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Santa Asencio v. Jet Blue Airways

November 7, 2012


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


Plaintiff Santa Asencio ("Asencio"), appearing pro se,files this action asserting that JetBlue Airways ("JetBlue") violated her rights by failing to provide her with adequate wheelchair assistance when she flew with her daughter, Mary Lopez ("Lopez"), from JFK Airport to Puerto Rico on July 3, 2009 and back to JFK Airport on July 10, 2009. I grant Asencio's request to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 solely for the purpose of this Order. For the reasons discussed below, the complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

A. Standard of Review

In reviewing Asencio's complaint, I am mindful that "a pro se complaint,

however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). "The policy of liberally construing pro se submissions is driven by the understanding that 'implicit in the right to self-representation is an obligation on the part of the court to make reasonable allowances to protect pro se litigants from inadvertent forfeiture of important rights because of their lack of legal training.'" Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983) (text modification omitted)). Moreover, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), a district court has an independent obligation to review a complaint filed in forma pauperis and must dismiss the complaint sua sponte if the court determines that the action "(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief."

B. Procedural History

On August 15, 2012, Santa Asencio filed the instant complaint. The complaint alleges that Ascenio requested wheelchair assistance at the airport, but JetBlue failed to provide a wheelchair on either July 3, 2009 or July 10, 2009. She alleges that "th[ese] two incidents . . . caused [her] a lot of pain, headache, anguish, insomnia, trauma based on [her] age 84 years old . . . make me feel discriminated." Compl. at 2, ECF. No. 1. This complaint arises out of the same facts and raises the same claims as a series of pro se complaints filed by Asencio's daughter, Lopez. Since it is relevant to our discussion, I briefly review the procedural history of the Lopez litigation.

On April 6, 2010 Lopez filed a pro se complaint alleging that both she and her mother, Asencio, were denied adequate wheelchair assistance while traveling on JetBlue flights on July 3, 2009 and July 10, 2009. In her amended complaint, Lopez claimed that "she and her mother [Asencio], who is also disabled, were not provided with wheelchairs in a timely fashion when they arrived at the airport in Aguadilla." See Lopez v. Jet Blue Airways, No. 10-Civ-1552, 2010 WL 3311428, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (emphasis added). When she and Asencio arrived in New York, "they were taken by wheelchair to baggage claim but were not taken to their car." Id. (emphasis added). I construed Lopez's complaint as asserting claims pursuant to the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 ("ACCA") ; and (2) Title III of of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("Title III"). Because I concluded that neither statute entitled Lopez to bring an action against JetBlue under the circumstances presented, I dismissed the action with prejudice. Id. at *3-*4.

Lopez appealed my decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which affirmed the decision and held, as a matter of first impression, that (1) no private right of action exists for a violation of the ACCA, and (2) Title III does not apply to services provided by an air carrier in an airport terminal used primarily to facilitate air transportation. See Lopez v. JetBlue Airways, 662 F.3d 593 (2d Cir. 2011).*fn1

On January 4, 2012, Lopez filed a new action in this Court, asserting the same claims arising out of the same facts as Lopez's previously-dismissed action. By Order dated January 24, 2012, I dismissed Lopez's complaint with prejudice, holding the doctrine of res judicata "squarely bars this action." Order 2-3 Lopez v. JetBlue Airways, No. 12-Civ-0057 (E.D.N.Y. Jan 24, 2012), ECF No. 8, and I cautioned Lopez not to file additional duplicative actions. Lopez appealed this decision to the Second Circuit, but the Second Circuit summarily dismissed Lopez's appeal as lacking any basis in law or fact. See Lopez v. Jet Blue Airways Corp, No. 12-489 (2d Cir. June 27, 2012).*fn2

On July 3, 2012, Lopez filed yet another complaint in this Court asserting the exact same claims arising out of the exact same facts -- the denial of wheelchair assistance on July 3, 2009 and July 10, 2009. By Order dated July 25, 2012, I again dismissed Lopez's complaint with prejudice as barred by res judicata and again cautioned Lopez not to file additional duplicative actions. Lopez v. JetBlue Airways, No. 12-Civ-3380 (E.D.N.Y. July 25, 2012), ECF No. 10. Lopez appealed this decision to the Second Circuit. JetBlue moved to dismiss the appeal and for "appropriate relief and/or sanctions against Lopez which will bar any further lawsuits (and appeals) against JetBlue." Memo. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, Aug. 20 2012, ECF No. 16. In a decision dated October 9, 2012 the Second Circuit summarily affirmed the dismissal of Lopez's complaint. Though the Second Circuit denied JetBlue's request for sanctions, it "warned [Lopez] that the continued filing of duplicative, vexatious, or clearly meritless appeals . . . will result in the imposition of sanctions."

C. Discussion

Read liberally, Asencio's complaint may be understood to assert that JetBlue is liable under (1) the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986; and (2) Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. On September 21, 2012, JetBlue wrote a letter strongly urging this Court to summarily dismiss Asencio's complaint, arguing that "Ms. Asencio's Complaint suffers from the same deficiencies as Mary Lopez's previously adjudicated claims," and that summary dismissal is necessary "in order to obviate the need for (a) JetBlue to incur further legal fees and . . . [this] Court to waste further judicial resources." Letter from JetBlue 1, Sept. 21, 2012, ECF No. 7, In the alternative, JetBlue requests that its letter serve as a pre-motion letter pursuant to this Court's Individual Practice. Id. at 3.

I begin by considering whether Asencio is bound by the prior decision of this Court in the pro se actions brought by her daughter. The doctrine of res judicata holds that "a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action." See Monahan v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Corr., 214 F.3d. 275, 286-87 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added). While res judicata is an affirmative defense that should normally be raised by the defending party in its answer, Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c), the Supreme Court has recognized that it might be appropriate for a district court to raise the res judicata defense sua sponte in special circumstances. Arizona v. California, 530 U.S. 392, 412 (2000) ("[res judicata] is not based solely on the defendant's interest in avoiding the burdens of twice defending a suit, but is also based on the avoidance of unnecessary judicial waste.") (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Scherer v. Equitable Life Assurance Soc'y of U.S., 347 F.3d 394, 398 n. 4 (2d Cir. 2003) (noting that a court is free to raise the defense of res judicata sua sponte"); 18 Charles Alan Wright, ...

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