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STAGL v. DELTA AIR LINES

February 22, 1994

ELEANOR M. STAGL, Plaintiff,
v.
DELTA AIR LINES, INC., Defendant.


Bartels


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN R. BARTELS

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

 The defendant Delta Air Lines, Inc. ("Delta") moves under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for summary judgment. The defendant seeks dismissal of the complaint in its entirety on the grounds that the claim asserted therein is pre-empted by Section 1305 of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, 49 U.S.C. App. §§ 1301 et seq., or in the alternative, that the plaintiff has failed to establish the requisite elements to support her claim of negligence. The plaintiff Eleanor Stagl, opposes the motion and also cross-moves for an order compelling discovery. For the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and the action is dismissed in its entirety.

 BACKGROUND

 This is an action for personal injuries sustained by the plaintiff, a 77-year-old woman, while she attempted to retrieve her luggage from a baggage carousel operated by defendant Delta at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York. Ms. Stagl alleges that on or about May 1, 1993, she returned to New York aboard a Delta flight departing from Orlando, Florida. The flight, scheduled to arrive in New York at 4:44 p.m., landed at about 5:15 p.m. -- approximately 31 minutes late. Ms. Stagl avers that because the flight was fully booked and the passengers aboard her flight were "visibly upset at being late," the resulting situation at the baggage retrieval area was "bedlam." (Affidavit of Eleanor M. Stagl, sworn to November 12, 1993, PP 4, 5, 9.) It was here, amongst this allegedly "unruly mob" (Affidavit of Benjamin Greshin, Esq., dated November 10, 1993, P 5), that plaintiff was injured.

 Ms. Stagl contends that as she waited for her luggage to appear on the moving belt of the baggage carousel, an unidentified fellow passenger reached across the belt, grabbing a bag off the carousel. This bag struck another piece of luggage, knocking it off the carousel and into the plaintiff, causing her to fall and fracture her hip. The plaintiff neither located nor identified the fellow passenger who had knocked the bag off the carousel.

 The plaintiff asserts a claim of negligence against Delta on the theory that the airline failed to exercise reasonable care in ensuring the safety of its passengers. She argues that Delta's failure to control the crowd at the baggage retrieval area -- through the use of warnings signs, recorded messages, or even the posting of supervisory airline personnel -- coupled with the airline's failure to designate a separate area near the baggage carousel for the protection of the elderly, infirm, and handicapped, breached Delta's duty of reasonable care and proximately caused her injuries.

 DISCUSSION

 Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper where the record demonstrates clearly that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). See also Trans-Orient Marine Corp. v. Star Trading & Marine, Inc., 925 F.2d 566, 571-73 (2d Cir. 1991). As a general matter, the party seeking summary disposition bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). Once the movant has satisfied this threshold showing, it is incumbent upon the non-moving party to demonstrate the existence of the essential elements of his case upon which he bears the burden of proof at trial. Id., at 322, 106 S. Ct. at 2552. Failure of proof on one essential element renders immaterial all other facts, and entitles the movant to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 323, 106 S. Ct. at 2552.

 I. Pre-emption Under the Federal Aviation Act

 Before addressing the sufficiency of plaintiff's negligence claim, the Court first must determine whether the claim properly may be asserted in light of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, 49 U.S.C. App. §§ 1301 et seq. (the "ADA"). Delta urges the Court to dismiss plaintiff's negligence cause of action, *fn1" arguing that the ADA was meant to displace such state law remedies and that Section 1305(a)(1) of the ADA expressly pre-empts all common law tort causes of action relating to the provision of airline services. The Court holds that federal law does not pre-empt plaintiff's negligence action.

 In 1978, pervasive federal regulation of the interstate airline industry ended with enactment of the ADA. In order to facilitate federal economic deregulation and prevent the states from entering this regulatory field, Congress included within the text of the ADA an express pre-emption provision. See Hodges v. Delta Airlines, Inc. 4 F.3d 350, 353 (5th Cir. 1993), reh'g en banc granted, 1994 U.S. App. LEXIS 996 (5th Cir. 1994). Section 1305(a)(1), upon which defendant bases the present motion, provides in relevant part that:

 
No State or political subdivision thereof and no interstate agency or other political agency of two or more States shall enact or enforce any law, rule, regulation, standard, or other provision having the force and effect of law relating to rates, routes, or services of any air carrier having ...

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