Tweed-New Haven Airport Authy v. Tong, 930 F. 3d 65 (2d Cir. 2019)

Airport authority that operated city-owned airport brought action against state attorney general, seeking declaration that state statute limiting runway length was invalid.

Held that Airport Authority had Article III standing. While state attorney general asserted that it had made no overt threat to enforce statute limiting runway length, airport was directly targeted by statute, and an actual enforcement action was not a prerequisite to challenging statute, since there was no indication in record that attorney general had disavowed enforcement. Court made clear that Article III standing does not place the burden on the plaintiff to show an intent by the government to enforce the law against it; rather, it has presumed such intent in the absence of a disavowal by the government or another reason to conclude that no such intent existed.

Court held that Federal Aviation Act (FAAct) preempted state statute prohibiting lengthening of runway at airport owned by city and operated by airport authority. State statute intruded into field of air safety and was thus preempted by FAAct. Court found that the state statute effectively limited the number of passengers that could safely occupy planes leaving airport by preventing planes from taking off at maximum capacity and limited types of planes that could be used on runway, and that Federal Aviation Administration had direct and significant oversight over authority’s plans to extend airport’s runway pursuant to airport master plan previously approved by FAA.

Court reaffirmed that the FAAct impliedly preempts the entire field of air safety with such preemption applicable where either the state law at issue “conflicts with the FAAct” or where the state law “sufficiently interfere[s] with federal regulation of air safety are preempted.”

Jones v. Goodrich Corp., 2019 WL 4760133 (D. Conn. 2019)

Wrongful death action asserting claims of strict liability, negligence, breach of warranty, breach of contract, and fraud and stemming from the fatal crash of an AH-6M “Mission Enhanced Little Bird” helicopter on August 8, 2011, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Two U.S. Army pilots were killed in the accident.

Court held that the state law claims of strict liability, negligence, breach of warranty, breach of contract, and fraud were preempted under “field preemption” and entered summary judgment for manufacturer defendant.

Court restated and reapplied the Second Circuit holding that “Congress intended the FAA, as amended by the ADA, to occupy the field of air safety.” As such, “[s]tate laws that conflict with the FAA or sufficiently interfere with federal regulation of air safety are thus preempted.”

Court rejected assertion that that the level of federal interest presented by the FAA’s product certification scheme is insufficient to warrant a finding of preemption. It found that the federal design and certification requirements governing aircraft engine were direct and significant with the FAA regulations governing engine control systems pervasive. See 14 C.F.R. 33.28. Design and certification decisions for components directly affecting airworthiness were stated to “clearly fall” within the scope of the “entire field of aviation safety.” The attempt to enforce common law rules for aircraft components would interfere with the uniform requirements established by the federal government as “[l]ocalized, state-by-state standards of care regarding such components are incompatible with the FAA’s objective of establishing a “uniform and exclusive system of federal regulation.”

Court noted that the Third Circuit drew the distinction between in-flight operations (preempted) and aircraft designed (not preempted) but that the Second Circuit “has not distinguished between in-air operations on the one hand and design and manufacture on the other. Absent such a distinction, aircraft engine component design falls squarely within the “entire field of air safety.” Regardless, it was further noted that the claims Involved “design defect claims that allegedly caused the helicopter to crash, so the components at issue here are more related to in-air operations than is location of the television monitors, which the Second Circuit found to be preempted.” Accordingly, the level of federal interest presented by the FAA’s product certification scheme sufficient to warrant a finding of preemption.

Court also rejected contention that preemption did not apply as the military helicopter at issue was not subject to FAA certification requirements. The exemption for military aircraft from FAA standards was found insufficient to constrain “the clear congressional intent to occupy the entire field of aviation safety. It merely represents a choice by Congress to relieve American armed forces from civilian restraints that would be unreasonable in a war setting, not an opportunity for states to impose patchwork standards of care on suppliers of the military forces of the United States. Imposition of various common law rules upon military aircraft would be incompatible generally with the federal government’s authority to regulate the field of air safety, and specifically with the decision by Congress to relax regulations for aircraft used exclusively in the service of government.”

Hughes v. Southwest Airlines, Inc., 2019 WL 4450502 (N.D. Ill. 2019)

Passenger brought a breach of contract claim against a commercial airliner which cancelled the passenger’s domestic flight because the airline had run out of de-icer. Passenger allegedly incurred additional costs for lodging, food, and parking before flying to his destination the following day.

Court granted airline’s motion to dismiss. Passenger argued that an implied term of the Conditions of Carriage was that that since a provision of the Conditions of Carriage specifically disclaims liability for events that are outside of the airline’s control, the implication is that the airline “would do everything that was both foreseeable and in its control to fulfill its contractual obligation to fly [passenger] to his destination.”

The Court rejected the contention relying on Texas common law. If held that implied terms are disfavored and that there was no basis in the Conditions of Carriage Contract to imply that the airline would always maintain enough de-icer to operate its flights. The Conditions of Carriage had specific provisions as to the obligations upon cancellation “without any qualifying language” and which provision contemplated that the airline could still fulfill the Contract if it canceled a flight.” As such, implying additional terms that the airline “would always stock sufficient de-icer to fly in cold weather events is hardly necessary to effectuate the parties’ intentions.”

The Court further found that a provision in the Conditions of Carriage explicitly disclaimed additional implied terms and that no argument was made how the Court could imply terms inconsistent with this clause.

Court held that the Conditions of Carriage precluded recovery of consequential damages. Specifically, running out of de-icer implicates aviation safety, regardless of whether it was a foreseeable event. As such, the explicit disclaimer of liability for flights canceled due to aviation safety concerns precluded the passenger from obtaining damages caused by the canceled flight.

Cardenas v. American Airlines, Inc., 2019 WL 2918162 (S.D. Cal. 2019)

Passenger alleged wrongful refusal to transport pursuant to the Federal Aviation Act, 49 U.S.C. 44902(a)(1) as well as claims for breach of contract, negligence, assault and battery, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The airline was alleged to have excluded passenger from a flight from Dallas as well as cancelling future flight reservations and temporarily barring her from buying any tickets without justification.

Court rejected argument that state claims were preempted under 44902(a)(1) which grants airline the discretion to remove a passenger from a flight where it believes the passenger or conduct is “inimical to safety.” The Court held the threshold issue as to preemption was whether the passenger’s claims implicated airline safety and if so they would be preempted. Since there was a dispute as to whether the airline’s actions were based on concerns for safety, preemption could not be found as a matter of law. The Court further noted that “[t]here is no indication that the FAA and its regulations intended to preempt state law claims alleging injury from an alleged misuse of authority by personnel at an airport.”

Dolan v. JetBlue Airways, Inc., 385 F. Supp. 3d 1338 (S.D. Fla. 2019)

Airline customer brought putative class action against airline alleging violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA), unjust enrichment, and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), arising out of undisclosed receipt of a portion of fee charged for trip insurance sold on airline’s website. Airline filed motion to dismiss.

Court rejected claim that FDUTPA and unjust enrichment claims preempted under ADA. Court rejected argument that the offering of trip insurance, through airline’s website related to a “service of an air carrier.” According to the Eleventh Circuit in order for there to be a “service” for purposes of ADA preemption the service “must fit within the limited range of services over which airlines compete;” it must be bargained for; and “the bargained-for exchange must be between an air carrier and its consumers.”

Court determined that there was nothing in the record before the Court indicating that trip insurance falls within “the limited range of services over which airlines compete.” It stated that “at least at this stage of the litigation, that the offering of trip insurance, as part of the online ticket-purchasing process, is either “part of the customer’s experience of air travel” or “considered in evaluating the quality of their flight.” Further, it was noted that “there is certainly nothing about purchasing trip insurance, even as part of the booking process, that is particular to a service over which the airline industry competes: it may be a service that is offered by a particular airline, or even many airlines; but that does not necessarily make it an air-carrier service under the ADA.”

Scarlett v. Air Methods Corp., 922 F. 3d 1053 (10th Cir. 2019)

Class action challenging charges by air ambulance services on grounds that claimants had never agreed to charges. Claimants asserted that: (1) the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) does not apply to air ambulance carriers; (2) that the ADA does not pre-empt “breach of implied contract claims;” (3) that there are no enforceable contracts because claimants never agreed on the price of the air ambulance services; (4) that the air ambulance service providers have been unjustly enriched by charging more than the fair market value of their services; and (5) that the ADA’s pre-emption provision violates the procedural and substantive components of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Court held that air ambulance service providers qualified as “air carriers” under ADA preemption even though they provided intrastate flights, where providers had obtained necessary certifications to provide interstate flights and, in fact, did provide interstate flights.

Under the ADA, “a State … may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation under this subpart.” Court held that the ADA preemption provision did not prohibit court from entering declaratory judgment that, because parties never agreed on price, no express or implied-in-fact contracts were formed between patients and air ambulance service providers.

Court noted the general rule that contract claims are not ordinarily preempted under the ADA. Further, it reaffirmed and restated the rules as to preemption under the ADA as to implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims: (1) “[w]hen the law of a State does not authorize parties to free themselves from [a] covenant, a breach of covenant claim is pre-empted under the reasoning of Wolens” and (2) “[w]hen the application of [an] implied covenant depends on state policy, a breach of implied covenant claim cannot be viewed as simply an attempt to vindicate the parties’ implicit understanding of the contract.” Further, it made clear that ADA pre-empts implied common law claims that attempt to vindicate “community standards of decency, fairness, or reasonableness.”

Farelas v. Hijazi, 2019 WL 1553669 (C.D. Cal. 2019)

Assorted state based wrongful death claims made arising out of a fatal plane crash at California airport. Defendants included air traffic control operator asserting claims for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, wrongful death, and a survivor’s action.

Matter was removed to Federal Court under the Federal Officer Removal Statute. Court denied motion to remand to state court.

Court confirmed that the Federal Officer Removal Statute (28 U.S. C. 1442(a)) allows for removal regardless of nonfederal defendants or claims. For removal to be proper under the Federal Officer Removal Statute, the purported federal officer defendant must demonstrate that: (1) it is a person within the meaning of the statute; (2) there is a causal nexus between its actions and plaintiff’s claims, taken pursuant to a federal officer’s directions; and (3) it can assert a colorable federal defense.

As to the second element (causal nexus), Court found the element satisfied as the traffic controller acted under the direction of the FAA to the point of “subjection, guidance or control.” Rather than providing general responsibilities or even detailed regulations, the FAA’s Air Traffic Control Manual sets forth comprehensive protocols and instructions for air traffic controllers to follow. Air traffic controllers must adhere to these precise instructions, including using specific procedures and terminology.

As to the third element (colorable defense), the Court rejected the assertion that the preemption and sovereign immunity defenses were not colorable.

Mannella v. American Airlines, Inc., 2019 WL 1429636 (S.D. Fla. 2019)

Passenger brought action against commercial airliner for defamation and negligence.

Passenger complained of a litany of alleged failures to provide service as to boarding and on-board needs including as a bi-lateral amputee. On board and in first class, passenger claimed he was refused service despite complaints of pain and discomfort and requesting a drink. At some point, flight was diverted and upon landing in Dallas, the claimant alleged that he—along with the entire first-class cabin—heard the first-class flight attendant on the airplane phone, presumably talking to the Captain, stating that claimant was “a drunk,” “a drunk in first-class,” “drunk and disorderly,” and “extremely intoxicated.” Two police officers boarded and removed him from the aircraft. Claimant also alleged that one of the officers told him he was being removed because he had committed “a felony because of his extreme intoxication, and that the severity of his crime merited a lengthy incarceration.” Claimant alleged the entire first-class cabin heard each statement.

Claimant, who did not allege any physical injury, asserted claims for: (1) defamation per se, (2) violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and (3) negligence. The Court previously dismissed the Disability claim.

As to the defamation claim, the Court held that the first-class flight attendant’s alleged statements imputing drunkenness and extreme intoxication did not rise to the level of defamation per se. Such statements made without reference to claimant’s employment do not “impute[ ] conduct to the plaintiff[ ] that was incompatible with the essential function[ ] of [his] job.” Even if the first-class flight attendant’s statements were actionable as defamation per se, the Court found that the claimant had failed to show publication of the statements to a third party. As defendant could not identify a single other person or passenger who the allegedly defamatory statement the claim failed as a matter of law.

As to the negligence claim, the Court found the claim preempted under the ADA. The issue presented was whether the negligence claim related to airline’s services “in a way that implicates the ADA’s deregulation of the economic and contractual features of air transportation.” The Court noted that the claimant alleged that the airline owed him two duties of care: (1) to supervise and train its employees to recognize and accommodate a disabled passenger, and (2) to provide reasonable accommodations for his disability. The Court recognized, under Eleventh Circuit law, that passengers could assert negligence claims that involved physical injuries, but not challenges to contractual features of service—features that airlines use to distinguish themselves in a buyer’s-choice market. The Court held that because the procedures the complainant complained of fell within the competitive marketplace of services that Congress intended to create with the ADA, Plaintiff’s claims are preempted. While an injury claim resulting from a flight attendant’s negligence in executing a boarding procedure could possibly survive preemption, Court found that the claimant had not proven a cognizable injury caused by the airline.