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Aboeid v. Saudi Arabian Airlines Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

August 9, 2013


Decided August 8, 2013

Page 301

For Abdelgadir Aboeid, on behalf of his seven minor children, Mona Abdelgadir, Plaintiffs: Thatcher A. Stone, Thatcher A. Stone, New York, NY.

For Saudi Arabian Airlines Corporation, Defendant: Allison M Surcouf, Bartholomew Banino, Stephen J. Fearon, Condon & Forsyth LLP, New York, NY.


Page 302


HON. WILLIAM F. KUNTZ, II, United States District Judge.

Abdelgadir Aboeid (" Mr. Aboeid" ), his wife Mona Abdelgadir (" Mrs. Abdelgadir" ), and Mr. Aboeid on behalf of their seven minor children (collectively, " Plaintiffs" or " the Aboeid family" ) commenced this action against Saudi Arabian Airlines Corporation (" Defendant" or " Saudi Airlines" ). This action arises from a series of events beginning with Defendant's allegedly discriminatory treatment of the Aboeid family at John F. Kennedy International Airport (" JFK" ), prior to their departing flight from the United States, and ending with the family being stranded in Saudi Arabia for more than one week after missing their return flight back to the United States. Plaintiffs seek recovery on four causes of action: (1) breach of contract, (2) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (3) violation of their civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (" Section 1981" ), and (4) violation of their civil rights under N.Y. Executive Law § 296 (the " New York Human Rights Law" or the " NYHRL" ).

This Court conducted a four-day bench trial in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1330(a). Having reviewed the testimony and exhibits, as well as the parties' post-trial submissions, this Court, pursuant to Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, makes the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds Defendant not liable on each of Plaintiffs' four causes of action.

I. Findings of Fact

A. The Plaintiffs' Departing Flight

On February 21, 2008, Plaintiffs purchased nine roundtrip electronic tickets aboard Saudi Airlines for travel from JFK to Khartoum, Sudan, with layovers in Saudi Arabia on both the departure and return flights. Ex. 3-A (" Plaintiffs' Tickets" ). The Plaintiffs' trip was scheduled to begin from JFK on June 7, 2008, with the departure layover in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and to return to JFK on July 24, 2008, with the return layover in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Id . Plaintiffs purchased their electronic tickets through a travel agency in North Carolina, where Plaintiffs reside. Tr. 44:6-7, 46:13-14. The tickets were non-refundable, non-endorsable, and non-transferable. Ex. 3-A; Tr. 271:10-13, 271:25-272:3, 282:8-23. Saudi Airlines' seating policy was to assign seats on a first-come, first-served basis. Tr. 516:18-517:5. One of the terms and conditions of Plaintiffs' tickets was that Plaintiffs must arrive at the airport " early enough to complete departure procedures." Id . at 223:25-224:20, 405:20-406:13; Ex. 3-C (" Saudi Arabian Airlines Terms, Conditions, Passenger Advice, Notices and Liability Limitations" ).

On June 7, 2008, Plaintiffs arrived at Terminal One at JFK, intending to board Saudi Airlines Flight SV 22, scheduled to depart at 2:00 PM. Tr. 49:24-50:4, 115:24-116:18; Ex. 3-A. The Aboeid family arrived in a van that they had rented in Greensboro, North Carolina, and driven from Greensboro to JFK. Tr. 50:5-14. The Aboeid family arrived at Terminal One on June 7, 2008 at approximately noon. Id . at 114:8-116:6; see also Ex. 27 (" Deposition of Abdelgadir Aboeid" or " Abdelgadir Dep. Tr." ) at 20:17-25. After arriving at Terminal One, the family disembarked from the van and entered the terminal with sixteen to eighteen pieces of

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luggage that they intended to check on the flight from JFK to Riyadh. Tr. at 52:15-53:3, 53:20-21; see also Abdelgadir Dep. Tr. at 21:21-22:6; Ex. I-1 (" Saudi Airlines Flight SV 22 Boarding Data" ).

After dropping off his wife, children, and the baggage at Terminal One, Mr. Aboeid asked a taxi driver to lead him from Terminal One to the National Car Rental return facility at JFK. Tr. 52:23-53:3, 53:22-54:2. Mr. Aboeid, following the taxi, then drove the van to the rental car return facility. Id . at 53:22-54:16. Mr. Aboeid returned the rental van to National Car Rental at 12:25 P.M. See Ex. K (" National Rental Car Receipt" ); see also Tr. 119:16-120:10, 120:12-121:3. After leaving the van at the National Car Rental facility, Mr. Aboeid rode in the taxi back to Terminal One, where he rejoined his family in the vicinity of the Saudi Airlines check-in area sometime after 12:30 P.M. Tr. 56:22-57:5, 463:19-464:1, 469:15-19.

When the Aboeid family reached the check-in counter, Mr. Aboeid handed the family's passports and ticket receipts to the check-in agent. Tr. 58:6-22. Rather than check in the Aboeid family for their flight, the check-in agent asked the family to exit the line and wait by the side. Id . at 59:5-15. The family then moved to the side with their luggage and waited for some period of time.[1] Id . at 59:16-60:2, 129:12-17. As Plaintiffs waited off to the side, passengers who had been standing in line behind the Aboeid family checked in without incident. Id at 59:22-24. Ultimately, Plaintiffs were among the last of the passengers to be checked in and board the flight. Id . at 60:3-8.

Plaintiffs were the only black passengers waiting in line to check in for Saudi Airlines Flight SV 22. Id . at 64:9-11. Plaintiffs believe they were asked to exit the line and wait by the side because of their race. Id . at 64:2-8, 64:17-65:20. Plaintiffs claim a Saudi Airlines employee, Taher Abdullah, walked by several times to " make sure [the Aboeid family] didn't go back to the line." Id . at 126:25-127:8, 161:16-25.

At some point, Plaintiffs' sixteen to eighteen pieces of checked baggage were placed on a trolley and moved to the airplane. Tr. 61:18-22. Various defense witnesses described Saudi Airlines' normal procedure for weighing baggage, whether for individual travelers or large groups. Id . at 329:8-23, 349:17-351:3, 446:2-21; see also Ex. M (" Deposition of Sevan Jacoby" or " Jacoby Dep. Tr." ) at 55:10-19, 56:14-25. One defense witness, Rennie Haradan, testified that even in the case of a large group with many bags, Saudi Airlines would weigh each bag individually rather than weigh them in bulk and assign each bag an average weight. Tr. 350:23-351:5. None of the defense witnesses testified they personally observed or otherwise knew Plaintiffs' bags were weighed during Plaintiffs' segregation from the check-in line. See, e.g., id . at 349:25-350:2. The weight of Plaintiffs' checked luggage was noted on the Passenger Manifest as " 18/438," indicating their number and total weight-- i.e., eighteen pieces at 438 kilograms. Id . at 332:25-333:7; see also Ex. I-1.

Check-in for Flight SV 22 " closed" at 1:00 P.M. on June 7, 2008, one hour prior to the scheduled departure time of 2:00 P.M. Id . at 398:1-25, 399:16-400:2, 403:2-8, 451:22-454:8; see also Ex. 4-1 (" Passenger Services Procedures Manual" ), at Section 9-6-1, ¶ (B)(b)(3). The " closing" of a flight normally means that no passengers who arrive at the check-in desk after that time

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will be issued boarding passes. Tr. 269:20-270:8; see also Ex. L (" Deposition of Sami Baqader" or " Baqader Dep. Tr." ) at 90:8-91:17. A flight may, however, be " reopened" at the airline's discretion to accommodate late-arriving passengers if issuing such passengers boarding passes after the flight has " closed" will not jeopardize the timely departure of the flight. Tr. 501:23-502:4. The Aboeid family eventually received boarding passes, proceeded through airport security and passport control, reached ...

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