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Oparaji v. Virgin Atlantic Airways

September 19, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Block, Senior District Judge


Plaintiff, Maurice Oparaji ("Oparaji"), proceeding pro se, sues defendant, Virgin Atlantic Airways, LTD ("Virgin Atlantic"), alleging that Virgin Atlantic personnel wrongfully accused him of traveling under a forged passport. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, Virgin Atlantic moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Oparaji's claims are governed by the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air, Oct. 12, 1929, 49 Stat. 3000, 3014, T.S. No. 876 (1934) -- more commonly known as the Warsaw Convention -- and that it is not liable under that treaty. For the following reasons, Virgin Atlantic's motion is granted.


In 2002, Oparaji, a naturalized United States citizen, purchased from Virgin Atlantic a round-trip ticket for air travel from New York City to Lagos, Nigeria, via London, England; the ticket erroneously listed the passenger as "Oparaki/Maurice." On January 18, 2002, Oparaji completed the outbound portion of his trip without incident.

On March 15, 2002, Oparaji arrived at the Lagos airport for the Lagos-London leg of his return trip. After clearing various security checkpoints, he proceeded to his gate, where he joined the line of passengers waiting to board. At the jet bridge connecting the gate to the aircraft, he presented his boarding pass and United States passport to Lawrence Isaac ("Isaac"); the parties dispute whether Isaac was an employee of Virgin Atlantic or of an independent contractor providing security services for Virgin Atlantic.

Isaac questioned the authenticity of Oparaji's passport and asked him to step out of line. After showing the passport to other security agents, Isaac asked Oparaji to go into an office located a few yards from the gate, where Isaac and other Virgin Atlantic personnel further questioned Oparaji about his passport; eventually, they called in Allen Spencer ("Spencer"), a British official responsible for checking the travel documents of passengers traveling to the United Kingdom. After inspecting the passport and placing a call to the British Embassy, Spencer concluded that Oparaji should be allowed to travel with the passport. The Virgin Atlantic personnel then told Oparaji he was free to leave.

Instead of boarding his flight, however, Oparaji remained in the office and demanded a written explanation. An argument ensued, attracting the attention of the Nigerian police. The police asked Oparaji to accomapny them to another office in the airport, where he explained what had happened and prepared a written statement.

The police then escorted Oparaji back to the gate, where he was informed that he could not board and that he should retrieve his luggage from the tarmac. He later learned from an airport official that the flight had closed for boarding.

Having missed his flight, Oparaji asked Virgin Atlantic to endorse his ticket to another airline; his request was declined. He then purchased a ticket to London from British Airways, exhausting his funds in the process. He claims that upon arrival at London's Heathrow Airport, he was forced to go "begging for money from whoever wanted to listen to me," and that he "was lucky to collect from good Samaritans" enough money to buy food and a ticket for a flight back to New York. Oparaji Aff. ¶ 28.

In 2004, Oparaji sued Virgin Atlantic in New York City Civil Court, seeking $160,000 in damages for "failure to provide proper services," "breach of contract," "loss of luggage," "loss of time from work," "emotional distress," "abandonment," "defamation" and "false imprisonment." Endorsed Compl. Virgin Atlantic, an English corporation, removed the suit to this Court on the grounds (1) that "the matter in controversy exceeds the sum of $75,000, and is between citizens of a state and a citizen of a foreign state," Not. of Removal ¶ 3, and (2) that "the action arises under a treaty of the United States," namely, the Warsaw Convention, id. ¶ 7.

Oparaji, who does not oppose removal, has filed an amended complaint asserting numerous claims against Virgin Atlantic; liberally construed, the claims seek two broad categories of damages: (1) personal-injury damages (such as injury to reputation and emotional distress) flowing from VirginAtlantic's alleged accusation that Oparaji's passport was forged, and (2) economic damages (such as lost wages and out-of-pocket expenses) resulting from his inability to board the Virgin Atlantic flight from Lagos. Oparaji claims in his affidavit opposing summary judgment that he also suffered a separated shoulder when he retrieved his luggage from the tarmac, but that assertion contradicts his deposition testimony that he did not suffer any "physical injury that you can see." Oparaji Dep. at 75. "[F]actual allegations that might otherwise defeat a motion for summary judgment will not be permitted to do so when they are made for the first time in the plaintiff's affidavit opposing summary judgment and that affidavit contradicts [the plaintiff's own prior deposition testimony," Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 252 (2d Cir. 2001); the Court therefore excludes Oparaji's claims of physical injury from its analysis.


Although Oparaji proceeds under a variety of legal theories, the Warsaw Convention provides his exclusive remedy to the extent his claims fall within its scope. See Magan v. Lufthansa German Airlines, 339 F.3d 158, 161 (2d Cir. 2003) ("[An international airline passenger] whose injuries fall with the scope of the Warsaw Convention is either entitled to recovery under the Convention or not at all.") (citing El Al Israel Airlines, Ltd. v. Tseng, 525 U.S. 155 (1999), and King v. American Airlines, Inc., 284 F.3d 352 (2d Cir. 2002)).*fn1

This is so even if the claims are not viable under the Convention. See King, 284 F.3d at 357 ("[T]he Convention's preemptive effect on local law extends to all causes of action for injuries to persons or baggage suffered in the course of international airline transportation, regardless of whether a claim actually could be ...

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