Greenhill v. Vartanian

Surviving Mustang fighter planes are collectors’ items. In 1965 Vartanian bought a Mustang, serial number 44-74543 and kept it in a Fulton County New York hangar. In 1985 Vartanian's representative could not find it. Vartanian suspected Martin, who had promised to restore the plane. Vartanian’s lawyer unsuccessfully demanded that Martin return the plane. Vartanian complained to the FAA, the FBI, and local police. Martin denied taking Vartanian’s plane. Martin later registered with the FAA a Mustang, serial number 44-63655. Martin asserts that it was cobbled together using parts from a plane that crashed in Nicaragua plus components acquired from several sources. In 1998 Martin sold 44-63655 to Greenhill. Vartanian learned about this transaction in 2002 or 2003 by reading a magazine article that incorrectly identified it as 44-74543. Vartanian hired another lawyer, who died before filing suit. Vartanian did not follow up until after learning in 2013 that there were irregularities in the serial numbers of several of Martin’s planes. Vartanian demanded that Greenhill return the plane. Greenhill sought a declaratory judgment of ownership. Vartanian filed counterclaims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the counterclaims were untimely and that the aircraft is free of Vartanian's claim. Although federal law provides the registration system, state law supplies the rules for determining ownership, 49 U.S.C. 44108(c)(1). For conversion claims, Illinois law establishes a five-year limitations period that starts when the injured party “knows or reasonably should know” of the injury and its cause. Vartanian knew in 1985 that his Mustang had vanished; he suspected Martin immediately and knew long ago what serial number Martin was using. Even if Illinois would not apply a statute of limitations, the doctrine of laches would remain. View "Greenhill v. Vartanian" on Justia Law