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Sharon Reed v. Delta Airlines

March 23, 2011

SHARON REED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DELTA AIRLINES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The defendants, Delta Airlines, Inc. ("Delta") and Delta ticket agent DelaCruz, bring this motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The plaintiff, Sharon Reed, alleges that the defendants are liable for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligence and gross negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent misrepresentation, intentional tort, and implied contract. The defendants request that the Court grant summary judgment to the defendants as to all of the plaintiff's claims, except that the plaintiff should receive judgment for $650 plus any interest allowable by law for the unreimbursed portion of baggage fees charged to the plaintiff. In response to the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff argues that judgment should be entered in her favor in the amount of $1,275,000. The plaintiff also moves for an order pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 imposing sanctions on the defendants and requiring them to release certain information.*fn1

I.

The standards applicable to a summary judgment motion are well established. "The Court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists . . . ." Rodriguez v. City of New York, 72 F.3d 1051, 1060-61 (2d Cir. 1995). In determining whether that burden has been met, the Court is required to resolve all ambiguities and credit all factual inferences that could be drawn in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. See, e.g., Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). "It is not the province of the court itself to decide what inferences should be drawn . . .; if there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, summary judgment is improper . . . ." Howley v. Town of Stratford, 217 F.3d 141, 151 (2d Cir. 2000).

"Even when a motion for summary judgment is unopposed, the district court is not relieved of its duty to decide whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Vermont Teddy Bear Co., Inc. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 242 (2d Cir. 2004). The district court may not grant an unopposed motion for summary judgment "without first examining the moving party's submission to determine if it has met its burden of demonstrating that no material issue of fact remains for trial." Amaker v. Foley, 274 F.3d 677, 681 (2d Cir. 2001). "[I]n determining whether the moving party has met this burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue for trial, the district court may not rely solely on the statement of undisputed facts contained in the moving party's Rule 56.1 statement. It must be satisfied that the citation to evidence in the record supports the assertion." Vermont Teddy Bear, 373 F.3d at 244; see also Bank of Am., N.A. v. Vergest Ltd., No. 10 Civ. 4682, 2011 WL 92751, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 11, 2011).

Where as here, a pro se litigant is involved, although the same standards for dismissal apply, the Court must give a pro se litigant special latitude in responding to summary judgment motion. See McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir. 1999) (courts "read the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff liberally and interpret them 'to raise the strongest possible arguments that they suggest' ") (quoting Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994); Vitrano v. State Farm Ins. Co., No. 08 Civ. 00103, 2008 WL 2696156, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 18, 2008). In particular, the pro se party must be given express notice of the consequences of failing to respond appropriately to a motion for summary judgment. See McPherson, 174 F.3d at 281; Vital v. Interfaith Med. Ctr., 168 F.3d 615, 620-21 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Jenkins v. N.Y. State Banking Dept., Nos. 07 Civ. 6322 and 07 Civ. 11317, 2010 WL 2382417, *2 (S.D.N.Y. June 14, 2010.

In this case, after the plaintiff had initially filed a brief response to the motion for summary judgment, the Court issued an Order advising the plaintiff consistent with this District's Local Civil Rule 56.2 of the requirements for responding to a motion for summary judgment. The Court also provided the plaintiff with copies of Rule 56 and Local Rules 56.1 and 56.2. Rather than submitting a more detailed response to the motion, the plaintiff filed a motion seeking certain documents. The time for seeking discovery, however, had past. Moreover, the plaintiff failed to explain how the documents would affect the disposition of the motion for summary judgment. Despite the lack of a detailed response by the plaintiff, the Court scrutinized the defendants' submissions and the basis for them.

II.

The following facts are undisputed in the record.

On October 24, 2009, the plaintiff arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport ("JFK Airport") with four bags, a laptop, and a pet carrier with her puppy, "Blondie," intending to board a Delta flight to Ghana. (Affirmation of Louis R. Martinez ("Martinez Affirmation") Ex. A at 81:8-10, 85:11-14.) The plaintiff was issued her boarding pass after she paid one-thousand-dollars in cash to check the four bags, and one-hundred-dollars for Blondie's pet carrier. (Id. at 94:19-24, 102:5-8.) Through consulting a widely used computer database known as "Timatic," a Delta ticket agent discovered that the plaintiff was missing documents that Ghana required in order for her puppy Blondie to enter the country. (Def.'s 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 4-5; Martinez Affirmation Exs. B at ¶¶ 3-7, C at ¶¶ 4-5.) Upon learning she did not have the necessary documents for Blondie to enter Ghana, the plaintiff sent Blondie to her son's home instead. (Martinez Affirmation Ex. A at 99:13-18.) In response to the plaintiff's request, ticket agent DelaCruz issued the plaintiff a refund for the pet carrier fee and one of her four bags, totaling four-hundred-fifty-dollars. (Id. at 102:10-18.)

The plaintiff was unable to produce her passport at the gate because it was inadvertently sent away in Blondie's carrier bag. As a result, a Delta gate agent denied the plaintiff entry to her flight. (Id. at 105:16-19, 110:13-14.) Delta issued the plaintiff a ticket on a subsequent flight to Ghana, and retrieved one of the bags that had been checked. (Id. at 110:15-18, 122:3-18.) The plaintiff's two remaining bags were sent to Ghana on her original flight. (Id. at 121:3-18.) The plaintiff returned to the ticket counter to receive a refund for her baggage fees. However, because ticket agent DelaCruz was not there and the plaintiff had paid the baggage fees in cash, Delta was unable to refund the fees paid at that time. (Id. at 113:3-8, 116:2-15.)

The contract between Delta and the plaintiff, Delta's Contract of Carriage, consisted of the plaintiff's ticket, any applicable tariffs, and Delta's International Conditions of Carriage. (Martinez Affirmation Ex. F at ¶ 4.) The plaintiff was made aware of the applicable passenger tariffs and conditions of carriage upon arriving at the Delta check-in counters. (Martinez Affirmation Ex. G at ¶¶ 5-6.) In addition, Delta's International Conditions of Carriage were available for inspection at JFK Airport and were on file with the Department of Transportation. (Martinez Affirmation Exs. F at ¶ 6, G. at ¶ 7.)

III.

The plaintiff claims that Delta breached its contract with her when it prevented her from boarding her flight to Ghana. However, because Delta acted within its rights under its contract with the ...


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