275 F.3d 88 (D.C. Cir. 2001), 00-7274, Curtin v. United Airlines

Docket Nº:00-7274
Citation:275 F.3d 88
Party Name:James A. Curtin, et al., Appellants v. United Airlines, Inc., Appellee
Case Date:December 28, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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275 F.3d 88 (D.C. Cir. 2001)

James A. Curtin, et al., Appellants


United Airlines, Inc., Appellee

No. 00-7274

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

December 28, 2001

Argued October 10, 2001

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 99cv03056)

Leonard N. Bebchick argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellants.

Frederick C. Schafrick argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Timothy G. Lynch.

Before: Sentelle, Randolph, and Garland, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge Garland.

Garland, Circuit Judge:

Three United Airlines passengers, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, sued United under an international treaty known as the Warsaw Convention to recover the value of baggage lost on international flights. Without reaching the question of class certification, the district court granted summary judgment against the three named plaintiffs, on the ground that each had entered into an accord and satisfaction with United by accepting a check from the air carrier "in full and complete settlement of any and all claims." We affirm the judgment of the district court.


In September 1998, James Curtin flew from Cork, Ireland to Dulles Airport in Virginia. After landing at Dulles, he reported that a bag of golf clubs, estimated to be worth $921, was missing. In January 1999, Margaret Wombacher flew from London to Chicago. One of her bags never arrived in Chicago, and she reported a loss of $1855. In the same month, David Simmons flew from London to Atlanta, connecting through Chicago. His bag made it to Chicago but not to Atlanta, and he filed a claim for $1355.

In response to the claims for compensation filed by Curtin and Wombacher, United sent each a letter stating:

Because your itinerary involved an international destination, claim settlement is governed by the 'Warsaw Convention' which limits our liability to $635 due to loss, damage or delay.

J.A. at 35, 126. It sent Simmons a slightly different letter, which read:

As your trip involved international travel, payment for your loss is based on the weight of your checked bag. The maximum

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liability our company assumes is $9.07 per pound, up to 70 pounds per checked item unless excess valuation is declared and purchased prior to travel. Our check for $635 in settlement for the missing property, will be mailed to you shortly.

J.A. at 116. Subsequently, United mailed each plaintiff a check for $635. Above the endorsement line on each check was the following legend:

By endorsement of this check payee(s) agree that the amount shown is accepted in full and complete settlement of any and all claims which payee(s) may have against United Air Lines, Inc., its connecting carriers, their agents or employees for loss, damage or delay sustained by reason of an incident involving a United flight.

J.A. at 36, 119, 127. Curtin, Wombacher, and Simmons all signed and deposited their checks, the latter after consulting with an attorney.1

Article 18 of the Warsaw Convention, an international air carriage treaty ratified by the United States in 1934, creates a cause of action against an air carrier for loss of or damage to a passenger's checked baggage. 49 U.S.C. §40105 note. Article 22(2) of the Convention limits a carrier's liability for such loss to a maximum of 250 francs per kilogram, or $9.07 per pound. See Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Franklin Mint Corp., 466 U.S. 243 (1984). United calculated its liability to each plaintiff as no more than $635--the amount it tendered by check--because the maximum weight of a bag permitted on its flights was 70 pounds. Article 4(3) of the Convention, however, requires that baggage checks contain certain particulars, including the number and weight of the bags, and Article 4(4) states that "if the baggage check does not con tain" those particulars "the carrier shall not be entitled to avail himself of those provisions of the convention which exclude or limit his liability." It is undisputed that United did not record the weight of any of the plaintiffs' bags.

In Cruz v. American Airlines, Inc., 193 F.3d 526 (D.C. Cir. 1999), this circuit ruled that the plain language of Article 4(4) precludes an air carrier's invocation of the liability limits of Article 22(2) when it has not recorded the weight of the baggage. Cruz acknowledged that passengers are not prejudiced by an airline's failure to note a bag's weight if the carrier's maximum weight allowance is used to determine the amount of its liability, and that in such circumstances the recording requirement "makes little real sense." Id. at 529. Nonetheless, Cruz concluded that "the language of the Convention is unyielding and we have no warrant to dispense with portions we might think purposeless." Id.

This case was filed on November 17, 1999, five weeks after the decision in Cruz. The First Amended Complaint was brought by Curtin, Wombacher, and Simmons, as a class action on behalf of themselves

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and all others similarly situated.2 The class was defined as all persons who checked baggage on an international United flight "without the weight of that baggage having been recorded," and who received payment of less than what they claimed was the fair value of the loss of or damage to that baggage--such payment "being an amount (usually $635) which United asserted or believed was the limit of its liability for such baggage loss/damage under Warsaw's Article 22(2) $9.07 per pound liability limitation." First Am. Compl. p 5. Plaintiffs proposed a class period "beginning the two years prior to initiation of this suit and ending on March 3, 1999." Id.3 They claimed that they were entitled to recover the full value of their lost or damaged baggage, and that the Warsaw Convention's liability limit was inapplicable because the weight of their baggage had not been recorded on their baggage checks.

United moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, raising the defense of accord and satisfaction by virtue of plaintiffs' endorsement and deposit of the checks that United had tendered in settlement of their claims. Plaintiffs countered that there were no valid accords and satisfactions, and that even if there were, they should be rescinded on the grounds of mistake and/or misrepresentation. Plaintiffs also asked the district court to permit discovery and to rule on the issue of class certification before addressing defendant's motion for summary judgment. The district court denied those requests and granted United's motion.


We begin with two preliminary matters: plaintiffs' contentions that the district court erred by deciding United's motion for summary judgment (1) without permitting discovery and (2) without ruling on the question of class certification. The first of these arguments is readily dispatched. Although it is true that summary judgment ordinarily "is proper only after the plaintiff has been given adequate time for discovery," First Chicago Int'l v. United Exch. Co., 836 F.2d 1375, 1380 (D.C. Cir. 1988), plaintiffs' briefs fail to identify any facts essential to opposing United's motion as to which discovery is needed. Moreover, at oral argument, plaintiffs agreed that in light of factual concessions made by United below, all the facts required to decide the summary judgment issue are already in the record and further discovery is unnecessary. See also Appellants' Br. at 18, 27. Accordingly, there is no possible ground for reversing the district court's denial of discovery. See Moore v. United States, 213 F.3d 705, 710 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (holding that "a district court may deny discovery requests when additional facts are not necessary to resolve the summary judgment motion"); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f) (providing that the court may continue an application for summary judgment to give time for discovery if the opposing party "cannot ... present by affidavit facts essential to justify the party's opposition").

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The certification issue detains us only slightly longer. The plaintiffs assert that the district court was obliged to determine whether their suit could proceed as a class action before it could consider the merits of their individual claims, in light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(c) and the Supreme Court's holding in Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 417 U.S. 156 (1979). Neither of these authorities, however, suggests that a court is barred from rendering an easy decision on an individual claim to avoid an...

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