Jeffrey Ellis focuses his practice on aviation, insurance, products liability, commercial, litigation and appellate matters. Jeffrey represents airline carriers in connection with the various liability and regulatory issues confronting the aviation industry on both the domestic and international fronts. In this regard, he consults with airlines, manufacturers, insurers and industry groups to analyze the legal and regulatory implications of issues related to the federal and/or international preemption of aviation safety and security standards, code share and alliance relationships, connecting carrier relationships, the Montreal/Warsaw system, the Chicago Convention and regulation of drones.
Jeffrey represented the interests of United Airlines in the litigation arising from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also represented the interests of Delta Air Lines in the Swissair/Delta Flight 111 crash, Continental Airlines in the Air France Concorde crash, Delta/Northwest in the litigation arising out of the Underwear Bomber incident, GAMA in product preemption litigation and CTA and AUVSI in drone preemption litigation.
In conjunction with his practice, Jeffrey argued the first cases to recognize that:
an airline’s compliance with federal aviation standards is a complete defense to any liability claims asserted against it;
federal jurisdiction can be acquired in cases arising out of alleged violations of aviation safety standards, irrespective of whether diversity jurisdiction exists;
federal law preempts airline warning and seat requirements and in the absence of a breach of a federal standard requires dismissal of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) claims;
an airline’s liability for an alleged wrongful removal, breach of contract and/or false imprisonment arising out of a refusal to transport is immunized by federal law and can be limited by the terms of the contract of carriage to a refund of the unused portion of the ticket; and
federal law pre-empts local laws seeking to regulate drone operations.
In addition to his substantial aviation practice, Jeffrey represents insurance companies in claim disputes and manufacturers in complex products liability cases. He has more than 30 years of experience trying and arguing cases in various state and federal courts. He is listed in the Guide to the World’s Leading Aviation Lawyers.
US District Courts of the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York
US Courts of Appeals for the Second, Third, Fifth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits
Supreme Court of the United States
J.D., St. John's University, 1978
B.A., Albany State University, 1975
Abdullah v. American Airlines, Inc., 181 F.3d 363 (3rd Cir. 1999) - First case to hold that federal law implicitly preempts State common law obligations relevant to aviation safety and flight operations. Overturned decades of contrary precedent and allowed aviation defendants to completely exonerate themselves from State law negligence, tort and breach of contract claims when airline was found compliant with federal standards.
Witty v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 366 F.3d 380 (5th Cir. 2004) - First case to hold that federal law preempts airline warning and seat requirements and in the absence of a breach of a federal standard requires dismissal of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) claims. Also recognized that 1978 ADA could preempt negligence/tort claims.
Bavis v UAL Corp, 811 F. Supp. 2d 883 (SDNY 2011) - First case to hold that compliance with FAA security standards establishes a complete defense to 9/11 negligence claims.
World Trade Ctr. Props. LLC v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 905 F. Supp. 2d 547 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) - Held that airlines which jointly operated a checkpoint for a connecting flight boarded by 9/11 hijackers could not be held liable for subsequent hijacking of American Flight 11.
Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive Corp., 822 F.3d 680 (3d Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. AVCO Corp. v. Sikkelee, 137 S. Ct. 495, 196 L. Ed. 2d 433 (2016) – Wrote amicus brief for GAMA in products liability action against engine manufacturer pre-emption of product liability standards asserting that governmental certification of engine design was complete defence to product claim – remanded for further consideration.
Singer v. City of Newton, 284 F. Supp. 3d 125 (D. Mass. 2017), appeal dismissed, 2017 WL 8942575 (1st Cir. Dec. 7, 2017) submitted amicus brief on behalf of CTA and AUVSI to support pro se plaintiff in first case to address and hold that local regulation of drone flight was pre-empted by federal law.
Compass Airlines, LLC v. Mont. Dep't of Labor and Industry, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11379 (D. Mont. 2013) - Court confirmed prior issuance of TRO and preliminary injunction prohibiting State of Montana from litigating a claim brought under the Air Carrier Access Act and held that allowing litigation of non-bodily-injury tort claims premised upon alleged federal regulatory violations could result in a state-by-state patchwork of outcomes that could interfere with competitive market forces preempted by the 1978 ADA.
Di Benedetto v. Pan Am World Service, Inc., 359 F.3d 627 (2d Cir. 2004) - Second Circuit recognized that in a case involving an alleged failure to prevent the carriage of an explosive that if the State law which purportedly provides the damage remedy does not provide a duty or remedy for the conduct at issue, then the claim can be dismissed without reaching the issue of whether a federal security standard was breached.
Curley v. AMR Corp., 153 F.3d 5 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1998) - Recognized that the Chicago Convention required the use of Mexican law to determine a foreign carrier’s liability for claims related to international entry or departure.
Alejandro v. American Airlines, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14255 (1997 SDNY) - Held that an air carrier cannot be held liable under common law principles for the death of a person killed during a robbery on its premises unless it had notice of the likelihood of that type of crime. Also recognized that the decedent was not a third party beneficiary to a contract requiring the air carrier to provide security to another party.
Norman v. TWA, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14618 (SDNY 2000) - Recognized pilot's right to refuse transportation based on flight attendant statement of passenger misconduct even when there existed grounds to dispute the flight attendant's version of what transpired.
Schaeffer v. Cavallero, 29 F.Supp.2d 184 (SDNY 1998) - Recognized that federal jurisdiction existed to resolve a passenger removal claim since the core issue in the litigation involved resolution of an issue that would impact the "delicate balance between safety and efficiency," which the Supreme Court held to be a matter governed exclusively by federal law.
Stambovsky v. Ackley, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672 (1st Dept. 1997) - First case to resolve a real property contractual dispute on the basis of a holding that the subject premises were "haunted" as a matter of law.
Speaker, "Preemption & the Intersection of Federal and State Drone Regulation” ABA Drone Law Conference, Washington, DC, June 2018
Speaker, "Drone Law: Regulatory and Data Collection Issues” NYSBA Conference, October 2017
Speaker, "Liability of Governments for Aviation Accidents or Acts of Terrorism,” McGill Institute of Air & Space Law, July 2017
Speaker, "The Case for Preemption," AIA Annual Conference, April 2016
Moderator, "Terrorism, Security Risks and Cyber Risks Liability," and speaker, "Current Issues and Potential Impact on Air Carriers," Americas Aviation Seminar, Clyde & Co, October 2015
Speaker, "The Future of Federal Preemption in Aviation," Litigation Fundamentals in Modern Times – Aviation and Space Law, ABA TIPS Aviation and Space Law Program, October 2015
Speaker, "The September 11 Litigation," The National Institute on Aviation Litigation, June 2015
Moderator, The Latest Regulatory and Enforcement Priorities, Initiatives, and Practices, ACI's 7th National Forum on Defending and Managing Aviation Claims & Litigation, June 2015
Author of Chapter 3, "Preemption of State and Local Aviation Law," Litigating the Aviation Case, 4th Ed., American Bar Association, 2017
"The Future of Federal Preemption in Aviation," The Brief - Tort, Trial & Insurance Practice Section, Vol.45, No. 3, American Bar Association, Spring 2016