands for “trigger facts” and I usually use them for cases that are more complicated.) 

(CLASS) CIVIL PROCEDURE → (SUBJECT) VENUE → (DOCTRINE) FORUM NON CONVENIENS

  • Piper Aircraft v. Reyno
      1. TF: Small commercial aircraft crashed in Scotland, killing the pilot and five passengers. Plane made in Penn. Propellers made in OH. Filed in CA court. 
      2. Rule: A plaintiff may not defeat a motion to dismiss on grounds of forum non conveniens merely by showing that the substantive law that would be applied in the alternative forum is less favorable to the plaintiffs than that of the present forum.

    Example 2: (A shorter version, without trigger facts.) 

    CIV. PRO. → VENUE → FORUM NON CONVENIENS

  • Piper: A plaintiff may not defeat a motion to dismiss on grounds of forum non conveniens merely by showing that the substantive law that would be applied in the alternative forum is less favorable to the plaintiffs than that of the present forum.