453 F.3d 525 (D.C. Cir. 2006), 05-7004, Richards v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.

Docket Nº:05-7004.
Citation:453 F.3d 525
Party Name:Constance S. RICHARDS, Administrator of the Estate of Louise T. Stevens, on behalf of herself and all other persons similarly situated, Appellant v. DELTA AIR LINES, INC., Appellee.
Case Date:July 14, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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453 F.3d 525 (D.C. Cir. 2006)

Constance S. RICHARDS, Administrator of the Estate of Louise T. Stevens, on behalf of herself and all other persons similarly situated, Appellant



No. 05-7004.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

July 14, 2006

Argued Feb. 13, 2006.

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 99cv03368).

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

Frederick C. Schafrick argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was Daniel O. Hanks.

Before: RANDOLPH and GARLAND, Circuit Judges, and WILLIAMS, Senior Circuit Judge.


RANDOLPH, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from the judgment of the district court dismissing a class-action complaint. The main question is whether the court abused its discretion in refusing to certify the class, because the suit was predominately or exclusively for monetary damages, contrary to the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), and because common questions of law or fact did not predominate, as Rule 23(b)(3) requires.


In January 1999, Louise T. Stevens, the original plaintiff in this case, lost a single piece of luggage on the last leg of an international flight terminating in Atlanta, Georgia. She filed a claim with Delta Air Lines, seeking $1044 as the fair-market value of her luggage and its contents. Delta wrote to Stevens that because her "journey involve[d] international travel, liability for loss [of her baggage] is governed by [the Warsaw Convention]" – the treaty limiting the liability of air carriers for the international air transport of people and property. See convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Transportation by Air, Oct. 12, 1929 ("Warsaw Convention"), 49 Stat. 3000, T.S. No. 876 (reprinted in 49 U.S.C. § 40105 note).1 Delta informed Stevens that its liability for the loss of her luggage "is based on the weight of the checked luggage and is limited to the actual value of the property not to exceed $20.00 per kilogram." See warsaw Convention art. 22(2). The letter continued: "Since [Delta's] maximum allowable weight is thirty-two kilograms per bag, our check for $640.00, which is the maximum reimbursement, will be mailed under separate cover." When Stevens received the check, she deposited it.

Relying on Cruz v. American Airlines, Inc., 193 F.3d 526 (D.C.Cir. 1999), Stevens brought a class-action suit against Delta. Cruz held that an air carrier could not

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invoke the Warsaw Convention's liability limitation for lost or damaged luggage unless the carrier recorded the weight of the luggage on the passenger luggage tickets. Id. at 530; see warsaw Convention art. 4(4). Stevens alleged that Delta did not do this as a matter of practice and was therefore liable for the full amount of the lost or damaged property. The putative class consisted of people who, between December 17, 1997, and March 3, 1999, 2 received from Delta less than the fair-market value of their lost or damaged luggage on the ground that the Warsaw Convention limited Delta's liability. The parties stipulated that the purported class consisted of about 3000 people. The complaint requested a declaratory judgment stating that Delta unlawfully availed itself of the Warsaw Convention's limitations and was liable for the fair-market value of class members' luggage. The complaint also sought an award of damages for each class member equal to the difference between the value of his luggage and the amount Delta paid him. Delta filed an answer and then moved for summary judgment, asserting the affirmative defense of accord and satisfaction to Stevens's claim. Stevens cross-moved for partial summary judgment on the ground that Delta was not entitled to the defense.

While these motions were pending, the district court granted Stevens's motion to file an amended class-action complaint. In this First Amended Complaint, Stevens asked the court to declare "that Delta [has] (i) unlawfully availed itself of [the Warsaw Convention's] liability limit . . . and (ii) is liable for the fair value of such lost or damaged luggage." Stevens also requested an injunction requiring Delta to process each class member's claims for lost or damaged luggage and "to pay each class member compensation for his or her loss or damage in an amount not less than the difference between what Delta in good faith determines is the fair value of such loss or damage and the amount heretofore paid . . . plus compensatory interest on the amount of such loss or damage." Such an injunction, Stevens alleged, would merely require Delta to carry out its duty as a common carrier. In the alternative, Stevens sought "an award of damages . . . in an amount equal to the difference between the fair value of [each class member's] lost or damaged checked baggage and the lesser amount paid them by Delta" for those who wished "to contest Delta's determination of fair value" or for the class as a whole, if the court did not award injunctive relief. As in the original complaint, Stevens alleged that the class was proper under Rules 23(b)(1) and (b)(2).

The district court denied the parties' motions for summary judgment because Delta's accord-and-satisfaction defense presented genuine issues of material fact. Stevens then moved for class certification. She argued that the class was "a classic illustration of a 23(b)(2) class . . ., seek[ing] appropriate final injunctive and declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole." In so arguing, Stevens withdrew the portion of her First Amended Complaint that sought, in the alternative, an award of damages. Delta countered that the complaint still was exclusively or predominately for monetary damages.

Constance S. Richards, having been substituted as plaintiff upon Stevens's death, moved "to enlarge" the previous class-certification motion. Still pressing certification pursuant to Rule 23(b)(2), Richards also sought certification under Rule 23(b)(3)

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--as a fallback if her Rule 23(b)(2) motion failed – because common questions of law and fact predominated over any individual issues.

The district court denied class certification. It found that Richards satisfied the Rule 23(a) requirements of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation, but failed to satisfy either Rule 23(b)(2) or (b)(3). The court reasoned that she "effectively seeks a declaratory judgment that Delta owes monetary damages and an injunction requiring Delta to pay them." Citing In re Veneman, 309 F.3d 789, 790 (D.C.Cir. 2002), the court held that Rule 23(b)(2) certification "is not appropriate where...

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