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Viviane Joseph and Timothy Moffitt, On Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated v. Jetblue Airways Corporation

April 5, 2012

VIVIANE JOSEPH AND TIMOTHY MOFFITT, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORPORATION, A DELAWARE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs commenced this action asserting claims under New York state law against Defendant JetBlue Airways Corporation ("JetBlue") after certain JetBlue flights were diverted to Bradley International Airport ("BDL") on October 29, 2011 due to heavy winter storm conditions in the Northeast region of the United States. See Am. Compl., dkt. # 11. Plaintiffs' claims are predicated on the contention that JetBlue unlawfully and improperly confined Plaintiffs as passengers on the diverted aircrafts for a period in excess of seven (7) hours on the tarmac at BDL. Id. JetBlue moves to dismiss the action on the grounds that Plaintiffs' state law claims are expressly preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 ("ADA"), 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1), and impliedly preempted by the Federal Aviation Act ("FAA"), 49 U.S.C. §§40101 et seq., and its implementing regulations. See Mot., dkt. # 14. Additionally, Defendant contends that Plaintiffs fail to set forth facts necessary to state a claim upon which relief may be granted for each of their causes of action. Id. Plaintiffs have opposed the motion, see Opp., dlt. # 19, and JetBlue has filed a reply. See Reply, dkt. # 21.

II. BACKGROUND

On October 29, 2011, winter storm conditions in the Northeast region of the United States caused numerous flights to be diverted from New York City-area airports to Bradley International Airport ("BDL") near Hartford, Connecticut. Am. Compl., ¶ 14. Six JetBlue flights were diverted to BDL, and the named Plaintiffs were passengers on two of these flights, namely Flight 504 (Fort Lauderdale-Newark) and Flight 1013 (Boston-New York). Id., ¶¶ 10-11, 15, 21, and 33. Both named Plaintiffs are citizens and residents of Florida. Id., ¶¶ 10-11.

Plaintiffs allege that their aircrafts were stranded on the tarmac at BDL for over seven (7) hours. Id., ¶¶ 22 and 34. Plaintiffs contend that during their respective tarmac delays, "the conditions upon the aircraft became inhumane and intolerable," (id., ¶¶ 24, 37); that "rolling power outages" left the aircraft in "total darkness" for periods of time (id., ¶¶ 25, 38); that JetBlue "ran out of supplies for its passengers" and they were "left without food and drinking water" (id., ¶¶ 26, 39); and that JetBlue failed to have "potable water supplies for proper functioning of lavatories and sinks" (id., ¶¶ 27, 40). Plaintiffs also allege that "passengers began to argue and fight with one another" and "physical and verbal violence between passengers was rampant." Id., ¶¶ 24, 37. The Captain of Flight 504 is heard on a recorded conversations with BDL air traffic control tower personnel asking for a police officer to come on board and, in another conversation, for a tow of the aircraft to a gate to disembark the passengers. Id. ¶¶ 30, 31.

Plaintiffs claim that JetBlue engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices under New York's General Business Obligations Law §§ 349, 350. Specifically, they allege that JetBlue "unfairly and deceptively" diverted flights from their intended destinations and created "intolerable and inhuman conditions" on its aircraft. Id., ¶¶ 59-60.

Plaintiffs also allege that JetBlue breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in their contracts with Plaintiffs. Id., ¶¶ 64-65. According to Plaintiffs, JetBlue breached its contracts by violating the "Passenger Bill of Rights and Tarmac Contingency Plan" and by "engaging in unfair and deceptive conduct." Id., ¶ 68. Plaintiffs further allege that JetBlue "engage[ed] in inequitable and deliberate misconduct" (id., ¶ 70) and acted "deliberately indifferent to . . . any potential benefit to Plaintiffs" (id., ¶ 72) and in "bad faith" (id., ¶ 73).

Plaintiffs also bring claims for false imprisonment, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that JetBlue falsely imprisoned them by "intend[ing] to confine" its passengers and "refus[ing] to allow" them to deplane the aircraft diverted to BDL. Id., ¶¶ 76-77. Plaintiffs were aware of their confinement, repeatedly demanded their release, and did not consent to or approve of the confinement. Id., ¶¶ 76-78. Plaintiffs claim that the confinement was not privileged. Id., ¶ 80. In their negligence claim, Plaintiffs contend that JetBlue owed them a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, but breached this duty by subjecting them to rolling power outages and denying them food and water, access to medication, serviceable sinks and lavatories, the ability to exit the aircraft, and other basic human necessities. Id., ¶ 85. According to Plaintiffs, JetBlue also deviated from the standard of care by rerouting its aircraft in the direct line of a winter storm. Id., ¶ 86. Plaintiffs' claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress contends that the conditions on the aircraft "unreasonably endangered" Plaintiffs by causing them "severe emotional distress" and "fear for their safety." Id., ¶ 91.

II. DISCUSSION

a. Whether Plaintiffs' state law claims are preempted

JetBlue argues that Plaintiffs' state law claims are barred by the express preemption clause of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 ("ADA") and, to the extent Plaintiffs' state law claims relate to airline consumer protection, air safety, tarmac delays, and other areas regulated by the federal government, they are preempted by principles of implied "field preemption" and "conflict preemption" under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 ("FAA"). Plaintiffs argue that their claims are not preempted.

1. Preemption Generally

It is a "fundamental principle of the Constitution" that the Supremacy Clause gives Congress the power to preempt state law. Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council, 530 U.S. 363, 372 (2000); see U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2; Air Transp. Ass'n of Am., Inc. v. Cuomo, 520 F.3d 218, 220 (2d Cir. 2008)("ATA")(The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, article VI, clause 2, declares that "the laws of the United States ... shall be the supreme law of the land," thereby "invalidat[ing] state laws that interfere with, or are contrary to, federal law.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "When considering a claim of federal preemption, a court's principal focus is discerning whether Congress intended to displace an area of state law." Goodspeed Airport, LLC v. East Haddam Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Com'n, 681 F. Supp.2d 182, 199 (D. Conn. 2010), aff'd 634 F.3d 206 (2d Cir. 2010)(citing Crosby v. Nat'l Foreign Trade Council, 530 U.S. 363, 372 (2000); Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. State Energy Res. Conservation & Dev. Comm'n, 461 U.S. 190, 203 (1983)).

Congressional intent to preempt state law can be either express or implied. See, e.g., ATA, 520 F.3d at 220-21. Express preemption . . . is present when "a federal statute expressly directs that state law be ousted." Id. at 220. Implied preemption comes in two varieties, known as field preemption and conflict preemption. Conflict preemption arises when state law "actually conflicts with federal law," id. at 220, such that it is not possible to comply with both and "state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment" of the congressional objective. Hillsborough County v. Automated Med. Labs. Inc., 471 U.S. 707, 713, 105 S. Ct. 2371, 85 L. Ed.2d 714 (1985). Field preemption, on the other hand, is present under circumstances where it is clear that Congress intended for its regulation of a particular area (or "field") to be the only regulation, to which states and localities may not add or detract. See ATA, 520 F.3d at 221. Courts infer the presence of this congressional intent when "the pervasiveness of the federal regulation precludes supplementation by the States, where the federal interest in the field is sufficiently dominant, or where the object sought to be obtained by the federal law and the character of obligations imposed by it ... reveal the same purpose." Id. (quoting Schneidewind v. ANR Pipeline Co., 485 U.S. 293, 300, 108 S. Ct. 1145, 99 L .Ed.2d 316 (1988)) (internal quotations omitted).

Goodspeed Airport, 681 F. Supp.2d at 199 (emphasis ...


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