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Kobe Bryant’s Widow Takes Aim at ‘Procedural Ploy’ in Crash Suit

Oct. 26, 2020, 3:53 PM

Vanessa Bryant wants to toss claims against air traffic controllers in the litigation over her husband’s death, arguing that the helicopter company she is suing brought the controllers into the case solely to deprive her of having the case in a state court.

Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for Central District of California to dismiss claims by helicopter operator Island Express Helicopters Inc. against air traffic controllers in litigation over Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash, arguing the company only named them to force removal of the case to federal court. Involving the controllers is a “procedural ploy” and “gamesmanship” that should be rejected, Bryant said.

Vanessa Bryant in February sued Island Express in California Superior Court in Los Angeles, alleging negligence in the Jan. 26, 2020, crash that killed the Los Angeles Lakers Hall-of-Famer, their 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others.

The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, flying in cloudy conditions, crashed into a hillside near Calabasas, Calif.

After Island Express filed cross complaints against the air traffic controllers, the federal government removed the case on Sept. 30, citing the federal officer removal statute, which requires claims against federal employees acting within the scope of their employment at the time of their alleged negligence to be heard in federal court.

Though Island Express alleged that the air traffic controllers acted within the scope of their employment, it “improperly asserted claims against the air traffic controllers in their individual capacities, knowing this would force the United States to intervene in the action and remove the matter to federal court,” Bryant said.

If Island Express wanted to pursue claims that the air traffic controllers acted negligently while acting within the scope of their employment, it was required to bring an action against the U.S. in federal court under the Federal Tort Claims Act, not a state-law tort claim, Bryant said.

Because the state court never had jurisdiction over the claims, they couldn’t form the basis for removal, Bryant said.

Bryant joined in the government’s motion to dismiss filed earlier in the week. In a separate motion also filed Oct. 23, Bryant asked the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to remand the case to the state court.

Judge Otis D. Wright is assigned to the case.

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP and Robb & Robb LLC represent Bryant. Cunningham Swaim LLP represents Island Express.

The case is Bryant v. Island Express Helicopters Inc., C.D. Cal., No. 20-cv-08953, 10/23/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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