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In re September 11 Litigation World Trade Center Properties

January 16, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alvin K. Hellerstein, U.S.D.J.


Defendants American Airlines, Inc. and AMR Corp. (collectively "American") and Globe Aviation Services Corp. ("Globe") move for summary judgment to dismiss the property damage claims of World Trade Center Properties, LLC ("WTCP") arising from the destruction of World Trade Center Tower Two by the terrorists who hijacked United Air Lines Flight 175 and crashed the jumbo jet into the 110-story tower. The terrorists who had boarded United Air Lines Flight 175 had passed through security administered by Huntleigh USA Corp. ("Huntleigh") under the aegis of United Air Lines, Inc. and UAL Corp. (collectively "United"). Huntleigh and United do not move to dismiss the case against them.

American and Globe, the moving parties, contend that they had nothing to do with security for United flights at Logan Airport, where the United flight originated. WTCP, the plaintiff and respondent in this motion, sued the airline, airport, and security companies for the damage to World Trade Center Towers One and Two arising from the September 11 terrorist attacks. WTCP alleges that the defendants*fn1 had negligent security procedures that permitted the terrorists to board, hijack, and crash two airplanes into Towers One and Two. Although American and Globe had responsibility for the American, and not the United flights, departing from Logan Airport, and United and Huntleigh had responsibility for the United, and not the American flights, departing from Logan Airport, WTCP sued all four defendants and others, alleging that all are jointly and severally liable for the destruction of Towers One and Two. American and Globe move to dismiss claims relating to Tower Two, alleging that they had no duty for the Tower Two property damage and did not cause, or contribute to the cause, of that damage.

WTCP makes essentially two arguments to support its complaint: American's and Globe's negligence with respect to American Airlines Flight 11 set in motion the series of events that led to the four September 11 hijackings; and American's negligence in waiting twenty-one minutes before notifying federal authorities that its Flight 11 had been hijacked deprived the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") and United Air Lines of vital information that could have been used either to prevent the hijacking of United Air Lines Flight 175, or its crash into Tower Two.

I hold that American and Globe, having played no part in the screening or transporting of passengers with respect to United Airlines flight 175, had no duty to United's passengers or other victims of the United crash. I grant defendants' motion, and order the complaint dismissed against American and Globe.

I. Related Proceeding

On June 26, 2007, I heard oral arguments in this case for a similar summary judgment motion brought by other defendants, US Airways, Continental, and Colgan Air, regarding damages caused by the Flight 175 crash. Those defendants also did not own, operate, or perform security for United Air Lines Flight 175. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants' negligently screened passengers who connected to American Airlines Flight 11 and who then passed through American's independent security screening process before boarding Flight 11. Plaintiffs argued against granting the motion on the grounds that statutory, regulatory, and common laws create a duty to defendants to report any aviation threats to authorities, that the behavior the defendants observed ought to have been considered an aviation threat, and that the hijacking and damage caused by United Airlines Flight 175 could have been prevented had the defendants alerted authorities to threats to American Airlines Flight 11. I held that any such duty to alert authorities to the threat of a hijacking does not create liability to those injured by another hijacking, at least without an additional showing of a relationship that could create a duty to those who were injured. Transcript of Oral Argument at 59-66 (June 26, 2007); Summary Order, In re September 11 Litig., In re September 11 Prop. Damage & Bus. Loss Litig., Nos. 21 MC 97, 21 MC 101 (June 27, 2007). I now write to set out my reasoning.

II. Statement of Undisputed Facts

The 9/11 Commission investigated and reported the relevant facts of the September 11, 2001 terrorists' hijackings and the events following those hijackings.*fn2 The parties have accepted the reported version as it relates to the facts of this case, and I do as well.

A. American Airlines Flight 11

On September 11, 2001 at 5:43 a.m., two of the terrorists who would soon hijack American Airlines Flight 11 checked in for Colgan Air Flight 5930 at the US Airways counter in the Portland Jetport in Maine. At 5:45 a.m., they passed through the airport's security screening checkpoint without incident. The security checkpoint was under Delta Airlines' custodial responsibility, with Delta having delegated security screening services to Globe Aviation Services. The 19-seat regional airliner departed on time at 6:00 a.m. and landed in Boston at 6:45 a.m.

The two men, Mohammed Atta and Abdul Aziz al Omari, as well as three other terrorists, checked in and boarded American Airlines Flight 11 between 6:45 a.m. and 7:40 a.m. All five hijackers were required to submit to security screening at one of two checkpoints at Logan Airport, both of which were operated by Globe under contract with American.*fn3 At 7:59 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 departed from Boston's Logan International Airport. Terrorists began to hijack the plane at 8:14 a.m.

At 8:19 a.m., an on-board flight attendant, Betty Ong, used one of the airplane's telephones to call American's reservations office. Ong told the employee who answered that she thought the flight was being hijacked and that someone had been stabbed on board. By 8:21 a.m., Ong's call was transferred to another employee who triggered an emergency button alerting Nydia Gonzales, the reservations office supervisor, to pick up the line. Gonzales reported the emergency to Craig Marquis, the manager on duty at American's System Operation Control ("SOC") in Fort Worth, Texas.

At 8:22 a.m., Marquis acknowledged the emergency and told Gonzalez that he would contact American ...

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