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Libby Brauner, Francois Leichtag, and Ann Leichtag v. Stern & Stern

April 12, 2012

LIBBY BRAUNER, FRANCOIS LEICHTAG, AND ANN LEICHTAG, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
STERN & STERN DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in New York state court, alleging that British Airways PLC ("British Air") failed to honor first-class tickets to London that had been purchased by plaintiff Libby Brauner ("Brauner") for the benefit of Francois Leichtag ("Mr. Leichtag") and his wife, Ann Leichtag ("Mrs. Leichtag"), using credit card reward points. As a result, Mr. and Mrs. Leichtag had to purchase same-day tickets to London and fly in coach class. British Air has neither reimbursed the Leichtags for the cost of their replacement tickets nor returned to Brauner the mileage points she used to purchase the tickets. British Air removed the action to federal court, and the plaintiffs timely moved to remand to state court on the ground that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the action. Because this court has diversity jurisdiction over the action, the plaintiffs' motion to remand is denied.

BACKGROUND

A. Factual Allegations of the Complaint

According to the plaintiffs' state-court complaint, Brauner used a Chase credit card that allowed her to accrue air mile points in exchange for making purchases on the credit card. Compl. ¶ 5 (ECF No. 1). At the end of each monthly billing cycle, any air mile points that Brauner had accumulated through using the card were transferred to Brauner's British Airways Air Miles account. Id. Brauner's contract specifically provided that she could apply her reward miles to tickets in "any name requested." Id. ¶ 25.

On or about June 15, 2011, Brauner used 150,000 of her accumulated air miles to purchase two first-class tickets on British Air flight number 174, traveling from New York, John F. Kennedy Airport to London Heathrow Airport on June 22, 2011. Id. ¶ 7. The tickets were purchased in the names of Mr. and Mrs. Leichtag. Id. The monetary value of the tickets was approximately $14,000. Id. British Air confirmed that the bookings were "confirmed." Id. ¶ 9.

However, when Mr. and Mrs. Leichtag arrived at the airport on June 22, 2011, in order to board their flight to London, British Air representatives informed them that their tickets were "invalid." Id. ¶ 10. The representatives failed to explain why the tickets had been canceled and refused to speak with Brauner on the phone to resolve the problem. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. As a result, Mr. and Mrs. Leichtag were "highly embarrassed and distressed," and were forced to buy two economy-class tickets at a market price of $1,800 in order to board their flight. Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

Afterward, British Air froze Brauner's air miles account and removed all of her remaining air miles, which by then totaled 146,351, the monetary value of which was approximately $13,000. Id. ¶ 15. Since that date, Brauner continued to use her British Air credit card, further accruing 124,692 air miles, with a monetary value of approximately $11,000, which were also systematically expunged from her account each month. Id. ¶ 16. British Air has never returned to Brauner the 150,000 air miles she used to purchase the Leichtags' tickets, nor have they refunded to the Leichtags the $1,800 they expended to purchase their replacement tickets. Id. ¶¶ 17-18.

Mr. Leichtag is a prominent Rabbi in the local Orthodox Chassidic community in Brooklyn, New York. Id. ¶ 3. The Leichtags allege they were singled out for discriminatory treatment due to their religious beliefs, which were evident to British Air from their appearance and their requests for kosher meals on each occasion that they flew. Id. ¶¶ 37-38. In addition, Mr. Leichtag suffers from serious back pain which makes "travel in cramped economy class airplane seats to be extremely uncomfortable." Id. ¶ 3. All three plaintiffs suffered emotional distress from the experience, and Mr. Leichtag suffered physical distress as well. Id. ¶ 33. In addition, all three plaintiffs' reputations have been irreparably damaged in their religious, business, and social community because of the experience. Id. ¶¶ 19, 32.

B. Procedural History

The plaintiffs filed this action in the Supreme Court of the State of New York for the County of Kings on December 7, 2011. See Removal Notice ¶ 1 (ECF No. 1). The complaint asserted causes of action for (1) breach of contract, on behalf of Brauner; (2) breach of a third-party contract, on behalf of the Leichtags; (3) an injunction ordering British Air to restore all of Brauner's air miles and a declaratory judgment that all of Brauner's air miles that were previously removed are valid; (4) negligent or willful defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (5) unlawful discrimination based on religious affiliation in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law and the U.S. Constitution. Compl. ¶¶ 20-40. The plaintiffs sought damages totaling roughly $2,285,000,*fn1 an injunction requiring British Air to restore all of Brauner's air miles to her account, and an award for plaintiffs' legal fees and costs. Id.

British Air was served with the Summons and Verified Complaint on January 6, 2011. Id. ¶ 2. On January 24, 2012, British Air removed this action to federal court on the asserted grounds of diversity and federal question jurisdiction, the latter of which was premised on this case's arising under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention.*fn2 Id. ¶ 4.

The plaintiffs filed the instant motion to remand on February 14, 2012. Remand Mo. (ECF No. 4). The court has entertained full briefing on the motion, ...


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