Farash v. Continental Airlines, Inc.

Decision Date23 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. 07 Civ. 590(RJS).,07 Civ. 590(RJS).
Citation574 F.Supp.2d 356
PartiesDaniel FARASH, Plaintiff, v. CONTINENTAL AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of New York

Daniel Farash, pro se.

Christopher D. Thomas, Esq., Nixon Peabody LLP, Rochester, NY, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Daniel Farash, proceeding pro se, brings this action against defendant Continental Airlines, Inc. ("Continental"), for damages allegedly incurred when he was asked to move from one first-class passenger seat to another first-class passenger seat to accommodate a father traveling with his pre-teen son on a flight from Miami, Florida, to Newark, New Jersey. Plaintiff brings claims of negligence, civil assault, and gross negligence, and seeks thirty-five million dollars in both compensatory and punitive damages.

Continental has moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that plaintiffs claims are preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 ("ADA"), 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1), and that, in any event, plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief.

For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Facts

On a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition v. Rowland, 494 F.3d 71, 77 (2d Cir.2007). The following recitation of facts is, accordingly, derived entirely from the factual allegations in the Complaint.

On January 5, 2006, plaintiff boarded Continental Airlines Flight 539, departing from Miami, Florida, and arriving in Newark, New Jersey. He had a first-class ticket, redeemed with frequent flyer miles, and was assigned to an aisle seat. Much to his "delight," he saw that his seat was in the bulkhead, and that the adjacent window seat was vacant. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Moments before the aircraft disembarked from the gate, the flight attendant, "Jane Doe," "demanded" that plaintiff vacate that seat and take a window seat, also in first class. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff responded that he wanted an aisle seat, explaining to Jane Doe that he suffered from psychological disorders that necessitated that he sit in an aisle seat. Jane Doe ignored plaintiffs objections and in a hostile tone, treating plaintiff "as a farm animal or illegal trespasser," told him that the seats were needed to accommodate a father traveling with his child. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff then gathered his belongings and moved to another seat in first class—"a `bastardized,' claustrophobic window seat that did not recline nor have proper leg room," causing him to feel "swindled, cheated, and disgusted." (Id. ¶ 16.) He found the new seat to be "qualitatively inferior to most other seats on the entire plane." (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiffs trip was allegedly made more uncomfortable because Jane Doe personally harassed him and gave him inferior service, while the "passengers in the bulkhead were being treated as royalty." (Id. ¶ 20.) He felt that he was "profiled and the subject of discrimination for being a single male, having Semitic looks and a middle eastern last name." (Id. ¶ 19.)

At some point during the flight, plaintiff went to the lavatory. He saw that his original seat was now being occupied by a sleeping adult, rather than a child. Upon exiting the lavatory, "in a vindictive and appalling act of provocation, Jane Doe had extended her legs out into the aisle completely blocking plaintiffs passage." (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff, fearful of confronting Jane Doe, "was reduced to scaling the wall to avoid conflict" with her. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff returned to his seat and summoned Jane Doe through the overhead courtesy button. When Jane Doe appeared, plaintiff asked why he had been transferred from his original seat, given that no child was actually sitting in the bulkhead. Jane Doe "angrily shouted" that the "child is back in coach" and then "stormed away." (Id. ¶ 28.) Nevertheless, Jane Doe asked the adult to leave first class and had the child move from coach into the first class seat. (Id. ¶ 29.)

Plaintiff alleges that after moving into his new seat, he learned that the person seated next to him was a federal Air Marshal. Shortly after plaintiff asked Jane Doe why he had been transferred from his seat, Jane Doe summoned the Air Marshal to the front of the cabin. She motioned towards plaintiff while speaking to the Air Marshal, who then made eye contact with plaintiff for "several seconds." (Id. ¶ 33.) Upon returning to his seat, the Air Marshal took out a "`black book' and searched through it." (Id. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff alleges that these interactions with the Air Marshal "terrified, traumatized, and overwhelmed" him (Id. ¶ 36); that he had to use "all his self-control to maintain his composure to avoid a panic or anxiety attack, as he was now certain that Jane Doe would go to any extreme to abuse plaintiff" (Id. ¶ 33); and that he was "very anxious" that the Air Marshal would ground the plane and that he would be arrested and subjected to national news media attention (Id. ¶ 38).

When the flight landed in Newark, plaintiff was ordered to exit the plane in front of the Air Marshal. Another flight attendant apologized to him for Jane Doe's actions. (Id. ¶¶ 40-42.)

The next day, plaintiff began to call Continental Airlines to report the incident. After several weeks of calls and several subsequent months of silence, Continental informed him that after a full investigation, plaintiff's complaint was validated and that Jane Doe had broken company policy. Continental refused to state whether Jane Doe was disciplined. (Id. ¶ 44.)

Plaintiff was eventually put in contact with Allen Babbs, a Continental employee, who was "rude, insulting, unsympathetic, insensitive, and devious, treating customers as if they were on trial." (Id. ¶ 45.) After an interview, Mr. Babbs sent a letter to plaintiff stating that Continental assumed no responsibility for this matter. (Id. ¶ 47.)

As a result of his treatment on the flight, plaintiff claims that he has experienced emotional distress, insomnia, illness, a "breakdown," and a reoccurrence of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Id. ¶ 49.) He alleges that as a result of Jane Doe's actions, he is unable to concentrate and work effectively, resulting in monetary losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He claims that he now requires "various and copious amounts of psycho-pharmaceutical medications" and has developed hypertension, mood swings, and phobias. (Id. ¶ 52.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his complaint in New York state court on December 28, 2006, alleging claims for negligence, gross negligence, and civil assault, and seeking punitive damages, On January 27, 2007, Continental removed the complaint from state court to federal court. Originally assigned to the Honorable Richard M. Berman, District Judge, the case was reassigned to the Honorable Kenneth M. Karas, District Judge, on February 5, 2007. A pre-motion conference was held before Judge Karas on May 10, 2007; Continental filed its motion to dismiss shortly thereafter. Plaintiff filed an affidavit in opposition to the motion. After the motion was fully briefed, the case was reassigned to the undersigned on September 4, 2007.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Standard of Review

When reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, 494 F.3d at 77; Cleveland v. Caplaw Enters., 448 F.3d 518, 521 (2d Cir.2006); Ganino v. Citizens Utils. Co., 228 F.3d 154, 161 (2d Cir.2000). However, while "the well-pleaded material allegations of the complaint are taken as admitted[,] . . . conclusions of law or unwarranted deductions of fact are not." First Nationwide Bank v. Gelt Funding Corp., 27 F.3d 763, 771 (2d Cir.1994) (quoting 2A James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice P12.08 (2d ed.1984)).

To survive dismissal, the plaintiff must satisfy a "flexible `plausibility standard.'" Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 157-58 (2d Cir.2007). In effect, "the plaintiff must provide the grounds upon which his claim rests through factual allegations sufficient `to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir.2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)); see also Camarillo v. Carrots Corp., 518 F.3d 153, 156 (2d Cir. 2008) (per curiam); Port Dock & Stone Corp. v. Oldcastle Ne., Inc., 507 F.3d 117, 121 (2d Cir.2007) ("The plaintiffs factual allegations must be enough to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."). The Court, therefore, does not require "heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp., 127 S.Ct at 1974.

Moreover, because plaintiff is appearing pro se, the Court is obligated to "`construe [the complaint] broadly, and interpret [it] to raise the strongest arguments that [it] suggests.'" Weixel, 287 F.3d at 146 (quoting Cruz v. Gomez, 202 F.3d 593, 597 (2d Cir.2000)); see also Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) ("The policy of liberally construing pro se submissions is driven by the understanding that `[i]mplicit in the right to self-representation is an obligation on the part of the court to make reasonable allowances to protect pro se litigants from inadvertent forfeiture of important rights because of their lack of legal training.'") (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983)).

B. Preemption Under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978

Continental argues that all of plaintif...

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