In the case of Skybolt Aeromotive Corporation v. Milspec Products, a Florida court was faced with deciding very technical aviation issues. Rather than decide those issues, the Court relied on the “primary jurisdiction doctrine” and “punted” the case to the FAA.
Skybolt and Milspec compete in the aerospace fastener industry. Skybolt alleged that Milspec falsely advertised TSO-C148 production approval for a significant number of the fasteners it sold. The parties disagreed about a variety of documents as to authenticity and whether they actually proved that Milspec had the production approval, and, if so, whether the approval was obtained fraudulently.
Skybolt filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction enjoining Milspec from selling parts as FAA approved parts. However, rather than decide Skybolt’s motion, the Court performed an analysis as to whether the primary jurisdiction doctrine should be applied to the case.
The primary jurisdiction doctrine permits a court to stay an action to efficiently allocate fact finding between the courts and administrative agencies. The doctrine justifies staying (not deciding) a case where issues of fact are not within the conventional experience of judges or which require the exercise of administrative discretion.
The Court observed that the FAA has the jurisdiction and regulatory authority to determine whether Milspec held the TSO approval, and whether Milspec was in violation of applicable regulations for which FAA enforcement would be required. And it went on to note that the case presented historical and technical questions, as well as issues of regulatory consistency and uniformity, all of which the FAA was best suited to answer before the Court.
As a result, the Court directed Skybolt to file a formal complaint with the FAA under 14 C.F.R. § 13.5 which would allow Skybolt, Milspec, and the Court, to provide the FAA with a complete evidentiary record sufficient for the FAA to resolve the factual issues. The Court also required Skybolt and Milspec to file status reports to keep the Court advised of the progress and resolution of Skybolt’s complaint.
At this time, after reviewing Skybolt’s complaint the FAA has initiated an informal investigation into the matter.