Benjamin v. Am. Airlines, Inc., CV 213–150.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Georgia)
Citation32 F.Supp.3d 1309
Docket NumberNo. CV 213–150.,CV 213–150.
PartiesJoseph BENJAMIN, Eunide Benjamin, Berneide J. Benjamin, and Jerich07 Arnaud Projects, Inc., Plaintiffs, v. AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.
Decision Date09 July 2014

32 F.Supp.3d 1309

Joseph BENJAMIN, Eunide Benjamin, Berneide J. Benjamin, and Jerich07 Arnaud Projects, Inc., Plaintiffs

No. CV 213–150.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division.

Signed July 9, 2014.

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James A. Yancey, Jr., James A. Yancey, PC, Brunswick, GA, for Plaintiffs.

Carrie L. Christie, Rutherford & Christie, LLP, Atlanta, GA, Jeffrey S. Ward, Drew, Eckl & Farnham, LLP, Brunswick, GA, for Defendant.



Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. No. 6.

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Upon due consideration, Defendant's motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. Factual Background

A. Family Books a Flight

This case is predicated upon alleged unlawful discrimination against airline passengers.1 Plaintiffs Joseph Benjamin and Eunide Benjamin (collectively, “the parents”) are married. Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 14. They are black and were born in Haiti, although they are now naturalized United States citizens. Id. ¶¶ 14, 16. They have one daughter, Plaintiff Berneide J. Benjamin, who was born in the United States. Id. ¶ 15.

On May 4, 2012, the family and Plaintiff Jerich07 Arnaud Projects, Inc. (“the company”) entered into a contract and bought round-trip airline tickets from Defendant American Airlines, Inc. (“the airline”). Id. ¶¶ 23, 26. The family and company were travelling to deliver medicine to people in Haiti. Id. ¶ 25.

The parents booked a trip from Miami, Florida to Port–au–Prince, Haiti, while the daughter booked a trip from Jacksonville, Florida through Miami and then to Port–au–Prince.Id. ¶ 24. The daughter purchased a trip with this itinerary because the airline prohibited her from purchasing a “round tip” ticket in which she would leave from Miami to Haiti and return to Jacksonville. See id. ¶ 27.

B. The Trip and Trouble

1. Forced Purchase of Another Ticket

The family alleges that they informed the airline prior to the flight that the daughter would not fly the Jacksonville–to–Miami leg of the trip, but would fly the remainder of the itinerary. See id. ¶ 28. When they arrived at the Miami airport, however, the airline's employees “refused to honor” the daughter's ticket and said that it had sold the seat to another person. Id. ¶ 30.

The family complained to the ticketing agent, who summoned his supervisor, a man named “Louis.” Id. ¶ 31. Louis was Hispanic and spoke with a thick accent. Id. ¶ 32. Yet, he insulted the family and their guests by saying that they “needed to get an interpreter because they could not speak or understand English.” Id. Louis's rudeness “mortified and humiliated” the family. Id. ¶ 33.

The airline forced the family to purchase another ticket for the daughter to get to Haiti. Id. ¶¶ 34–35. The ticket cost more than $l,000–that is, more than double the original price. Id. ¶ 34. Although the airline purportedly guaranteed the daughter a seat on the next flight to Port–au–Prince, Plaintiffs claim that the airline intentionally did not tell the family that they had only purchased a standby ticket and that all the flights to Port–au–Prince that day were sold out. Id. ¶¶ 36–39. Instead of being placed on the next flight, the daughter was stranded at the Miami airport for nearly two days. Id. ¶¶ 40–41.

2. The Airline's Lack of Communication

While the daughter was waiting, Plaintiffs allege that the airline did not care about the daughter's welfare or the parents' concern about their “missing daughter” by “refus[ing]” to communicate with the parents about her location or condition. Id. ¶¶ 42–44. The lack of communication caused “unwarranted heartache, stress, and confusion.” Id. ¶ 45. Because the parents did not know the whereabouts of

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their daughter, they filed a missing person's report in Haiti and the United States. Id. ¶ 46. Likewise, the daughter was distressed: she “pleaded” with airline employees to help her contact her parents, but the employees either ignored her or told her to sit down. See id. ¶¶ 47–48.

3. Plaintiffs' Resulting Injuries

When the daughter was finally placed on a flight two days after purchasing the second ticket, the parents were not told about the flight. Id. ¶¶ 49, 51. Instead, the parents learned about their daughter's arrival “by happening to run into” the daughter at the Port–au–Prince airport. Id. ¶ 50. Because of the two day delay, the daughter “missed the most meaningful portion” of the mission trip, her luggage was destroyed, and the company failed to get medication to certain people. Id. ¶¶ 52, 56. The family never received a refund for the second ticket. Id. ¶ 53. Moreover, the mother allegedly “suffer [ed] physical complications from a heart attack” because of the airline's “outrageous conduct,” and the daughter became ill from “needless stress.” Id. ¶¶ 54–55.

II. Procedural Background

On October 10, 2013, Plaintiffs Joseph Benjamin, Eunide Benjamin, Berneide Benjamin, and Jerich07 Arnaud Projects, Inc. filed suit against Defendant American Airlines, Inc. Dkt. No. 1. The Complaint asserts six claims for relief: breach of contract (Count 1); public accommodation discrimination in violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count 2); violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Count 3); violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Count 4); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count 5); and attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (Count 6). Id. ¶¶ 59–136

On February 26, 2014, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 6. Defendant's motion is fully briefed. Dkt. Nos. 6; 15; 17.

III. Legal Standard

When ruling on a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a district court must construe the plaintiff's complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint as true. Sinaltrainal v. Coca–Cola Co., 578 F.3d 1252, 1260 (11th Cir.2009). Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain sufficient factual material “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). At a minimum, a complaint should “contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory.” Fin. Sec. Assurance, Inc. v. Stephens, Inc., 500 F.3d 1276, 1282–83 (11th Cir.2007) (per curiam) (quoting Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice, Inc., 253 F.3d 678, 683 (11th Cir.2001) ).

IV. Discussion

A. Breach of Contract (Count 1)

1. Determining the Montreal Convention's Applicability

Defendant argues that the Montreal Convention preempts Plaintiffs' breach-of-contract claim. The Montreal Convention2 “sets forth uniform rules for claims that arise out of incidents that occur during

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international air transportation.” Marotte v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 296 F.3d 1255, 1258–59 (11th Cir.2002). It came into force on November 4, 2003, and succeeded the Warsaw Convention. Bassam v. Am. Airlines, 287 Fed.Appx. 309, 312 (5th Cir.2008) (per curiam); Montreal Convention art. 55. “As a treaty of the United States, the Convention is considered ... the supreme law of the land.” Best v. BWIA W. Indies Airways Ltd., 581 F.Supp.2d 359, 362 (E.D.N.Y.2008).

Although the Warsaw Convention no longer applies to claims arising after November 2003, the caselaw developed under it is regarded as applicable in the interpretation of the Montreal Convention's equivalent language. Jacob v. Korean Air Lines Co., No. 12–62384–CIV, 2014 WL 243150, at *7 (S.D.Fla. Jan. 13, 2014) ; Ugaz v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 576 F.Supp.2d 1354, 1360 (S.D.Fla.2008) ; Serrano v. Am. Airlines, Inc., No. CV 08–2256 AHM(FFMx), 2008 WL 2117239, at *3 (C.D.Cal. May 15, 2008) ; see also Christopher E. Cotter, Recent Case Law Addressing Three Contentious Issues in the Montreal Convention, 24 No. 4 Air & Space L. 9, 9 (2012) (“The drafters of the Montreal Convention tried wherever possible to embrace the language of the original Warsaw Convention and its various amendments so as not to disrupt existing jurisprudence.”). This is despite the Montreal Convention's greater focus on consumer protection and equitable compensation. Tory A. Weigand, Recent Developments Under the Montreal Convention, 77 Def. Couns. J. 443, 443–44 (2010).

The Montreal Convention “applies to all international carriage of persons, baggage or cargo performed by aircraft for reward.” Montreal Convention art. 1(1). “[I]nternational carriage” means, as it pertains to this case:

any carriage in which, according to the agreement between the parties, the place of

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