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John Giuffre, Lauren Giuffre, and John Giuffre On Behalf of His Two Minor Children v. Delta Air Lines

September 11, 2012

JOHN GIUFFRE, LAUREN GIUFFRE, AND JOHN GIUFFRE ON BEHALF OF HIS TWO MINOR CHILDREN,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DELTA AIR LINES, INC.,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs John Giuffre, Lauren Giuffre and John Giuffre on behalf of his two minor children ("Plaintiffs") brought the instant action against defendant Delta Air Lines, Inc. ("Defendant"), seeking to recover damages pursuant to 14 C.F.R. Part 250, breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, because they were not allowed to board a flight for which they had purchased tickets. Defendant moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

On August 3, 2009, Plaintiffs were scheduled to take a flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport ("JFK") in Queens, New York to Orlando, Florida, departing at 8:15 a.m. (See Def.'s 56.1 Stmnt., Dkt. Entry 40, Ex. B. at 4.) Plaintiffs arrived at JFK at 7:00 a.m. and entered a curbside check-in line at approximately 7:06 a.m. (Id. ¶ 2; Pls.' R. 56.1 Stmnt. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Dkt. Entry 43 ("Pls.' 56.1 Stmnt."), ¶ 2.) When Plaintiffs entered the line, there were two or three people in front of them and Plaintiffs did not reach the front of the line until 7:19 a.m. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmnt. ¶¶ 3-6; Pls.' 56.1 Stmnt. ¶¶ 3-6.) Upon reaching the counter, the curbside check-in agent informed Plaintiffs that they would not be able to check-in with baggage because it was less than one hour before their 8:15 a.m. flight. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmnt. ¶¶ 6-7; Pls.' 56.1 Stmnt. ¶¶ 6-7.)

Defendant offered to rebook Plaintiffs on a different flight, but Plaintiffs declined because the alternate flight would not arrive in Orlando until much later in the day and they would have two layovers en route. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmnt. ¶ 11; Pls.' 56.1 Stmnt. ¶ 11; see also Def.'s 56.1 Stmnt. Ex. C at 34.) Instead, Plaintiffs purchased substitute transportation to Orlando that arrived at approximately the same time as their originally scheduled flight. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmnt. ¶ 11; Pls.' 56.1 Stmnt. ¶ 11.)

Plaintiffs brought this action seeking damages allegedly sustained from not being allowed to board their original flight. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant's failure to allow Plaintiffs to board their flight without providing compensation violated the "denied boarding compensation" rule, 14 C.F.R. Part 250, and was a breach of the terms of their contract of carriage with Defendant, as well as a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in that contract. (See generally Compl., Dkt. Entry 1.) Defendant moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that: i) the denied boarding compensation rule is inapplicable to Plaintiffs' claims because it only governs customers who are not allowed to board an overbooked aircraft; ii) as a matter of law, Plaintiffs cannot establish their breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claims; and iii) Plaintiffs' implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim is preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. (See Def.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of its Mot. for Summ. J., Dkt. Entry 41 ("Def.'s Mem.").) Plaintiffs oppose Defendant's motion, contending that: i) the denied boarding compensation rule applies to Plaintiffs; ii) Defendant is collaterally estopped from defending against this action because of a previous consent decree with the government; and iii) the state law claims are not preempted and are meritorious. (See Pls.' Mem. of P. & A. in Reply to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Dkt. Entry 44 ("Pls.' Mem.").) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where "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(c). The court must view all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, but "only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). "When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Id. A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The nonmoving party, however, may not rely on "[c]onclusory allegations, conjecture, and speculation," Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg.,156 F. 3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998), but must affirmatively "set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial," Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). "When no rational jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party because the evidence to support its case is so slight, there is no genuine issue of material fact and a grant of summary judgment is proper." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. P'ship.,22 F. 3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Dister v. Cont'l Group, Inc.,859 F. 2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir. 1988)).

DISCUSSION

I. Denied Boarding Compensation

Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs are not entitled to denied boarding compensation pursuant to 14 C.F.R. Part 250 because the regulation only provides a remedy to customers who are "bumped" from an overbooked flight. (Def.'s Mem. 3-5.) According to Defendant, the rule does not apply to Plaintiffs because it is undisputed that they were not allowed to board their flight because they were late, not because the flight was overbooked. (Id.) Plaintiffs respond that Defendant's interpretation of the regulation is too narrow and the United States Department of Transportation ("DOT") has consistently taken the position that 14 C.F.R. Part 250 applies to any passenger who arrives in a check-in line before an airlines' stated cutoff time and is not allowed to board the flight because they did not reach the counter before the cutoff. (See Pls.' Mem. 5-8.)

The plain language of the denied boarding compensation rule only covers customers who have reserved a seat on an airplane, but are denied boarding because the flight has been oversold. The section of the regulation that governs compensation provides that airlines "shall pay compensation in interstate air transportation to passengers who are denied boarding involuntarily from an oversold flight." 14 C.F.R. § 250.5(a) (emphasis added). Indeed, the entirety of 14 C.F.R. Part 250 outlines procedures airlines must follow when a flight is oversold. For example, it mandates, "in the event of an oversold flight," that "the smallest practicable number" of people with tickets shall be denied boarding, and the airline must ask for volunteers to take a different flight in return for compensation before it involuntarily denies boarding and pays the mandated compensation. 14 C.F.R. §§ 250.2a, 250.2b(a). Moreover, there is nothing in the regulation remotely suggesting it requires airlines to provide compensation to passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding for any other reason besides an oversold flight.

Here, it is undisputed that Plaintiffs were not allowed to board the flight from JFK to Orlando because Defendant determined that Plaintiffs arrived at the check-in counter too late. (Def.'s 56.1 Stmnt. ¶¶ 6-7; Pls.' 56.1 Stmnt. ¶¶ 6-7.) It is also uncontested that Plaintiffs' flight was not oversold. (See Aff. of Kimberly A. Neale, Dkt. Entry 42 ("Neale Aff."), ¶¶ 3-4.) Thus, Plaintiffs are not entitled to receive compensation pursuant to 14 C.F.R. Part 250.*fn1

In support of their broad reading of 14 C.F.R. Part 250, Plaintiffs rely on a consent order issued by the DOT, Spirit Airlines, Inc., Violations of 14 C.F.R. Part 250 et al., Order 2009-9-8 (Dep't of Transp., Sept. 17, 2009) (attached as Ex. C to Pls.' 56.1 Stmnt.) ("Spirit Order") and an e-mail, dated July 28, 2010, to Plaintiffs' counsel purportedly from a deputy assistant general counsel with the DOT discussing the denied boarding compensation rule ("DOT ...


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