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Baez v. Jetblue Airways

October 15, 2010

ROSALINDA BAEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS AND TIFFANY MALABET, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nicholas G. Garaufis, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Rosalinda Baez ("Baez") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law against JetBlue Airways ("JetBlue"), and Tiffany Malabet ("Malabet") (collectively, "Defendants"). (Am. Compl. ("Complaint") (Docket Entry # 35) ¶¶ 1, 2.) Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated her constitutional rights by subjecting her to false arrest and depriving her of a fair trial. (Id. ¶¶ 73, 77.) Plaintiff further claims that Defendants defamed her and intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her. (Id. ¶¶ 83, 85.) Malabet moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Malabet Mot. to Dismiss (Docket Entry # 46).) JetBlue moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (JetBlue Mot. to Dismiss (Docket Entry # 36).) JetBlue also moves for sanctions against Baez pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. (JetBlue Mot. for Sanctions (Docket Entry # 38).) For the following reasons, JetBlue's motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part, and its motion for sanctions is denied. Malabet's motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

A.The Parties

Plaintiff Rosalinda Baez is a citizen and resident of Texas. (Complaint ¶ 1.) Defendant JetBlue is a Delaware corporation licensed to do business in the state of New York. (Id. ¶ 2.) JetBlue's principal place of business is in Queens, New York. (Id.) Defendant Tiffany Malabet is a citizen and resident of New York. (Id. ¶ 3.) JetBlue employed Malabet as a gate agent at John F. Kennedy International Airport ("JFK") in Queens, New York.

B. Factual Background

On April 15, 2008, Baez arrived at JFK at 6:23 a.m. (Complaint ¶ 11.) She checked in at the JetBlue counter and received a boarding pass for her 8:05 a.m. flight to Austin, Texas. (Id. ¶ 12.) At the check-in counter, a JetBlue representative informed Baez that her plane would depart from Gate 18, but failed to tell her that Gate 18 was located in a separate terminal. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Baez proceeded through security and waited for her flight in the wrong terminal. (Id. ¶ 15.) An hour later, when Baez did not hear her flight announced, she spoke with a JetBlue representative who told her that the flight was departing from a different terminal. (Id. ¶ 16.)

When Baez arrived at the correct gate, the waiting area was empty. (Id. ¶ 17.) Baez approached JetBlue agent Tiffany Malabet, who was exiting the jet bridge. (Id.) Baez asked to board the plane, which was still at the gate. (Id. ¶ 18.) Malabet told Baez, "I just closed the flight and you ain't getting on it." (Id. ¶19.) Baez told Malabet she had been waiting in the wrong terminal for over an hour, but Malabet refused to let her board the plane. (Id. ¶ 22.)

Baez then asked Malabet what would happen to her luggage if she were to board a different flight. (Id. ¶ 23.) Malabet told Baez that her bag would be in Austin when she arrived. (Id. ¶ 24.) Baez responded, "[t]hat 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. ¶ 25.) Malabet said that if there were a bomb in the bag, Transportation Security Administration ("TSA") officials would know, to which plaintiff replied, "TSA -- my ass." (Id. ¶ 26.) Baez and Malabet then parted ways. (Id. ¶ 27.) Baez's flight remained at the gate for an additional thirty minutes before departing. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) During that time, Malabet did not report Baez's comment to the TSA or JetBlue. (Id. ¶ 30.)

Baez returned to the JetBlue customer service counter to re-book her flight. (Id. ¶ 31.) While an agent was re-booking Baez's flight, Malabet approached the agent and said, "this one thinks she's getting on a flight . . . [s]he['s] nasty, I['m] gonna mark her record." (Id. ¶¶ 32, 33.) Baez commented that she was a frequent flier with JetBlue and asked why Malabet was treating her so rudely, but Malabet did not respond. (Id. ¶ 34.) The booking agent gave Baez a boarding pass for the 1:05 p.m. flight to Austin. (Id. ¶ 35.)

While she waited for her flight, Baez filed an online complaint with JetBlue that identified Malabet by her first name and detailed their exchanges at the gate and at the customer service counter. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 37.) In response to Baez's complaint, JetBlue officials spoke with Malabet about the incident while Baez was still in the airport waiting for her flight. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 39.) Malabet told the JetBlue officials that, during their conversation at the jet bridge, Baez had said, "[w]ell I have a bomb in my bag, so are you guys going to turn the plane around, 'cause I need my bag." (Id. ¶ 41.) Malabet also told the officials that Baez had said that, "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. ¶ 42.)

In response to Malabet's accusations, a JetBlue security agent approached Baez and directed her to accompany him to the security office. (Id. ¶ 46.) Then, for approximately five hours, law enforcement officials interrogated Baez about her patriotism, whether she had suicidal thoughts, and whether she used prescription drugs.*fn2 (Id. ¶¶ 46-48.) They repeatedly asked Baez to admit that she had made a bomb threat, but she refused. (Id. ¶ 49.) After finishing the interrogation, the officials arrested Baez and "charged" her with making a false bomb threat. (Id. ¶ 50.)

The story of Baez's arrest garnered international media attention, receiving coverage in the United States, South Africa, Denmark, Germany, and Sweden. (Complaint ¶ 54.) Baez alleges the publicity damaged her personal and professional reputation, and permanently impaired her employment prospects. (Id. ¶¶ 53, 54). Prior to this incident, Baez had never been arrested. (Id. ¶ 55.)

C. Procedural Background

Baez filed her initial complaint in this action against JetBlue and Tiffany "Doe" on February 12, 2009. (Docket Entry # 1.) In it, she asserted four federal claims under 42 U.S.C § 1983: false arrest, malicious prosecution, malicious abuse of process, and denial of the right to a fair trial. (Id. ¶¶ 52, 55, 65, 70.) She also asserted state law claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, malicious abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, prima facie tort, negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent supervision, negligent retention, unjust enrichment, and defamation. (Id. ¶ 52, 55, 65, 70, 74, 79, 84, 88, 94.) On April 15, 2009, JetBlue moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (See Docket Entry # 9.)

On June 10, 2009, Baez moved for default judgment against Tiffany "Doe" for "failure to plead or otherwise defend" herself under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55 and Local Rule 55.2. (Docket Entry # 17.) On June 15, 2009, JetBlue moved to dismiss all claims against Tiffany "Doe" for failure to effect service on her pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m). (Docket Entry # 19.) On February 17, 2009, Baez left a summons for Tiffany "Doe" with a JetBlue employee described in the summons as a "co-worker." (See Docket Entry # 4.) Baez subsequently mailed a summons and complaint addressed to "Doe" to JetBlue headquarters. (Id.) Malabet has not worked at JetBlue since December 31, 2008. (Carbone Aff. (Docket Entry # 22) ¶ 2.) Furthermore, Baez never asked JetBlue to further identify Tiffany "Doe." (Burns Aff. (Docket Entry # 21) ¶ 2.)

On August 3, 2009, Judge Charles P. Sifton granted JetBlue's motion to dismiss Baez's claims against JetBlue and denied as moot JetBlue's motion to dismiss the claims against Tiffany "Doe." (Memorandum and Order dated August 3, 2009 ("Sifton Order") (Docket Entry # 26) 1.) Judge Sifton also granted Baez leave to amend her claims for false arrest, negligence, denial of the right to a fair trial, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation, and granted ...


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