Alshrafi v. American Airlines, Inc., No. CIV.A.03-10212-WGY.

Decision Date08 June 2004
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A.03-10212-WGY.
Citation321 F.Supp.2d 150
PartiesJehad ALSHRAFI, Plaintiff, v. AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC. and Michael E. Blackstone, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts

Kathryn Ann Catros, Palmer & Dodge, LLP, Boston, MA, for Jehad Alshrafi, Plaintiff.

Barbara J. Dougan, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Bo Bar Assn., Boston, MA, for Jehad Alshrafi, Plaintiff.

Michael A. Fitzhugh, Fitzhugh, Parker & Alvaro, LLP, Boston, MA, for American Airlines, Inc, Michael Blackstone, Defendants.

Scott P. Lewis, Palmer & Dodge, LLP, Boston, MA, for Jehad Alshrafi, Plaintiff.

Peter E. Schwartz, Palmer & Dodge, LLP, Boston, MA, for Jehad Alshrafi, Plaintiff.


YOUNG, Chief Judge.


Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, this country has struggled to meet the stringent demands of national security and, simultaneously, to protect the civil rights of the American people. Some have argued that the practice of racial profiling, wherein law enforcement officials or others single out members of a particular race for heightened investigatory scrutiny, based primarily or exclusively on racial characteristics that allegedly correlate with criminality, represents a conflict between those twin goals. They argue that although members of all races are entitled to be treated equally, racial profiling is a rational and effective security measure. Others argue, much more persuasively, that racial profiling is not a legitimate security measure, and that at least in the realm of discrimination, liberty and security do not conflict. This case, however, does not present the question whether racial profiling is legitimate, but rather whether it occurred in a particular instance, and whether federal law preempts state law claims to relief for such conduct.

All parties to this action agree that on November 3, 2001, at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, the Plaintiff Jehad Alshrafi ("Alshrafi") was barred from boarding American Airlines Flight 181 bound for Los Angeles by the flight's captain, the Defendant Michael E. Blackstone ("Blackstone"). The basis for Blackstone's decision, however, is intensely disputed. Alshrafi, an Arab American and a Muslim, contends that Blackstone's refusal was motivated by unlawful discrimination. Blackstone counters that his actions were taken for legitimate security purposes.1


In February 2002, Alshrafi filed a complaint against American Airlines and the (then unknown) captain of Flight 181 with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (the "Commission"). Notice of Removal [Doc. No. 3], Ex. A ("Compl.") ¶ 28. In January 2003, the Commission granted Alshrafi's request to withdraw his complaint and pursue a judicial action. Id. ¶ 29. On January 6, 2003, Alshrafi sued the unknown captain of Flight 181 (later identified as Blackstone) and American Airlines, Inc. (collectively "American Airlines") in the Massachusetts Superior Court sitting in and for the County of Suffolk, alleging that the captain's refusal to permit boarding amounted to unlawful discrimination based on Alshrafi's national origin, race, and religion. Specifically, Alshrafi claims that the refusal violated Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, §§ 92A, 98 (Count I) and constituted the intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count II). Id. ¶¶ 30-42. In its answer, American Airlines argues that Blackstone's actions were lawful under the Airline Deregulation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 44902(b), which grants air carriers discretion to "refuse to transport a passenger ... the carrier decides is, or might be, inimical to safety." See Ans. [Doc. No. 6] at 7. American Airlines also contends that Alshrafi's claims are preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1), which prevents states from "enact[ing] or enforc[ing] a law ... related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier." Id.

American Airlines removed the case to this Court in February 2003. Notice of Removal. On January 23, 2004, American Airlines moved for summary judgment on both counts of the complaint [Doc. No. 18] and submitted a supporting memorandum [Doc. No. 21] ("Defs.' Summ. J. Mem."). Alshrafi filed his opposition to American Airlines' motion [Doc. No. 23] ("Pl.'s Summ. J. Opp'n") on February 6, 2004, and American Airlines filed its reply memorandum [Doc. No. 29] ("Defs.' Summ. J. Reply") on February 17, 2004. At oral argument on the summary judgment motion, this Court raised sua sponte the issue whether the removal to federal court was proper. The parties have since submitted supplemental briefs on the issue, [Doc. No. 30] ("Defs.' Jdn. Mem."); [Doc. No. 31] ("Pl.'s Jdn. Mem."), and this Court is now prepared to address the threshold question of whether it has subject matter jurisdiction over this dispute.


American Airlines removed this case from the Massachusetts Superior Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), which provides that "any civil action in a State Court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending." See Notice of Removal ¶ 2. Federal courts have interpreted this removal statute narrowly and have placed the burden upon the removing party to demonstrate the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Kingsley v. Lania, 221 F.Supp.2d 93, 95 (D.Mass.2002) (Dein, M.J.); Therrien v. Hamilton, 881 F.Supp. 76, 78 (D.Mass.1995) (Ponsor, J.).

A. Diversity Jurisdiction

The notice of removal filed in the instant case alleged that this Court has diversity jurisdiction over this dispute. Notice of Removal ¶ 3. The notice states that Alshrafi is a Massachusetts resident and that American Airlines, Inc. is incorporated in Texas. Id. At the time of removal, the identity of Blackstone, a California resident, was unknown.2 Although the notice of removal identifies Alshrafi as a Massachusetts resident, the complaint clearly states: "At the time of the incident ..., Mr. Alshrafi resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mr. Alshrafi currently lives in California." Compl. at 2. This inconsistency between the notice of removal and the complaint caused the Court to raise the question whether Alshrafi and Blackstone are in fact citizens of different states for purposes of diversity jurisdiction.3

In determining whether diversity jurisdiction extends to a suit, "residency and citizenship are not interchangeable." Valentin v. Hosp. Bella Vista, 254 F.3d 358, 361 n. 1 (1st Cir.2001). Instead, "citizenship usually is equated with domicile." Id. at 366. "A person's domicile is the `place where he has his true, fixed home and principal establishment, and to which, whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning.' Domicile requires both physical presence in a place and the intent to make that place one's home." Id. (quoting Rodriguez-Diaz v. Sierra-Martinez, 853 F.2d 1027, 1029 (1st Cir.1988)) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). It is the burden of the party invoking diversity jurisdiction, here American Airlines, to demonstrate complete diversity. See id.; Toste Farm Corp. v. Hadbury, Inc., 70 F.3d 640, 642 (1st Cir.1995).

If both Alshrafi and Blackstone were domiciled in California at the time the complaint was filed, then diversity jurisdiction is plainly lacking here.4 Alshrafi contends that he had become a citizen of California by the time he filed his suit. Pl.'s Jdn. Mem. at 1. American Airlines neither disputes this contention nor provides this Court with any evidence of Alshrafi's domicile at the time of filing. See Defs.' Jdn. Mem. Therefore, American Airlines has failed to meet its burden of proof as the party invoking removal jurisdiction, leaving this Court with no choice but to rule that diversity jurisdiction is lacking in this case.

B. Federal Question Jurisdiction

As an alternative basis for jurisdiction, the notice of removal states that "this Court's jurisdiction is premised upon 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because Mr. Alshrafi's right to relief necessarily depends upon the resolution of a substantial question of federal law, the Federal Aviation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 44902." Notice of Removal ¶ 4. American Airlines further argues that its preemption defense raised under 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b) also extends federal question jurisdiction to this dispute. Defs.' Jdn. Mem. at 2.

It is well established that federal jurisdiction cannot rest on defenses or counterclaims, but rather depends on the well-pleaded complaint. Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 10, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983) ("For better or worse, under the present statutory scheme as it has existed since 1887, a defendant may not remove a case to federal court unless the plaintiff's complaint establishes that the case `arises under' federal law." (citing, inter alia, Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152, 29 S.Ct. 42, 53 L.Ed. 126 (1908))); In re Edwards, 70 F.3d 1252, 1994 WL 868164, at *1 (1st Cir.1994) (unpublished table decision) ("A federal question that is raised as a defense or counterclaim by a defendant ... does not confer federal question jurisdiction or establish a basis for removal."); see generally 14B Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3722. "[I]n deciding (for removal purposes) whether a case presents a federal `claim or right,' a court is to ask whether the plaintiff's claim to relief rests upon a federal right and the court is to look only to the plaintiff's complaint to find the answer." Hernandez-Agosto v. Romero-Barcelo, 748 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir.1984) (citing Gully v. First National Bank, 299 U.S. 109, 112, 57 S.Ct. 96, 81 L.Ed. 70 (1936)); see also Brae Asset Fund, L.P. v. Dion, 929 F.Supp. 29, 30 (D.Mass.1996) ...

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