The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rakoff, District Judge.
A legal education is a wonderful thing. When the flight
attendant on Trans States
Airlines Flight 7669 departing New York for Richmond told Bruce
Schaeffer, an attorney specializing in corporate franchise
matters, that he was not permitted to bring two pieces of luggage
on board, he vigorously protested, asserting his alleged
knowledge of airline regulations and procedures. When, having
reluctantly relinquished one of the bags, he failed to receive a
promised baggage receipt, he so vociferously pursued his demand
for the receipt that he was finally asked to leave the flight.
Given the option to leave voluntarily, he refused until escorted
out by the police. He then returned home and immediately set
about drafting, pro se, the original Complaint in this case,
alleging breach of contract, battery, false imprisonment,
defamation, and tortious interference with prospective economic
advantage, and demanding punitive and other damages in excess of
Ultimately, however, following discovery, motion practice,
trial preparation, and completion of plaintiff's case at trial,
plaintiff settled the case for $396: the price of his ticket.
After the case settled, counsel for the defendants, with
plaintiff's consent, asked the Court to elaborate in writing two
bench rulings — one favorable to plaintiff, one favorable to
defendants — that the Court had made at the conclusion of
plaintiff's case, see trial transcript ("tr.") at 133, 173,
190, and that counsel believed might be of some precedential
value. The Court hereby complies with that request.
The Federal Aviation Act provides that an airline "may refuse
to transport a passenger or property the carrier decides is or
might be inimical to safety." 49 U.S.C. § 44902. Such a refusal
cannot give rise to a claim for damages under either federal or
New York State law unless the carrier's decision was arbitrary
and capricious. See Schaeffer v. Cavallero, 29 F. Supp.2d 184,
186 (S.D.N.Y. 1998), citing Williams v. Trans World Airlines,
509 F.2d 942, 948 (2d Cir. 1975) and Adamsons v. American
Airlines, 58 N.Y.2d 42, 48, 457 N.Y.S.2d 771, 444 N.E.2d 21
(Ct.App. 1982). In denying defendants' prior motion for summary
judgment, this Court found that a reasonable juror could conclude
from the submissions there made that the defendants removed
Schaeffer from the plane, not because they believed he posed a
safety risk, but in retaliation for his verbal protests, and that
this would be arbitrary and capricious. See Schaeffer, 29
F. Supp.2d at 186.
Nonetheless, plaintiff, in presenting his direct case at trial,
elicited no evidence of retaliatory motive on the part of the
defendants. He did, however, introduce evidence that, if
construed most favorably to plaintiff, would tend to show that
defendants reached their decision that plaintiff presented a
safety risk that required his removal from the plane based
chiefly on their observation of his strenuous arguments for a
baggage receipt, in the course of which he raised his voice,
denounced the airline's position as "preposterous," and was
generally quarrelsome. Thus, when defendants moved at the close
of plaintiff's case for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a), the question before the Court was whether a
reasonable juror could find that defendants acted in an arbitrary
and capricious manner in removing plaintiff on the grounds of
safety risk when all he had done was loudly protest a non-safety
matter, i.e., their refusal to give him a baggage receipt.
On the other hand, the remedies available to vindicate that
right may in many cases be limited. Here, the Court, on
defendants' Rule 50(a) motion, dismissed all of plaintiff's
then-remaining claims except for breach of contract. One such
ruling (the second ruling that the parties here request be
elaborated) dismissed plaintiff's claims of battery and false
imprisonment that were premised on the police's escorting
plaintiff from the airplane at the defendants' behest and, in so
doing, touching plaintiff's elbow.
Plaintiff suffered these alleged torts only after an airline
employee not otherwise involved in the incident politely told him
that he "was going to have to leave the airplane or we are going
to have to call the police," tr. at 62, to which plaintiff
responded, "You are going to have to call the police," id.
However, once instructed by an authorized airline representative
to leave the plane, the plaintiff had a duty to obey. See
Williams 509 F.2d at 945; 49 U.S.C. § 44902; see generally
14 C.F.R. § 91.11. By, instead, choosing not to disembark on his own
and, rather, demanding that he be escorted off by the police, the
plaintiff brought upon himself the "battery" and "false
imprisonment" he seeks to attribute to the defendants.
This is not a case of multiple causation and comparative fault,
for, even assuming, arguendo, that the carrier's decision to
ask plaintiff to leave was wrongful, there was nothing to prevent
plaintiff, once apprised that he would be forced to leave, from
leaving on his own. Instead, his obstinate determination to
require the police to effectuate the removal was the sole
proximate cause of the police-related torts of which he
complains. By opting for the method of disembarkation that could
result in additional injuries, plaintiff not only assumed and
consented to that risk, see, e.g., Marcano v. Northwestern
Chrysler-Plymouth, 550 F. Supp. 595, 602 (N.D.Ill. 1982);
Restatement (Second) of Tort § 13, but also effectively released
defendants from liability "for any damages which could have been
eliminated by reasonable conduct on the part of the plaintiff,"
Spier v. Barker, 35 N.Y.2d 444, 363 N.Y.S.2d 916,
323 N.E.2d 164, 167 (1974).
Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, the Court reconfirms
its prior rulings in this case.
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