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Baez v. Jetblue Airways Corp.

July 29, 2009

ROSALINDA BAEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORPORATION AND TIFFANY "DOE", DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Rosalinda Baez commenced this action against defendants Jetblue Airways Corporation ("Jetblue" or "Defendant") and Tiffany "Doe" on February 12, 2009.*fn1 Plaintiff's complaint asserts federal and state claims for relief, which arise from an incident in which defendant Tiffany "Doe" allegedly lied to agents of the Transportation Security Administration ("TSA") about a statement made by plaintiff regarding a bomb on a Jetblue flight. Plaintiff makes four federal claims for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: false arrest, malicious prosecution, malicious abuse of process, denial of right to fair trial, and negligent hiring, training, and supervision, in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff additionally makes the following claims for relief under New York State law: false arrest, malicious prosecution, malicious abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, prima facie tort, negligence, unjust enrichment and defamation. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Now before the court is a motion by defendant Jetblue to dismiss the complaint as against it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from plaintiff's complaint and are taken as true for the purposes of this motion.

Plaintiff Rosalinda Baez is a citizen of the state of Texas, residing in Dallas, Texas. Defendant Jetblue was and is a domestic corporation, licensed to do business in the State of New York, and having its principal place of business in Queens, New York. Defendant Tiffany Doe was a gate agent employed by Jetblue and assigned to work at JFK International Airport in Queens, New York.*fn2

On April 15, 2008, at 6:23 a.m., plaintiff Baez arrived at JFK International Airport, located in Queens, New York. Complaint at ¶ 7 ("Compl."). Plaintiff checked in at the Jetblue counter and was issued a ticket to board Flight 1061, which was scheduled to depart for Austin, Texas at 8:05 a.m. Id. at ¶ 8. At the check-in counter, a Jetblue representative informed plaintiff that her plane would be leaving from Gate 18, but did not mention that Gate 18 was located in a separate building which was located in a different part of the airport. Id. at ¶ 9. Thereafter, plaintiff proceeded through security and waited for her flight. Id. at ¶ 11. Approximately one hour later, when plaintiff had not heard her flight announced, she inquired and was told that Flight 1061 was departing from a different terminal, and that she had to take a bus to get to this terminal. Id. at ¶ 12.

When plaintiff arrived at the gate, there were no passengers waiting. Id. at ¶ 13. She approached Jetblue agent Tiffany "Doe", who was coming from the departure jetway. Id. Plaintiff told Doe that she had a boarding pass for Flight 1061, and asked to be permitted to board since the flight was still at the gate. Id. at ¶ 14. Doe stated to the plaintiff, "I just closed the flight and you ain't getting on it." Id. at ¶ 15. Plaintiff informed Doe that she had been at the airport since 6:30 a.m., and that she had not been informed that Gate 18 was in a different terminal. Id. at ¶ 16. Doe continued to refuse to allow plaintiff to board the plane. Id. at ¶ 18.

Plaintiff asked Doe what would happen to her luggage if she boarded a different flight. Id. at ¶ 19. Doe informed plaintiff that her bag would be in Austin when she got there. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff responded, "That doesn't make any sense. Isn't it a security risk to let a bag go on a plane without a passenger, what if there was a bomb in the bag?" Id. at ¶ 21. Doe responded that TSA agents would know if there was a bomb in the bag, to which plaintiff responded, "TSA - my ass." Id. at ¶ 22. No further words were exchanged between plaintiff and Doe at that time. Flight 1061 remained on the ground at the gate for an additional 30 minutes prior to departure. Id. at ¶¶ 24, 25. During that time, Doe did not contact any TSA agents, nor did she take action to ensure that the plane was inspected for a bomb.

Id. at ¶ 26.

After speaking with Doe, plaintiff went to the customer service area to re-book her flight. Id. at ¶ 27. While the booking agent was re-booking plaintiff, Doe walked over and stated, "this one thinks she's getting on a flight." Id. at ¶ 28. Doe further stated, "She['s] nasty. I['m] gonna mark her record." Id. at ¶ 29. Plaintiff commented that she was a frequent flier with Jeblue and asked why she was being treated in a rude manner; Doe did not respond. Id. at ¶ 30. Plaintiff was given a boarding pass for the next Austin flight, scheduled to depart from JFK at 1:05 p.m. Id. at ¶ 31. Doe was present when the new boarding pass was issued to plaintiff. Id.

Plaintiff returned to the main terminal and immediately logged on to her computer to file an online complaint with Jetblue, detailing the events set forth above. Id. at ¶ 32. In this online entry, plaintiff identified Doe by her first name, and objected to the rude and offensive manner in which Doe had treated her. Id. at ¶ 33. As a result of plaintiff's complaint, Jetblue officials spoke with Doe about the incident. Id. at ¶ 34. The conversation took place while plaintiff was still waiting for her flight to Austin. Id. at ¶ 35. Upon being asked about plaintiff's complaint by Jetblue officials, Doe allegedly lied about the words stated by plaintiff during their conversation, claiming that plaintiff stated: "Well I have a bomb in my bag, so are you guys going to turn the plane around 'cause I need my bag?" Id. at ¶ 36-37. Doe also falsely claimed that plaintiff further stated, "TSA does not know how to do their f-ing job, because if it did, TSA would not catch [the bomb] and let it go through." Id. at ¶ 38. Plaintiff alleges that she never made these statements, and Doe knew that she never made these statements. Id. at ¶ 39.

As a result of Doe's allegations, plaintiff was approached by a Jetblue "security" agent, who directed her to accompany him to the security office. Id. at ¶ 42. Plaintiff was detained by TSA and interrogated for approximately five hours. Id. at ¶ 43. Plaintiff was questioned about her patriotism, whether or not she had suicidal thoughts, and her use of prescription drugs (officers told her to "just admit what you are on.") Id. at ¶ 44. Plaintiff was also repeatedly asked to admit that she made a bomb threat, but she refused. Id. at ¶ 45. At the conclusion of this interrogation, plaintiff was arrested and charged with making a false bomb threat in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 46507. Id. at ¶ 46.

The story of plaintiff's arrest became a national and international news story, receiving coverage in South Africa, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. Id. at ¶ 50. Plaintiff's personal and professional reputation was damaged as a result. Id. At the time of the incident, plaintiff was employed as a Senior Vice President for Schematics, a company that provides computer services for Dell Computer, and was earning an annual income of $190,000. Id. at ¶ 48. As a result of publicity stemming from her arrest, plaintiff was terminated from her job and has been permanently blackballed in her industry. Id. at ¶ 49. Prior to this incident, plaintiff had never before been arrested, and had never had dealings with the criminal justice system. Id. at ¶ 51.

On April 15, 2008, plaintiff was arraigned on a criminal complaint accusing her of making a false bomb threat, and released on a $200,000 bond. See United States v. Rosalinda Baez, E.D.N.Y. 08-CR-560. The bomb threat allegation was never adjudicated. Instead, on August 14, 2008, Baez was charged in a misdemeanor information with possession of a small quantity of marijuana. On September 2, 2008, Baez pled guilty to one count of possession of a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 844(a). The plea allocution did not discuss any of the facts that form the basis for plaintiff's civil complaint, although the Magistrate Judge did refer to the existence of the bomb threat charge. On January 29, 2009, Magistrate Judge Mann sentenced Baez to three years of probation and, pursuant to the plea agreement, ordered her to pay restitution to Jetblue in the amount of $13,448.20. In her Statement of Reasons for adopting the Presentence Investigation Report, Magistrate Judge Mann stated with respect to the bomb threat charge that the court "did not make a finding as to the disputed facts and did not rely on them in making its decision." Declaration of Jon Norinsberg, May 22, 2009, Ex. A.

JURISDICTION

This Court has federal question jurisdiction over the instant matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.*fn3

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss ...


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