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MONTESSI v. AMERICAN AIRLINES

August 29, 1996

ALEXANDRINE YORK MONTESSI, Plaintiff, against AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., et al., Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MOTLEY

 The instant suit was commenced by plaintiff in New York State Supreme Court alleging that she sustained injuries as a passenger on two separate flights of defendant airline. In May of 1995, defendants removed the case to the Southern District of New York based on diversity jurisdiction. Defendants have moved for summary judgment alleging, inter alia, that there are no genuine issues of material fact pertaining to the incidents underlying the instant action. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's cursory allegations in opposition to the motion are wholly insufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact to withstand summary judgment. Accordingly, defendants' motion is granted and the complaint dismissed in its entirety.

 FACTS

 Plaintiff Alexandrine York Montessi (hereinafter "plaintiff") is a resident of New York State. Defendants are American Airlines, Inc. (American), which is incorporated in the State of Delaware with its principal place of business in Texas, and two of American's pilots (named fictitiously in the complaint)(hereinafter, collectively, "defendants").

 Defendants have moved for summary judgment in this case alleging that "plaintiff, as a matter of law, has not put forth sufficient evidence to support any of her three causes of action." (Aff. of Donna H. Bakalor, Esq., dated May 14, 1996, at P 20 (hereinafter "Bakalor Aff.")). In support of their motion, defendants submit affidavits of the pilots responsible for the flights on which plaintiff alleges she was injured.

 The facts, as described by plaintiff, are as follows. On April 13, 1992, plaintiff purchased a round-trip airline ticket with American for a flight from New York City to San Juan, Puerto Rico and back. According to plaintiff's allegations, on April 15, 1992, the initial flight to San Juan was abruptly interrupted at takeoff and plaintiff was "violently thrown about." (Plf.'s Aff. at P 3.) Furthermore, plaintiff alleges that: "although I was wearing a seat belt, I banged my head, face, neck and knees on the seat in front of me." (Id.) The plane apparently departed New York soon thereafter without incident. Upon arrival, plaintiff was apparently feeling "very poorly" and received what she called a "cursury examination" from a local doctor and then "took Tylenol for [her] pain and remained in bed during the course of [her] stay in Puerto Rico." (Id. at 4.)

 Eight days later, on April 23, 1992, plaintiff took her return flight to New York. About one hour after takeoff from San Juan, the passengers were told that due to mechanical problems the aircraft would return to San Juan. Plaintiff then alleges that she "started hearing a very loud repetitive noise and observed smoke coming from one of the engines." (Id. at P 5.) It is further alleged by plaintiff that "the plane began a rapid descent and change of direction, and I was thrown into the seat in front of me." Plaintiff also asserts, once again, that: "although I was wearing a seatbelt, I banged my head, chest and knees into the seat in front of me." (Id.) In addition, her neck allegedly "snapped back" and she was "thrown back into [her] seat." (Id.) *fn1"

 Defendants have submitted affidavits of each of the pilots in charge of these two flights and both allege that the violent incidents described by plaintiff did not occur. Indeed, Captain Dallas, who piloted the New York to San Juan leg of plaintiff's round-trip excursion, described the flight as "uneventful." (Bakalor Aff. at Exh. G (Affidavit of Allen Dallas, dated May 7, 1996, at P 3)). The flight records and other documentation submitted by both defendants and plaintiff fail to indicate in any way that there was a smoking engine and a rapid descent as plaintiff alleges. (See Bakalor Aff. at Exh. I; Affidavit of Steven B. Kaufman, dated June 10, 1996, (hereinafter "Kaufman Aff."), at Exh. A.)

 After return to New York, plaintiff alleges that she was treated by three medical professionals: an orthopedist, a chiropractor and a neurologist. (Id. at P 11.) She also alleges that she was treated at an outpatient clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that she was diagnosed as "suffering from cervical radiculopathy and a displaced cervical disc as a result of the . . . incidents." (Id.)

 In further opposition to the motion, plaintiff has submitted what purport to be physician's notes and letters from two medical professionals, a chiropractor and a neurologist. (Kaufman Aff. at Exh. B (Letter of Dr. Stuart N. Landesburg and Letter of Dr. Derek G. Randall, respectively).) These unsworn reports, notes and letters are submitted collectively as a single exhibit to the affidavit of plaintiff's attorney in opposition to the instant motion. (Id. at Exh. B.) Moreover, most of the notes are illegible and fail to show any causal connection between the injuries allegedly sustained and defendants' actions. The two letters referenced above, written to plaintiff's attorney in apparent contemplation of litigation, state simply that plaintiff appears to have suffered whiplash from the incidents on the American flights. (Id.)

 Plaintiff's first two causes of action in her complaint together seek $ 2,000,000.00 for damages suffered during the two legs of the round-trip flight. Plaintiff's third cause of action seeks $ 2,100.00 for the loss of her luggage.

 ANALYSIS

 I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD.

 Second Circuit case law has long made clear that "properly employed, summary judgment is a useful device for unmasking frivolous claims and putting a swift end to meritless litigation." Quinn v. Syracuse Model Neighborhood ...


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