Sunday, June 28, 2009

Preemption: The Military Contractor Defense

In Brinson v. Raytheon Company (08-12308), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's application of the military contractor defense.

"On April 3, 2004, Judson B. Brinson, a Captain in the United States Air Force (“USAF”) Reserves, died when the aircraft he was co-piloting, the T-6A Texan II (“T-6A”), crashed near Savannah, Georgia. Appellant asserts that the T-6A was defectively designed by RAC."

“[A] few areas, involving ‘uniquely federal interests,’ are so committed by the Constitution and laws of the United States to federal control that state law is pre-empted and replaced, where necessary, by federal law of a content prescribed (absent explicit statutory directive) by the courts.” Boyle v. United Tech. Corp., 487 U.S. 500, 504, 108 S. Ct. 2510, 2514 (1988)...“[T]he procurement of equipment by the United States is an area of uniquely federal interest . . . .” Boyle, 487 U.S. at 505-07, 108 S. Ct. at 2515-16. This, however, merely establishes a necessary, not a sufficient, condition for the displacement of state law. Displacement will occur only where . . . a “significant conflict” exists between an identifiable federal policy or interest and the operation of state law, or the application of state law would frustrate specific objectives of federal legislation...The “scope of displacement” is determined by a three-part test...

Liability for design defects in military equipment cannot be imposed, pursuant to state law, when (1) the United States approved reasonably precise specifications; (2) the equipment conformed to those specifications; and (3) the supplier warned the United States about the dangers in the use of the equipment that were known to the supplier but not to the United States...This doctrine is referred to as the “military contractor defense."...“Stripped to its essentials, the military contractor defense is available only when the defendant demonstrates with respect to its design and manufacturing decisions that the government made me do it.”

A. Approval of reasonably precise specifications

we conclude that post-design, post-production evidence may fit within the Boyle rationale. When faced with a potentially failing or defective part, the military may make a discretionary decision concerning how to address the problem. We do not want to “second-guess” that judgment through a state law tort suit...In summary, RAC has sufficiently established that the military approved reasonably precise specifications of the rudder trim system, including the TAD. None of Brinson’s arguments raise a genuine issue of fact material to this conclusion. Accordingly, we conclude that RAC has satisfied the first prong of the Boyle test on summary judgment.

B. Conformity to Reasonably Precise Specifications

“To demonstrate the second Boyle condition, a contractor must show that the equipment at issue conformed to precise, government-approved specifications.” Gray, 125 F.3d at 1378. We conclude that RAC has carried its burden on summary judgment.


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