New York State Tort Claims Pre-Empted By Airline Deregulation Act, U.S. District Court In New York Concludes

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York in Moffit v. JetBlue Airways Corp. that the Federal Aviation Act, as amended by Airline Deregulation Act, pre-empted the plaintiffs’ state tort claims for being stranded on an airplane for 6 hours, citing 49 U.S.C. 41713(b)(1). The court found because “Plaintiffs’ tort claims all relate to prices, routes, or services inasmuch as the claims are all premised upon complaints of Plaintiffs’ treatment while they were detained on the tarmac . . .” they were pre-empted and therefore granted the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.

On October 29, 2011, winter storm conditions in the Northeast caused numerous flights to be diverted from New York City-area airports to Bradley International Airport (“BDL”) near Hartford, Connecticut. Six JetBlue flights were diverted to BDL, including two flights on which the Plaintiffs were passengers.  Plaintiffs allege that their aircrafts were stranded on the tarmac at BDL for over seven (7) hours during which “the conditions upon the aircraft became inhumane and intolerable.”

The Court rejected the Plaintiffs’ claims of Deceptive Business Practices, Breach of Implied Covenant and Tort Claims.  All of the claims, the Court held, were “impliedly pre-empted” by the Federal Aviation Act, as amended by the Airline Deregulation Act because they “all relate to prices, routes, or services,” which are specifically pre-empted by 49 U.S.C. 41713(b)(1).

The U.S. District acknowledged that there may be tort claims  that are not pre-empted by federal law, specifically as they relate to personal injury: “[w]hile personal injury or wrongful death claims arising from matters unrelated to airlines’ prices, routes, and services fall outside the scope of ADA preemption (and within the FAA’s savings clause) thereby creating a need for insurance protection for passengers, the same is not true for the tort claims asserted here. To allow the claims to proceed on this reasoning would allow the insurance requirement to swallow the rule of preemption. That is clearly not what Congress intended.”  This seems to reference the recent California State case of Sierra Pacific Holdings, Inc. v. The County of Ventura, No.B232307 (Cal.App.2d  March 20, 2012) the Court found that because the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) advisory circular 150/5300-13 on airport design was not a “mandatory regulation,” it did not pre-empt the state law regarding standard of care in tort actions. See also California Appellate Court Decides that State Tort Law Is not Pre-Empted by Non-Mandatory Federal Standards.

Because of the difference in the facts in the two cases, they can be reconciled due to the fact that the California case is not impliedly pre-empted by the Airline Deregulation Act.

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2 Responses to New York State Tort Claims Pre-Empted By Airline Deregulation Act, U.S. District Court In New York Concludes

  1. Aileen Brennan says:

    I think this is an excellent decision, both well-reasoned and well-written. To allow claims such as this to proceed would eviscerate the Long Tarmac Delay rules, undermine the safety regulations promulgated by the FAA, and add unnecessary costs to the airline’s operations. It would be interesting to know if suits such as these prompt a more thorough examination of each airport’s responsibility to assist airlines in the deplaning of passengers and the provisioning of stranded or diverted aircraft.

  2. Pingback: California State Tort Law Is Not Pre-Empted By Federal Aviation Regulations, U.S. District Court in California Holds | Aviation and Airport Development News

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