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PARADIS v. GHANA AIRWAYS LIMITED

November 22, 2004.

MICHEL PARADIS, Plaintiff,
v.
GHANA AIRWAYS LIMITED Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SIDNEY STEIN, District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

Michel Paradis, acting pro se, brings this New York common law breach of contract action to recover losses that he and his traveling companions suffered when returning to New York from Sierra Leone. Specifically, he seeks compensation from Ghana Airways Limited for damages stemming from its cancellation of his flight. The airline has moved to dismiss the complaint, contending that the Montreal Convention preempts this cause of action and that Paradis lacks standing to pursue damages on behalf of his companions. The motion to dismiss the complaint is granted because the Montreal Convention and its predecessor, the Warsaw Convention, both preempt state law claims based on delay in air transportation.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  The facts as alleged in the complaint are as follows: Paradis coordinated a trip to Sierra Leone for his law school student organization, Universal Jurisdiction, which provides volunteer legal services in developing countries. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 9). On April 29, 2004, Paradis purchased round-trip tickets for himself and four other members of Universal Jurisdiction to travel on Ghana Airways between New York City and Freetown, Sierra Leone, departing from New York on May 29, 2004 and returning from Sierra Leone three weeks later, on June 18, 2004. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11). The group's itinerary between New York and Freetown included a connection in Accra, Ghana during both the departing and the returning trips. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11-12).

  When in Sierra Leone, Paradis and his companions confirmed their return flight two days before their scheduled departure. (Am. Compl. ¶ 18). They went to the airport on Friday, June 18, arriving at around 12:00 p.m. for their 3:00 p.m. flight to Accra. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 19). At approximately 4:15 p.m. — an hour and fifteen minutes after the scheduled departure time — an announcement was made that the flight had been cancelled. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 25). Ghana Airways had no ticket desks at the airport, but its staff informed Paradis there were no other flights leaving that day and that he should make arrangements with the Ghana Airways office in Freetown the next business day. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 27).

  The group left the airport and arrived back in Freetown at around 5:00 p.m. (Am. Compl. ¶ 28). Because members of the group were anxious to return to the United States for various prior commitments, including summer employment, a bar examination review course and mandatory meetings for organizations (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 48-51), Paradis made a reservation with another air carrier, Astreaus Airways, for seats on a flight that would leave Sierra Leone at 10:30 that same night, Friday June 18, and fly to Gatwick Airport in England. (Am. Compl. ¶ 31). Paradis searched the internet for flights from Gatwick to New York and learned that the group would most likely be able to acquire tickets for that leg upon arrival at Gatwick. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 31-32, 56-57).

  Paradis then called the Ghana Airways office in New York and inquired about later Ghana Airways flights out of Sierra Leone. (Am. Compl. ¶ 30). The agent in New York claimed to be unaware of the cancellation of Paradis' flight. (Am. Compl. ¶ 30). Paradis "was given no assurances of subsequent flight availability and was told to take up the matter with the GHANA AIRWAYS office in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which at [that] hour on a Friday was closed." (Am. Compl. at ¶ 30). Paradis' conversation with the agent then shifted to how much Ghana Airways would pay to compensate the group for the cost of securing transportation on other carriers. (Am. Compl. ¶ 32). The agent allegedly refused to offer anything more than $559 per ticket, one-half the original ticket price and substantially less than the approximately $1,500 per person total that Paradis projected it would cost to purchase tickets for the Astreaus Airways flight to Gatwick and another flight from Gatwick to New York. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32, 34). In the context of that discussion about reimbursement for alternative flight arrangements, the agent allegedly told Paradis that "finding a way back to New York was `your problem.'" (Am. Compl. ¶ 42).

  Paradis and his companions feared being stranded if they spent their remaining cash on accommodations while waiting for Ghana Airways' next flight, scheduled for the following Friday, to leave, especially because they did not have guaranteed seats. (Am. Compl. ¶ 47). Consequently, they purchased the tickets Paradis had reserved on Astreaus Airways and left Sierra Leone later that same night, June 18. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 53, 55). Upon his return to the United States, Paradis exerted extensive, albeit unsuccessful, efforts to negotiate a satisfactory settlement with Ghana Airways for the out-of-pocket losses the group suffered as a result of the cancelled flight. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 59-98).

  Within six weeks of his arrival back in the New York, Paradis brought suit in New York Supreme Court against Ghana Airways for breach of contract pursuant to New York law and for damages occasioned by delay pursuant to the Warsaw Convention. (See generally Missing Text exhibits, or other papers submitted in conjunction with the motion. See Friedl v. City of New York, 210 F.3d 79, 83-84 (2d Cir. 2000).

  The complaint need only provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512, 122 S. Ct. 992, 152 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2002) (quoting Fed.R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). The pleadings drafted by pro se litigants are held to even "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers . . ." and a court "`must construe the complaint liberally' and `interpret [it] to raise the strongest arguments that [it] suggest[s].'" Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S. Ct. 594, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652 (1972); see also Soto v. Waker, 44 F.3d 169, 173 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994)).*fn2

  Defendant's Arguments: Preemption and Standing

  Ghana Airways seeks dismissal of the complaint on two grounds, namely that Paradis' state law claim is preempted by the treaty popularly known as the Montreal Convention*fn3 and that he lacks standing to pursue relief for damages incurred by his traveling companions.

  The Conventions

  In November of 2003, before any of the events involved in this litigation, the Montreal Convention entered into force in the United States, superceding a prior air carriage treaty commonly known as the Warsaw Convention.*fn4 See Ehrlich v. American Airlines, 360 F.3d 366, 371 & n. 4 (2d Cir. 2004). The parties disagree about which treaty applies to this action. The airline urges that the Montreal Convention governs, whereas Paradis contends that the Warsaw ...


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