849 F.Supp. 179 (E.D.N.Y. 1994), 93-CV-2544, Stagl v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.

Docket Nº:93-CV-2544 (JRB).
Citation:849 F.Supp. 179
Party Name:Eleanor M. STAGL, Plaintiff, v. DELTA AIR LINES, INC., Defendant.
Case Date:February 22, 1994
Court:United States District Courts, 2nd Circuit, Eastern District of New York

Page 179

849 F.Supp. 179 (E.D.N.Y. 1994)

Eleanor M. STAGL, Plaintiff,

v.

DELTA AIR LINES, INC., Defendant.

No. 93-CV-2544 (JRB).

United States District Court, E.D. New York.

Feb. 22, 1994

Page 180

Benjamin Greshin, Greshin, Ziegler & Pruzansky, Smithtown, NY, for plaintiff.

Thomas D. Mehrtens, Marguerite D. Peck, Downing & Mehrtens, P.C., New York City, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

BARTELS, District Judge.

The defendant Delta Air Lines, Inc. ("Delta") moves under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for summary judgment. The defendant seeks dismissal of the complaint in its entirety on the grounds that the claim asserted therein is pre-empted by Section 1305 of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, 49 U.S.C.App. §§ 1301, et seq., or in the alternative, that the plaintiff has failed to establish the requisite elements to support her claim of negligence. The plaintiff, Eleanor Stagl, opposes the motion and also cross-moves for an order compelling discovery. For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and the action is dismissed in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

This is an action for personal injuries sustained by the plaintiff, a 77-year-old woman, while she attempted to retrieve her luggage from a baggage carousel operated by defendant Delta at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. Ms. Stagl alleges that on or about May 1, 1993, she returned to New York aboard a Delta flight departing from Orlando, Florida. The flight, scheduled to arrive in New York at 4:44 p.m., landed at about 5:15 p.m.--approximately 31 minutes late. Ms. Stagl avers that because the flight was fully booked and the passengers aboard her flight were "visibly upset at being late," the resulting situation at the baggage retrieval area was "bedlam." (Affidavit of Eleanor M. Stagl, sworn to November 12, 1993, pp 4, 5, 9.) It was here, amongst this allegedly "unruly mob" (Affidavit of Benjamin Greshin, Esq., dated November 10, 1993, ¶ 5), that plaintiff was injured.

Ms. Stagl contends that as she waited for her luggage to appear on the moving belt of the baggage carousel, an unidentified fellow passenger reached across the belt, grabbing a bag off the carousel. This bag struck another piece of luggage, knocking it off the carousel and into the plaintiff, causing her to fall and fracture her hip. The plaintiff neither located nor identified the fellow passenger who had knocked the bag off the carousel.

The plaintiff asserts a claim of negligence against Delta on the theory that the airline failed to exercise reasonable care in ensuring the safety of its passengers. She argues that Delta's failure to control the crowd at the baggage retrieval area--through the use of warnings signs, recorded messages, or even the posting of supervisory airline personnel--coupled with the airline's failure to designate a separate area near the baggage carousel for the protection of the elderly, infirm, and handicapped, breached Delta's duty of reasonable care and proximately caused her injuries.

DISCUSSION

Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper where the record demonstrates clearly that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). See also Trans-Orient Marine Corp. v. Star Trading & Marine, Inc., 925 F.2d 566, 571-73 (2d Cir. 1991). As a general matter, the party seeking summary disposition bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of

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material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the movant has satisfied this threshold showing, it is incumbent upon the non-moving party to demonstrate the existence of the essential elements of his case upon which he bears the burden of proof at trial. Id., at 322, 106 S.Ct. at 2552. Failure of proof on one essential element renders immaterial all other facts, and entitles the movant to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2552.

I. Pre-emption Under the Federal Aviation Act

Before addressing the sufficiency of plaintiff's negligence claim, the Court first must determine whether the claim properly may be asserted in light of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, 49 U.S.C.App. §§ 1301 et seq. (the "ADA"). Delta urges the Court to dismiss plaintiff's negligence cause of action, 1 arguing that the ADA was meant to displace such state law remedies and that Section 1305(a)(1) of the ADA expressly pre-empts all common law tort causes of action relating to the provision of airline services. The Court holds that federal law does not pre-empt plaintiff's negligence action.

In 1978, pervasive federal regulation of the interstate airline industry ended with enactment of the ADA. In order to facilitate federal economic deregulation and prevent the states from entering this regulatory field, Congress included within the text of the ADA an express pre-emption provision. See Hodges v. Delta Airlines, Inc., 4 F.3d 350, 353 (5th Cir. 1993), reh'g en banc granted, 12 F.3d 426 (5th Cir. 1994). Section 1305(a)(1), upon which defendant bases the present motion, provides in relevant part that:

[N]o State or political subdivision thereof and no interstate agency or other political agency of two or more States shall enact or enforce any law, rule, regulation, standard, or other provision having the force and effect of law relating to rates, routes, or services of any air carrier having authority under subchapter IV of this chapter to provide air transportation.

49 U.S.C.App. § 1305(a)(1) (Supp.1993).

Despite extensive judicial debate over the pre-emptive reach of this section, the courts that have addressed the issue remain divided. Delta urges an expansive reading of the statute, relying on Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374, 112 S.Ct. 2031, 119 L.Ed.2d 157 (1992), wherein the United States Supreme Court held that Section 1305 pre-empted enforcement of guidelines adopted by the National Association of Attorneys General that set forth detailed standards governing the content and format of airline fare advertising. In reaching this conclusion, the Morales Court held that all "[s]tate enforcement actions having a connection with or reference to airline 'rates, routes, or services' are pre-empted under 49 U.S.C.App. § 1305(a)(1)." 504 U.S. at ----, 112 S.Ct. at 2037.

Delta urges that because plaintiff bases her negligence claim upon the airline's failure to provide special services for elderly, infirm, or handicapped passengers, her claim has the requisite "connection with" airline services, and thus falls squarely within the pre-emptive reach of Section 1305 as defined by Morales. However, the Court's analysis cannot end here. In its discussion of Section 1305, the Morales Court defined only the breadth of that section's "relating to" phrase: The decision is silent, however, on the extent of activities properly includable in the "services" provided by an air carrier, such as that term is used in Section 1305. In the definition of airline "services" lies resolution of the issue presently before the Court.

There exist two diverging lines of cases interpreting the breadth of airline "services" encompassed by Section 1305. As noted by the court in Stewart v. American Airlines, Inc., 776 F.Supp. 1194, 1197 (S.D.Tex.1991), "those cases which have held that a [p]laintiff's claims were ... related to 'services' and therefore pre-empted ... all involved services provided by individual airline employees directly to passengers, such as ticketing, boarding, in-flight service, and the like."

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(Emphasis added.) Moreover, these cases generally concern implementation of airline "policies," such as those relating to "bumping, denial of boarding, segregation of smoking passengers," or discrimination, Margolis v. United Airlines, Inc., 811 F.Supp. 318, 322 (E.D.Mich.1993), and typically implicate "elements of the air carrier service bargain." Hodges, 4 F.3d at 354.

In contrast stand those cases in which plaintiffs invoke traditional elements of tort law, suing for personal injuries sustained in airport terminals, during flights, or at the hands of airline employees or fellow passengers. Where the pre-emption issue arises in the context of such actions, the courts "almost uniformly [have] resolved against federal preemption." Margolis, 811 F.Supp. at 322 (emphasis added). These courts apparently reason that the term "airline services" as employed in Section 1305 "does not include or contemplate as a 'service' the duty to exercise ordinary care." Butcher v. City of Houston, 813 F.Supp. 515, 518 (S.D.Tex.1993).

The court in Butcher v. City of Houston, supra, held that Section 1305 did not pre-empt a "run-of-the-mill slip-and-fall case," 813 F.Supp. at 517, wherein a passenger asserted a negligence claim for injuries sustained when she tripped at a gate after departing a plane...

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