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