The NTSB recently affirmed an administrative law judge’s decision revoking all of an airman’s pilot and medical certificates, but not his mechanic certificate, for making intentional or fraudulent statements on an application for medical certificate. In Administrator v. Culliton, the FAA alleged that the airman failed to disclose a number of potentially disqualifying conditions on his application for medical certificate. The FAA’s enforcement action followed a criminal action in which a jury convicted the airman of making a false statement on the same application, in violation of Title 18, Section 1001(a)(2) (a felony). The conviction was based upon the same answers on the medical application that were the subject of the FAA’s enforcement action.
The ALJ applied the doctrine of res judicata and granted the FAA’s motion for summary judgment based upon the felony conviction. Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of a prior action precludes the party common to the prior and a subsequent proceeding from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in the prior action.
The NTSB agreed with the ALJ and the FAA holding that the requirements of res judicata were met and the findings in the criminal case foreclosed the airman from raising the issues in the enforcement action. It held that the issue in both cases “is exactly the same: whether respondent intentionally falsified his June 1997 application.” It also noted that the burden of proof in the criminal case (beyond a reasonable doubt) was much greater than in the enforcment action (preponderance of the substantial, reliable and probative evidence). Finally, the NTSB reversed the ALJ’s refusal to revoke the airman’s mechanic certificate holding that FAR 67.403 authorizes the FAA to revoke all certificates for intentional falsification, as does the FAA’s sanction policy.
I don’t think this is the last time you will see an enforcement action relying upon res judicata to bind an airman based upon a felony conviction for making a false statement. This is especially true in light of the “Operation Safe Pilot” investigation in California discussed in my July 20, 2005 post and the likely expansion of the effort recommended by DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead discussed in my August 1, 2005 post. It also seems clear that the FAA will seek, and likely be granted, revocation of all FAA issued certificates under similar circumstances.