The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York recently dismissed claims against JetBlue Airways for emotional and psychological injuries a passenger allegedly sustained as a result of mistreatment by airline personnel while awaiting takeoff on his flight from Barbados to New York.

According to his complaint, the plaintiff questioned a JetBlue employee why a family of four, who caused a delay in takeoff while rearranging their seats, were “rewarded with an upgrade of seats” at the front of the plane. After the employee responded by saying it was “none of [his] business,” another employee offered him a seat upgrade “as consolation for his colleague's unprofessional response.” The first employee, however, would not permit the plaintiff to change seats and instructed him to return to his original seat. Plaintiff complied, but upon return to his original seat, he and the first employee engaged in a verbal exchange that resulted in Plaintiff being “ordered to deplane and [] escorted to the Immigration office, where he was held in custody and questioned until being released.”

After Plaintiff brought a lawsuit against JetBlue for violations of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (“FAA”),  common law breach of contract, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, and battery, JetBlue moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court granted JetBlue's motion in part and denied it in part.

The Court first dismissed Plaintiff's claim under the FAA, noting that there is no such private right of action. The Court further held that the plaintiff's remaining state law claims were preempted by the Montreal Convention because his alleged injuries occurred “on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.” Specifically, with respect to Plaintiff's claims for false imprisonment, the Court found that because he was removed from the flight and brought to the Immigration office by police, not JetBlue personnel, the entirety of JetBlue's conduct “took place on board the aircraft or in the course of … the operations of embarking.”

The Court also dismissed Plaintiff's claims for emotional injuries “because ‘mental injuries are recoverable under Article 17 [of the Montreal Convention] only to the extent that they have been caused by bodily injuries,'” which were not alleged by Plaintiff.

Finally, the Court concluded that Plaintiff could not proceed under a non-performance theory of breach of contract for “failing to provide [him with] the service and use of transport” on the flight from which he was removed because “his ticket was rebooked on the next available flight at no additional cost to him.” The Court determined, however, that Plaintiff sufficiently pleaded facts to support a claim for damages resulting from the delay, but clarified that Plaintiff's alleged economic loss from the delay would be the sole relief available to him under this claim if he prevailed. Lynda v. JetBlue Airways Corporation, 20-cv -47 (BMC), 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102575 (E.D.N.Y. June 11, 2020).

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