Stagl v. Delta Airlines, Inc.

Decision Date17 April 1995
Docket NumberD,No. 423,423
Citation52 F.3d 463
PartiesEleanor M. STAGL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. DELTA AIRLINES, INC., Defendant-Appellee. ocket 94-7295.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

Benjamin Greshin (Greshin, Zeigler & Pruzansky, Smithtown, NY), for appellant.

Marguerite D. Peck (Downing & Mehrtens, P.C., New York City), for appellee.

Before: NEWMAN, Chief Judge, WALKER and CALABRESI, Circuit Judges.

CALABRESI, Circuit Judge:

If a man chooses to leave a cart standing in the street, he must take the risk of any mischief that may be done. Illidge v. Goodwin, 5 Carrington & Payne's Reports 190 (1831).

In the one hundred and sixty-four years since Chief Justice Tindal of the English Court of Common Pleas first set down this rule of tort liability, our means of transportation have advanced considerably. Nevertheless, the rule's basic premise, that a tortfeasor is liable for the foreseeable acts of an intervening party, remains sound in our modern age of aeronautics. Indeed, as this case in part demonstrates, the concept of intervening causation may apply equally well to the "mischief" engendered by an unattended airport baggage carousel as it does to a neglected horse and wagon.

Plaintiff, Eleanor M. Stagl, appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (the Honorable John R. Bartels, Senior District Judge ), granting summary judgment to defendant, Delta Air Lines, Inc., and dismissing her personal injury action against Delta which was based upon the airline's alleged negligent supervision and management of its baggage retrieval system. See Stagl v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 849 F.Supp. 179, 184-85 (E.D.N.Y.1994). Mrs. Stagl also appeals from the district court's denial of her cross-motion to compel Delta to provide discovery relating to similar injuries that allegedly have occurred at or near other Delta baggage carousels. Id. at 185. Because we agree with Mrs. Stagl that the district judge erroneously granted Delta's motion and denied her cross-motion, we reverse the judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.


On May 1, 1993, Mrs. Stagl, then 77 years old, was a passenger on a Delta flight from Orlando, Florida to LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The plane was delayed for approximately one-half hour, and Mrs. Stagl noted that upon its arrival in New York the passengers were visibly upset. After disembarking from the aircraft, Mrs. Stagl proceeded to a designated baggage carousel located In her affidavit in opposition to Delta's motion for summary judgment, Mrs. Stagl describes the Delta terminal as "bedlam." According to her, "[p]eople were crowded around the baggage carousel and everyone seemed in a hurry to get out of the airport." Moreover, they were "rowdy and unruly, pushing and shoving each other, grabbing their luggage from the moving carousel by whatever means possible." She further claims that Delta did not provide any personnel, or make any cautionary announcement to quell the turmoil; nor did the airline cordon-off a separate area in which elderly and disabled passengers could safely obtain their luggage.

in Delta's terminal in order to retrieve her luggage.

In an attempt to reclaim her own belongings, Mrs. Stagl made her way to the "front rank" of the throng surrounding the baggage carousel. Apparently, an unidentified man to one side of her reached across the conveyor belt, grabbed his satchel with great force, and unwittingly triggered a domino effect. His bag collided with another's suitcase, which, in turn, fell off the carousel, toppling Mrs. Stagl. As a result, she suffered a broken hip.

Mrs. Stagl brought this diversity action in the district court, claiming that Delta did not exercise reasonable care to ensure her safety. She complained that the airline negligently failed to take any crowd-control measures or to provide a safe method by which elderly and disabled people could retrieve their luggage. Mrs. Stagl alleged that her physical injuries were the proximate result of Delta's inaction.

During discovery, a representative of the airline stated that there had been other, similar accidents at Delta baggage terminals. Delta refused, however, to respond to Mrs. Stagl's subsequent request for information regarding accidents of like kind that had occurred at or near Delta baggage carousels, and at a pretrial conference the district judge declined to require Delta to give such information. Delta then moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, 49 U.S.C. Sec. 1305(a)(1), preempted Mrs. Stagl's state law negligence claim, and that, in any event, Mrs. Stagl had failed to establish a prima facie case of negligence on Delta's part. Mrs. Stagl opposed Delta's motion and formally cross-moved to compel Delta to provide her with the accident information that she had previously requested.

In a Memorandum and Order dated February 22, 1994, the district court granted Delta summary judgment. The district judge held that the Airline Deregulation Act did not preempt Mrs. Stagl's negligence claim. See Stagl, 849 F.Supp. at 182-83. He then concluded that, under New York law, Mrs. Stagl had "failed to establish that Delta's duty as an air carrier encompasses a duty to control the crowd at the baggage retrieval area or designate a separate area for elderly passengers." Id. at 183. The district judge further determined that Delta had, in any event, fulfilled its duty to act reasonably under the circumstances. See id. at 184. Accordingly, the district court dismissed Mrs. Stagl's action and denied her cross-motion for discovery as moot. See id. at 185.

On appeal, Mrs. Stagl argues that the district court: (1) erroneously narrowed the duty of reasonable care that Delta owed passengers located in its luggage retrieval area; (2) usurped the jury's function in determining that Delta acted reasonably under the circumstances; and (3) abused its discretion in denying her cross-motion for additional discovery. We agree.

I. Delta's Motion for Summary Judgment

To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The district court "must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor." Consarc Corp. v. Marine Midland Bank, N.A., 996 F.2d 568, 572 (2d Cir.1993). We review a district court's grant of summary On appeal, neither party has questioned the district court's preemption ruling, and we therefore take it as given that state law applies. Because both parties agree that New York cases are controlling, we shall assume that New York law governs this diversity action. In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence under New York law, a claimant must show that: (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a cognizable duty of care; (2) the defendant breached that duty; and (3) the plaintiff suffered damage as a proximate result of that breach. See Solomon v. City of New York, 66 N.Y.2d 1026, 1027, 499 N.Y.S.2d 392, 392, 489 N.E.2d 1294, 1294 (1985). This appeal raises questions that touch upon all three elements, and we shall address each one in turn.

judgment de novo. See Westinghouse Elec. Corp. v. New York City Transit Auth., 14 F.3d 818, 821 (2d Cir.1994).

A. Delta's Duty of Reasonable Care

The district court ruled that "Delta owed no duty to protect [Mrs. Stagl] from the particular injury involved here." Stagl, 849 F.Supp. at 183. Relying upon several airport cases involving injuries to passengers that resulted from other passengers' careless placement of luggage, see Gross v. American Airlines, Inc., 755 F.Supp. 89 (S.D.N.Y.1991); Gray v. America West Airlines, Inc., 209 Cal.App.3d 76, 256 Cal.Rptr. 877 (4th Dist.1989), the district court concluded that Delta had no obligation "to protect against or warn of potential negligent conduct by third persons within the terminal building." See Stagl, 849 F.Supp. at 184. This was error.

There is no question that Delta, as an owner or occupier of the premises, owed a duty to take reasonable steps in maintaining the safety of its baggage retrieval area. See Basso v. Miller, 40 N.Y.2d 233, 241, 386 N.Y.S.2d 564, 568, 352 N.E.2d 868, 872 (1976) ("A landowner must act as a reasonable [person] in maintaining his property in a reasonably safe condition in view of all the circumstances, including the likelihood of injury to others, the seriousness of the injury, and the burden of avoiding the risk.") (internal quotations omitted); Koppel v. Hebrew Academy of Five Towns, 191 A.D.2d 415, 415, 594 N.Y.S.2d 310, 311 (2d Dep't 1993) (same); see also Kush v. City of Buffalo, 59 N.Y.2d 26, 29, 462 N.Y.S.2d 831, 833, 449 N.E.2d 725, 726 (1983) ("A landowner has a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances in maintaining its property in a safe condition."); Cruz v. New York City Transit Auth., 136 A.D.2d 196, 198, 526 N.Y.S.2d 827, 828 (2d Dep't 1988) ("a common carrier is required to exercise reasonable or ordinary care, in view of the dangers to be apprehended, in providing and maintaining safe and adequate stairways in its stations").

This duty is a broad one, and it includes the obligation "to take reasonable precautions to protect [patrons] from dangers which are foreseeable from the arrangement or use of the property," W. Page Keeton, Dan B. Dobbs, Robert E. Keeton, David G. Owen, Prosser and Keeton on Torts, Sec. 61 at 425-26 (5th ed. 1984) [hereinafter "Prosser & Keeton"], as well as to exercise reasonable care in protecting visitors from the foreseeable, injurious actions of third parties. See Nallan v. Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 50 N.Y.2d 507, 518-19, 429 N.Y.S.2d 606, 613, 407 N.E.2d...

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