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Point-Du-Jour v. American Airlines

November 5, 2009

REGINALD POINT-DU-JOUR AND ROSE MIRNA POINT-DU-JOUR, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matsumoto, United States District Judge

FOR ELECTRONIC PUBLICATION ONLY

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiffs Reginald and Rose Mirna Point-du-Jour ("plaintiffs") bring this negligence action to recover damages for injuries allegedly sustained while passengers on a domestic flight operated by defendant, American Airlines, Inc. ("defendant"). Plaintiffs are residents of New York and defendant is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Texas. The case, originally filed in New York State Supreme Court on July 17, 2007, was removed by defendant to this court on August, 15, 2007, based on diversity jurisdiction.

Presently before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, seeking judgment for defendant and dismissal of this case. Defendant contends that plaintiffs have failed to establish a prima facie case of negligence, namely plaintiffs are unable to demonstrate any negligence attributable to the defendant or that the actions of the defendant proximately caused the plaintiffs' alleged injuries. Plaintiffs oppose defendant's motion, arguing that the existence of a material factual dispute precludes summary judgment. Oral argument on defendant's motion was held on May 14, 2009. (See Doc. No. 63, Transcript of Oral Argument ("Oral Arg. Tr.").) For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion is granted and the case is dismissed in its entirety.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts set forth below are taken from the parties' statements and counterstatements pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1,*fn1 together with the supporting depositions and documentary evidence submitted by the parties in connection with defendant's motion for summary judgment. Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts are uncontested. The court has considered whether the parties have proffered admissible evidence in court. (See Local Civil Rule 56.1(b).) Nevertheless, this court allowed plaintiffs to file a counterstatement pursuant to Rule 56.1 and has considered that submission in its ruling on defendant's summary judgment motion. (See Oral Arg. Tr. at 16-19.)

On August 1, 2004, plaintiffs were passengers on American Airlines flight 1617 scheduled to depart from LaGuardia Airport, New York, at 3:00 p.m. and arrive in Orlando, Florida, at approximately 5:30 p.m. (Doc. No. 56, Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Statement ("Def. 56.1 Stmt.") ¶ 2; Doc. No. 55, Declaration of David S. Rutherford ("Rutherford Decl."), Ex. C, Deposition of Reginald Point-du-Jour ("Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep.") at 12--14, 45--46; Rutherford Decl., Ex. D, Deposition of Rose Mirna Point-du-Jour ("Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep.") at 9.) Captain James Georgen ("Captain Georgen"), an employee of defendant with thirty-five years experience as a commercial pilot, commanded the Boeing 757 that day with assistance from First Officer Peter Pastore and a group of flight attendants. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 4-5; Rutherford Decl., Ex. E, Deposition of James Georgen ("Georgen Dep.") at 5-7, 9-10, 14.) Plaintiffs testified that after being issued their boarding passes, defendant's ticketing agent informed them that the plane was experiencing "a problem" and was not ready for passengers. (Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 16--17; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 16.) Consequently, plaintiffs waited "over two hours" before boarding the aircraft. (Doc. No. 60, Affidavit of Rose Mirna Point-du-Jour ("Mrs. Point-du-Jour Aff.") ¶ 2; see Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 16--17.) Plaintiffs also testified that no specific explanation for the delay was given. (Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 17; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 17--18.)

Immediately upon boarding, plaintiffs sat in their assigned adjacent seats in the center of the aircraft and fastened their seatbelts. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3; Mr. Point-duJour Dep. at 25; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 22.) Their seatbelts remained fastened for the duration of the flight. (Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 50--51; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 42-- 43.)

Plaintiffs testified that prior to takeoff, the "airplane completely lost power." (Doc. No. 60, Affidavit of Reginald Point-du-Jour ("Mr. Point-du-Jour Aff.") ¶ 2; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Aff. ¶ 2.) After forty-five minutes elapsed, the pilot announced takeoff and the plane departed. (Mrs. Point-duJour Aff. ¶ 2; Mr. Point-du-Jour Aff. ¶ 2.) According to Captain Georgen, the plane did not experience any pre-flight power outages and departed on time. (Georgen Dep. at 17--18.) The foregoing disputed facts regarding the pre-flight power outage and flight delay are not material to the claims alleged because the events giving rise to plaintiffs' claims occurred after takeoff. Moreover, plaintiffs do not claim that the aircraft lost power after takeoff.

As the aircraft approached Savannah, Georgia, the aircraft experienced brief turbulence. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9). The turbulence, which lasted "five to ten seconds" (Georgen Dep. at 31), was described as "'shak[ing]' followed by 'one jolt'" (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9; see Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 44--45). Captain Georgen described the turbulence as a "gust of wind from somewhere." (Georgen Dep. at 29.) The precise origin and location of the turbulence, however, remained unknown to Captain Georgen. (Id.) Captain Georgen testified that had he known the origin of the wind gust responsible for the turbulence, he "wouldn't have flown there." (Id.)

Plaintiffs testified that the turbulence caused their backs and legs to make contact with the seat backings and extended tray tables. (Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 62-64; Mr. Point-du-Jour Aff. ¶ 2; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 52--53; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Aff. ¶ 2.) Mrs. Point-du-Jour additionally testified that her left shoulder made contact with her seat. (Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 52.) Plaintiffs allege that the turbulence occurred without announcement or warning from the pilot or aircraft personnel. (Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 55--57; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 41--42.)

By contrast, Captain Georgen testified that after overhearing some conversations about inclement weather over air traffic control and observing it on the weather radar, he directed the flight crew and passengers to take their seats and secure their seatbelts. (Georgen Dep. at 20--21, 26; see Rutherford Decl., Ex. F, Debrief Report of Captain James Georgen ("Debrief Report") ¶ 1.) Captain Georgen further testified that the "seat belt" sign was illuminated at the time of his announcement.*fn2 (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8.)

Plaintiffs testified that following the turbulence incident, the pilot announced that the plane had dropped "fifteen hundred feet." (Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 49; Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 42--43.) Captain Georgen has no recollection of making such an announcement. (Georgen Dep. at 35.) The court will accept as true for the purposes of this passengers and crew to take their seats and fasten their seatbelts, it is not material because plaintiffs had their seat belts fastened at all relevant times. (See Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3.)

The parties agree that the incident was isolated and the duration of the flight was uninterrupted. (Mrs. Point-duJour Dep. at 68; see Georgen Dep. at 31, 44; Debrief Report ¶ 4.) Thirty--five minutes after the encounter with the turbulence, the plane landed safely in Orlando. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs were escorted off the plane in wheelchairs and transported to a local Orlando hospital where they received medical attention for their alleged injuries. (Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 72--73; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 69-- 71.) They were examined, given "tablets for the pain," and discharged later that day with instructions to pursue treatment with a New York physician if they continued to experience discomfort. (Mr. Point-du-Jour Dep. at 78--81; Mrs. Point-duJour Dep. at 77--81.)

DISCUSSION

In this negligence action, plaintiffs allege that defendant's failure to properly maintain and operate the aircraft, prevent overcrowding, and warn passengers of turbulence, proximately caused the plaintiffs' injuries. (See Rutherford Decl., Ex. A, Verified Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 4--5; Mrs. Point-du-Jour Aff. ¶ 2; Mr. Point-du-Jour Aff. ¶ 2.) Defendant contends that plaintiffs' inability to proffer evidence supporting the elements of their negligence claim warrants summary judgment. (See Doc. No. 57, Defendant's Memorandum of ...


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