Aerlex Law Group

Hofer Assesses Recent Supreme Court Decision For California Legal Newspapers

The United States Supreme Court made the right decision in a recent case involving air carriers, security in the skies and defamation issues, Aerlex Law Group President Stephen Hofer wrote in an article that appeared February 7th in both the Los Angeles Daily Journal and San Francisco Daily Journal.

The Daily Journal Corporation, owner of California’s two largest daily newspapers published for the legal community, invited Mr. Hofer to write a guest column about the Supreme Court’s decision in Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper, No. 12-315 (2014). Ben Armistead, the newspapers’ legal editor, said he asked the Aerlex president to write the article because he is one of the best-known and most highly respected aviation lawyers in California.

The Air Wisconsin case arose under the 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), and involved an airline’s claim that it was entitled to immunity under the ATSA against a defamation lawsuit brought by a pilot and former employee of the airline. The ATSA, which was enacted after the infamous September 11, 2001 air terrorism incidents, obligates air carriers and their employees to report any information regarding potential civil aviation threats to the Transportation Safety Administration. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court overturned the $1.2 million judgment a Colorado trial court had awarded the ex-employee and said Air Wisconsin could not be sued for statements its employees made about the pilot after he failed a training examination. The pilot had previously been authorized to carry a firearm onboard aircraft and Air Wisconsin had communicated concerns to the TSA about the possibility that the pilot would be angry about having failed the training and losing his job.

Mr. Hofer, who was a newspaper editor and writer for 10 years before he became a lawyer in 1980, said, “The Air Wisconsin case presented an interesting set of facts that obligated the High Court to balance the rights of an individual not to be defamed against the obligation of an air carrier to protect commercial flights and passengers from danger in the skies. As a former journalist, I could understand the need to harmonize those important competing interests and I think that, in this instance, the Supreme Court ‘got it right.’ I also appreciated the opportunity the Daily Journal offered me to provide analysis and commentary on this significant case affecting the aviation industry.”