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Baez v. JetBlue Airways Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 16, 2015

ROSALINDA BAEZ, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORPORATION, TIFFANY MALABET, Defendants-Appellees.[*]

Argued June 15, 2015.

Plaintiff Rosalinda Baez appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Vitaliano, J.), granting summary judgment in favor of defendants JetBlue Airways Corporation and Tiffany Malabet on Baez's claims of negligence, defamation, false arrest, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Because defendants are immune from liability under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, 49 U.S.C. § 44941, we affirm.

JON L. NORINSBERG, New York, New York, for Appellant Rosalinda Baez.

ROBERT J. BURNS (with Christopher G. Kelly and Sarah G. Passeri on the brief), Holland & Knight LLP, New York, New York, for Appellee JetBlue Airways Corporation.

GEORGE S. KOLBE, Raven & Kolbe, LLP, New York, New York, for Appellee Tiffany Malabet.

Before: JACOBS, RAGGI, and LYNCH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

DENNIS JACOBS, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff Rosalinda Baez brought claims against defendants JetBlue Airways Corporation (" JetBlue" ) and its former employee, Tiffany Malabet (" Malabet" ), arising out of an encounter at John F. Kennedy Airport (" JFK Airport" ), in which Baez was reported by Malabet for making an alleged bomb threat and was then arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (" FBI" ). Baez arrived at the gate after the boarding door was closed; her checked luggage was already on board. Apparently unhappy about this state of affairs, Baez made statements, or raised questions, about the possibility of a bomb in her luggage. Malabet, who was working at the gate, acted on this information by reporting it. As law enforcement officers eventually determined after the flight was rerouted and the plane searched, there was no bomb on board.

Baez asserted claims under both federal and state law against JetBlue and Malabet, including (at issue on this appeal) negligence and defamation claims against JetBlue, and claims of false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation against Malabet. The district court dismissed the case on summary judgment on the ground that defendants are immune from liability under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, 49 U.S.C. § 44941 (" ATSA" ). The court ruled in the alternative that Baez's claims lacked merit.

Baez appealed, arguing: that a jury should decide whether Malabet's statements relaying what Baez had said were materially false and therefore outside the protection of the ATSA; that the district court erred in concluding Malabet's statements were materially true; and that Malabet is not entitled to immunity because she made the report at issue to her JetBlue supervisor, rather than to the Transportation Security Administration (" TSA" ) or other law enforcement officers.

There is no dispute about the salient fact in this case: Baez made reference to an arguably hypothetical bomb in her luggage, which had made it onto the JetBlue plane that she missed. We conclude that no reasonable jury could have found Malabet's statements relaying that reference to be materially false, and that the report she made, first to her supervisor, and subsequently to law enforcement officials, is covered by the ATSA. Accordingly, summary judgment in favor of defendants was correct on the ground that defendants are entitled to immunity.[2] Affirmed.

BACKGROUND

Baez arrived at JFK Airport at about 6:20 in the morning, and checked in at the JetBlue counter for her 8:05 flight to Austin. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 11-12. She did not, however, appear at her gate until minutes prior to the flight's scheduled departure. As Baez approached the gate, Malabet told her that she had just closed the plane's door and that Baez would not be permitted to board. Id. ¶ 19.

Baez, upset by this turn of events, asked Malabet about her checked luggage. According to Baez, Malabet informed her that her luggage would remain on the plane and she would be able to retrieve it in Austin when she got there on a later flight. Id. ¶ ¶ 23-24. By Baez's own account, Baez then made cryptic reference to the possibility of a bomb in her luggage: " Isn't it a security risk to let a bag go on a plane without a passenger, what if there was a bomb in the bag?" Id. ΒΆ 25. Baez alleged that Malabet responded: " TSA agents would ...


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