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Okoi v. El Al Israel Airlines

February 10, 2009

FIDELIS OKOI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EL AL ISRAEL AIRLINES, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Fidelis Okoi ("Plaintiff" or "Okoi") commenced this action in Supreme Court, Nassau County seeking to recover for alleged tortuous interference with employment during the performance of his employment duties as an Agriculture Inspector for the United States Department of Agriculture on August 31, 2002. Defendant El Al Israel Airlines ("El Al") thereafter removed the action to this Court. Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint, or in the alternative, for summary judgment.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Okoi commenced this action in Supreme Court, Nassau County on June 1, 2005. Thereafter, El Al removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity. On June 5, 2006, Okoi moved to amend the Complaint*fn2 to correct the caption, to remove all references to exemplary damages, and to assert four new causes of action. The four new proposed causes of action were (1) negligent interference with employment; (2) conspiracy to violate his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985 and 1981; (3) interference with his performance of official duties as a federal inspector in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1985(1); and deprivation of "his equal rights as an American citizen pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1985(3) (depriving person of rights or privileges) and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1982(3)." By Order dated December 4, 2006, this Court adopted the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Wall granting the motion to amend solely to correct the caption and eliminate the references to exemplary damages and denying the motion insofar as it sought to assert the new causes of action. The Court found that the proposed new claims were futile. Although the Court's Order did provide that "Plaintiff may... re-seek leave to file an amended complaint," no further leave to amend was sought. From the filing of the complaint until July 2007, Plaintiff was represented by counsel. On July 9, 2007, Judge Wall granted Plaintiff's then counsel leave to withdraw.

FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

The following allegations are taken from the complaint.

On or about August 31, 2002, El Al requested an inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture (the "USDA") at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Okoi, an USDA employee, to wit an agriculture inspector, was assigned to perform the task. When he arrived at the El Al terminal, Okoi had to wait because the aircraft to be inspected had not yet landed. Once he was informed that the aircraft had "landed and blocked at the ramp," Okoi used his Port Authority identification card to open the door to the ramp and proceeded to the aircraft. When he reached the aircraft, there were no El Al employees at the entrance so Plaintiff boarded the plane without showing any identification. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-6.)

While performing his inspection, Okoi was approached by an El Al security guard who demanded to know who he was and what he was doing. Okoi presented his Port Authority identification card and explained he was performing an inspection for agricultural contraband. The security guard demanded Okoi "surrender" his card, which Okoi refused to do because he was wearing his official USDA uniform and performing an inspection required by the USDA. Additional security guards were called over and surrounded Plaintiff, who called the Plant Protection and Quarantine Desk to notify them of the incident. "Again he [Okoi] notified all security guards that he was there to perform his duties as an aircraft inspecting office and was not there to do any damage to the aircraft. At this point, all security guards left Mr. Okoi and he was able to complete the inspection...." (Compl. ¶¶ 7-11.)

Having completed the inspection, Okoi proceeded to "the manager's desk" when a Port Authority Police Swat Team arrived and began questioning him about the incident aboard the aircraft. Okoi was then arrested for allegedly reporting to the El Al security guard that "he [sic] could blow up the aircraft if I wanted to." Okoi denies, in his complaint, having made any such statement. (Compl. ¶¶ 12-14.) After his arrest, Okoi was confined for twenty-four (24) hours before given an opportunity to appear before a judge, after which he was released without bond. (Compl. ¶ 14.)

Okoi tried to report to work but was not allowed by management because the Port Authority police had confiscated his identification card. He requested annual leave, which although approved by his supervisor was denied by the Director of the USDA, resulting in his being "AWOL." (Compl. ¶ 16.)

As a result of the alleged "blow up the aircraft" remark, Plaintiff was criminally charged with "Falsely Reporting an Incident" and pleaded guilty. (Compl. ¶¶ 17-18.)*fn3

According to the complaint, Okoi is African American "and believes that based on his race he was subject to racial profiling by agents of El Al. Based on information and belief, Caucasian Inspectors are not subjected to the same disparaging treatment when performing their inspection duties with El Al." (Compl. ¶ 19.) The sole cause of action alleged is "tortious interference with employment." (Compl. ¶ 20.)

In opposition to Defendant's motion, Plaintiff has filed various documents, including one entitled "Complaint with Jury Demand," (see Docket No. 48, hereinafter "Proposed Complaint"). Contrary to the assertion in the Complaint that was actually filed and served, the Proposed Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was unable to complete his inspection because of the interference by the El Al security officers. The Proposed Amended Complaint alleges that an El Al security officers stated the "trouble occurred when a black man ran past,"*fn4 and that "[a]fter the plea deal the Port Authority Police in conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture issued a Port Restricted Area ID Card to Plaintiff." The Proposed Amended Complaint purports to assert new causes of action for (1) "Discrimination Based on Racial Profiling," because "defendant engaged in discriminatory behavior based on plaintiff[']s race when Okoi was racially profiled/slurred." (Proposed Am. Compl. ΒΆΒΆ 55-57); (2) "Hostile Work Environment Based on Race" because "defendant created a hostile work environment for plaintiff based upon race by subjecting him to discriminatory treatment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (id. at ...


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