United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
COLETTE CARPENTER, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of CLAYTON CARPENTER, Deceased; JON TERNSTROM; and MARIA TERNSTROM, Plaintiffs,
LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION, a Maryland corporation doing business in Georgia, Defendant.
7, 2019, Plaintiffs filed this wrongful death action against
Defendant Lockheed Martin Corporation ("Lockheed").
Plaintiffs' claims arise out of the tragic crash of a
United States Army MH-6OM Black Hawk helicopter at Hunter
Army Airfield in Georgia on January 15, 2014. The crash
resulted in the death of Plaintiff Colette Carpenter's
decedent, Clayton Carpenter, and physical injuries to
Plaintiff Jon Ternstrom. Plaintiff Maria Ternstrom claims
loss of consortium and other damages.
present, Lockheed has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint
based upon the applicable statute of limitation. In response
thereto, Plaintiffs move to amend the complaint to add
allegations of fraud against Lockheed - fraud that allegedly
prevented Plaintiffs from filing the lawsuit against Lockheed
within the limitation period. Upon review of the briefs, the
record, and relevant law, the Court hereby
GRANTS the motion to dismiss and
DENIES AS MOOT the motion to amend the
January 15, 2014, Pilots Carpenter and Ternstrom made their
approach to Hunter Army Airfield after a training flight to
St. Augustine, Florida. During the approach, the helicopter
suddenly and without warning experienced a failure of the
tail rotor pitch change assembly and began to spin in a
direction opposite to the direction of the main rotor blades.
Despite executing prescribed emergency procedures for loss of
tail rotor control to reduce the rate of spin, the helicopter
continued out of control and impacted the ground. (Compl.
¶ 15, Doc. No. 1.)
Pilots Carpenter and Ternstrom were seated in pilot seats
allegedly installed by Lockheed. Plaintiffs' allegations
concerning the pilot seats follow:
Both seats were designed to absorb the impact of a hard
landing and to keep the pilots upright and firmly in their
seats. Each seat was to have a working energy attenuating
system and seatbelt system to reduce any injuries to the
occupants in the event of a crash or hard landing. Both
energy attenuating systems and seatbelt systems failed to
work as designed.
(Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiffs assert claims of
negligence and strict liability against Lockheed.
MH-6OM Blackhawk helicopter involved in the crash was a
United States Army Special Operations helicopter specially
modified for Special Operations use and many of its
components and modifications are classified. (Id.
¶¶ 5, 10.) Plaintiffs initially brought suit in a
California state court in September 2014 but the case was
subsequently removed to the United States District Court for
the Central District of California. See Carpenter v.
Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Case No. 2:14-cv-07793, Doc.
No. 1 (CD. Calif. Oct. 8, 2014). In addition to several named
defendants including Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and
Sikorsky Support Services, Inc. (collectively
"Sikorsky" for ease of reference), Plaintiffs
allege that they included John Doe defendants because they
were unaware of the civilian companies responsible for
modifying the helicopter to the Special Operations variant.
(Compl. ¶ 11.) On January 9, 2015, Plaintiffs learned
the L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, L.P.
("L-3") was involved in the modification of the
helicopter. (Id. ¶ 12.) The prior litigation
proceeded against a number of defendants including Sikorsky
and L-3 throughout 2015 until 2018. (Id. ¶ 13.)
Plaintiffs allege that while L-3 had initially begun the
overhaul of the helicopter, it had lost the government
contract and had been replaced by Lockheed. (Id.) In
point of fact, it was Lockheed that inspected and installed
the pilot seats in the helicopter, which Plaintiffs did not
discover until the end of October 2018. (Id.)
filed the instant lawsuit against Lockheed in this Court on
May 7, 2019, over five years after the accident. Lockheed
filed a motion to dismiss the case based upon the applicable
statute of limitation. Plaintiffs responded and filed a motion to
amend the complaint, seeking to add allegations of fraud
against Lockheed that would justify the late filing of the
proposed amended complaint adds the following relevant
background information. Plaintiffs begin their fraudulent
concealment allegations with the observation that Sikorsky,
an original defendant in the California action, and Lockheed
"were in a unique position to know and to conceal and
did conceal Lockheed's role." (Proposed Am. Compl.
¶ 14, Doc. No. 18-1.) Plaintiffs explain through their
proposed allegations that Lockheed bought Sikorsky on
November 6, 2015, so that when Sikorsky answered
Plaintiffs' complaint on November 25, 2015, Lockheed
"now wholly owned" Sikorsky. (Id.
¶¶ 15-16.) Yet, Sikorsky denied all knowledge of
the pilot seats. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiffs claim
that Sikorsky's answer was misleading and should have
been corrected. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiffs also
allege that Sikorsky further concealed Lockheed's role in
the installation of the seats when it responded to
interrogatories on April 26, 2017. Therein, Sikorsky claimed
to not be involved in the installation of the seats and
disavowed any knowledge about the installation of the seats.
(Id. ¶ 25.)
Plaintiffs learned in their litigation against L-3 in October
that L-3 could not have installed the pilot seats because it
had lost the contract to modify the helicopters approximately
3 months after the subject helicopter arrived at the
modification facility and installation of the pilot seats
occurred very late in the modification process. (Id.
¶ 19.) It was also determined that Lockheed succeeded
L-3 as the modification contractor. (Id.)
filed the instant case several months later. Plaintiffs
explain that they did not include their allegations of
fraudulent concealment involving Lockheed and Sikorsky
"so as to spare [them] from the shocking and presumably
embarrassing litany of fraudulent concealment."
(Pis.' Mot. to Amend Compl., Doc. No. 18, at 3-4.)
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) does not test whether the plaintiff will ultimately
prevail on the merits of the case. Rather, it tests the legal
sufficiency of the complaint. Harris v. Proctor &
Gamble Cellulose Co., 73 F.3d 321, 324 (11th
Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Therefore, the court must
accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and
construe all reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. See Hoffman-Pugh v.
Ramsey, 312 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002)
. When, however, on the basis of a dispositive issue of law,
no construction of the factual ...