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Carmito Mateo and Rosa Mateo v. Jetblue Airways Corporation

January 23, 2012

CARMITO MATEO AND ROSA MATEO, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Carmito Mateo ("Carmito") and Rosa Mateo ("Rosa") brought this negligence action against defendant Jetblue Airways Corporation ("Jetblue") for damages from injuries Carmito sustained while disembarking from an aircraft.*fn1 Jetblue now moves for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Procedure 56. For the reasons stated below, that motion is granted.

I

The following facts are drawn from the parties' summary judgment submissions and are uncontested unless otherwise noted. On December 16, 2007, Carmito Mateo was a passenger on a JetBlue flight from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens County, New York. Plaintiffs maintain that, due to a physical disability, Carmito required assistance disembarking from the aircraft after it landed. A Jetblue employee attempted to carry him down the stairs exiting the aircraft, but dropped him down the final six or seven steps, injuring him.

Plaintiffs filed their first complaint in this action in New York Supreme Court, Kings County, on or around July 28, 2010, and an amended complaint on or around August 4, 2010.*fn2 The amended complaint alleges, first, that Carmito "sustained severe and protracted personal injuries" as a result of Jetblue's negligence and, second, that his wife, Rosa, also suffered "emotional and psychological damages," as well as economic damages, as a result of his injuries.

On September 10, 2010, Jetblue removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441, on the grounds that plaintiffs' claims "arise under the laws of the United States" because they are governed by the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, commonly known as the "Montreal Convention."*fn3 See Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, May 28, 1999 (entered into force on Nov. 4, 2003), reprinted in S. Treaty Doc. No. 106-45, 1999 WL 33292734 (2000).

On June 24, 2011, Jetblue filed its motion for summary judgment, contending that plaintiffs' action is time-barred under the Montreal Convention. In response, plaintiffs argue that this Court lacks jurisdiction and the case should be remanded to state court; that Jetblue should be estopped from raising a timeliness defense because the parties were engaged in settlement negotiations before the litigation began; and that Jetblue failed to meet the Convention's requirements, and therefore is not entitled to assert defenses under it.

II

A. Jurisdiction

A civil action may be removed to federal court if the federal court would have "original jurisdiction." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Jetblue contends that this Court has such jurisdiction because this action "aris[es] under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States,"28 U.S.C. § 1331, specifically the Montreal Convention. The Convention "applies to all international carriage of persons, baggage or cargo performed by aircraft for reward." Montreal Convention art. 1. It provides for carrier liability for damages caused by bodily injury of a passenger "on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking." Montreal Convention art. 17. Plaintiffs argue that their complaint contains only state law claims and is therefore not removable.

In determining subject matter jurisdiction, federal courts generally consider only allegations that would be included in a "well-pleaded complaint." Sullivan v. American Airlines, Inc., 424 F.3d 267, 271 (2d Cir. 2005). Thus, "a case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense, including the defense of pre-emption, even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties concede that the federal defense is the only question truly at issue." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987).

There is, however, "an 'independent corollary' to the well-pleaded complaint rule known as the 'complete pre-emption' doctrine." Caterpillar Inc., 482 U.S. at 393. A statute may have such "extraordinary" preemptive force that it "converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule." Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65 (1987); see also Sullivan, 424 F.3d at 272 ("When a plaintiff raises such a completely preempted state-law claim in his complaint, a court is obligated to construe the complaint as raising a federal claim and therefore 'arising under' federal law."). To determine whether a statute has complete preemptive force, the Court "must ask whether the federal statute provides 'the exclusive cause of action' for the asserted state-law claim." Sullivan, 242 F.3d at 276 (quoting Beneficial Nat. Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 9 (2005)).

Neither the Supreme Court nor the Second Circuit has spoken on whether the Montreal Convention completely preempts state law claims. The Supreme Court has held, however, that under the Warsaw Convention -- the Montreal Convention's materially similar predecessor -- "recovery for a personal injury suffered on board [an] aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking, if not allowed under the Convention, is not available at all." El Al Isr. Airlines v. Tsui Yuan Tseng, 525 U.S. 155, 161 (1999) (internal citations omitted). Further, the Second Circuit has described the Warsaw Convention as "creat[ing] a comprehensive liability system to serve as the exclusive mechanism for remedying injuries suffered in the course of the 'international transportation of persons, baggage, or goods performed by aircraft.'" King v. American Airlines, Inc., 284 F.3d 352, 356-57 (2002) (quoting the Warsaw Convention, art. 1). There is no reason to conclude that the Montreal Convention is of more limited scope than the Warsaw Convention, and the two Conventions "have substantially the same preemptive effect." Paradis v. Ghana Airways Ltd., 348 F. Supp. 2d 106 (S.D.N.Y. 2004).*fn4 Thus, the Montreal Convention is the exclusive means of redressing injuries that fall within its purview. See King, 284 F.3d at 356-57. This suggests that the Convention provides "the exclusive cause of action" for such claims and therefore has complete preemptive power. See Sullivan, 242 F.3d at 276.

Other courts, including several in this circuit, have also concluded that the Montreal and Warsaw Conventions completely preempt state law claims. See Husmann v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 169 F.3d 1151, 1153 (8th Cir. 1999) ("[S]tate law cause of action is completely preempted by the Warsaw Convention"); Ginsberg v. American Airlines, No. 09-3226, 2010 WL 3958843 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2010) ("Like the Warsaw Convention, the Montreal Convention has been construed as having a complete preemptive effect over all claims within its scope."); Olaya v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 08-4853, 2009 WL 3242116 at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 6, 2009) (same); Singh v. N. Am. Airlines, 426 F. Supp. 2d 38, 45 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) ("[I]t is plain that the [Warsaw] Convention completely preempts those claims which fall within its scope."); Donkor v. British Airways Corp., 62 F. Supp. 2d 963, 967 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) ("[T]he Warsaw Convention completely preempts the claims that it governs."); but see Sompo Japan Ins., Inc. v. Nippon ...


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