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CURLEY v. AMERICAN AIRLINES

March 4, 1994

DENNIS CURLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WHITMAN KNAPP

 WHITMAN KNAPP, SENIOR D.J.

 In this diversity action plaintiff passenger Dennis Curley ("plaintiff") alleges that he was detained and searched by Mexican authorities after having been falsely identified by the captain of his flight as having smoked marijuana in the lavatory of the aircraft, and claims negligence and false imprisonment. Defendant American Airlines ("defendant") seeks summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiff's state cause of action is preempted: (1) by the Warsaw Convention, under which neither punitive damages nor damages for psychological injuries are permitted; or, in the alternative, (2) by the Federal Aviation Act as amended by the Airline Deregulation Act, 49 USC ยง 1301 et seq. In addition, the parties have briefed and argued a choice of law question, plaintiff submitting that New York law should be applied, defendant arguing for the application of Mexican law. For the reasons that follow, we deny defendant's motion for summary judgment, and reserve decision on the law to be applied.

 BACKGROUND

 Drawing, as we must, all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, the relevant facts are as follows:

 On Christmas day of 1990, plaintiff and a companion boarded, at New York's LaGuardia airport, an American Airlines flight destined, after a layover in Dallas, for Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Each had a round trip ticket, and planned to return to New York ten days later. The flight was uneventful. Plaintiff recalls drinking a lot of water during the New York to Dallas leg of the flight. During the Dallas layover he used a men's room in the airport. He drank more water and one beer during the flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Puerto Vallarta, and sat in the smoking section of the aircraft where he smoked two cigarettes. He never used the lavatory during this leg of the flight. Upon landing in Puerto Vallarta, plaintiff wished the captain of the flight a merry christmas and proceeded to disembark from the aircraft. He and his companion then entered the terminal, and began waiting in what appeared to be a line of travelers being processed through Mexican customs. At that time, an English-speaking man wearing some sort of uniform and holding a walkie-talkie approached plaintiff and asked him how long he intended to stay in Mexico. Plaintiff replied that he intended to be there for ten days, at which point the man walked away. He soon returned, accompanied by a uniformed man who was holding a rifle. The English-speaking man asked for plaintiff's ticket. Plaintiff gave him all of his travel documents, at which point the man went away again. He and the armed man returned, at which point the former told plaintiff to "come with me, please." Although plaintiff offered no resistance, the English-speaking man guided him with a hand on the elbow to a room, in which he was directed to sit down. A woman, a different man with a rifle, and the English-speaking man were in this room. After about five minutes, plaintiff was directed to take his bags and go into another room. Two different uniformed men, who had guns in holsters and appeared to be police, were in this room. One of these, speaking in English, told plaintiff that he was in very serious trouble, that he would go to jail, and asked him "where is the marijuana?" Plaintiff asserted "there is no marijuana," to which his interrogator replied "the captain said you were smoking marijuana." Plaintiff responded that "that simply isn't true," at which point his interrogator began to search through his documents and bags. While other Mexican officials walked in and out of the room, plaintiff endured the following ordeal as outlined in his account of the facts in the Pretrial Order:

 
a. He was strip-searched.
 
b. He was cavity searched.
 
c. His freedom was threatened.
 
d. His life was threatened.
 
i. Firearms were aimed at his buttocks, head and groin.
 
ii. He was threatened verbally.
 
e. His body was touched by loaded firearms.
 
f. He was forced to stand naked in the presence of men and women.
 
g. He was verbally humiliated.
 
h. His belongings were searched.
 
i. Against his will he was examined by a ...

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