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Fawemimo v. American Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 30, 2017



          P. Kevin Castel United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Janet Fawemimo, who is proceeding pro se, brings negligence claims related to injuries that she allegedly suffered while taking her seat on an aircraft. On May 31, 2016, after the close of discovery, defendant American Airlines, Inc. (“American”) filed a motion for summary judgment. (Docket # 38.) This Court granted three requests from Ms. Fawemimo to extend the deadline to file opposition papers. (Docket #43-48.) Although the deadline was eventually extended to September 5, 2016, Ms. Fawemimo never filed opposition papers. American noted as much in its September 16, 2016 letter to the Court, a copy of which was sent to Ms. Fawemimo. (Docket # 49.) Ms. Fawemimo has made no further communications with the Court, and the Court reviews American's motion unopposed.

         For the reasons explained, Ms. Fawemimo's negligence claims are preempted by federal aviation laws. American's motion for summary judgment is therefore granted. RULE 56 STANDARD.

         Summary judgment “shall” be granted “if 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.” Rule 56(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . .” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). On a motion for summary judgment, the court must “construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the movant.” Delaney v. Bank of Am. Corp., 766 F.3d 163, 167 (2d Cir. 2014) (quotation marks omitted). It is the initial burden of the movant to come forward with evidence on each material element of his claim or defense, demonstrating that he is entitled to relief, and the evidence on each material element must be sufficient to entitle the movant to relief in its favor as a matter of law. Vt. Teddy Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 2004).

         When a motion for summary judgment is unopposed, as it is here, courts “must review the motion . . . and determine from what it has before it whether the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law, ” because “the district court may not grant the motion without first examining the moving party's submission to determine if it has met its burden of demonstrating that no material issue of fact remains for trial.” Id. at 246, 244 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Moreover, in determining whether the moving party has met this burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue for trial, the district court may not rely solely on the statement of undisputed facts contained in the moving party's Rule 56.1 statement. It must be satisfied that the citation to evidence in the record supports the assertion.” Id. (citation omitted).

         Courts afford special solicitude to pro se litigants confronted with motions for summary judgment. See Graham v. Lewinski, 848 F.2d 342, 344 (2d Cir. 1988). American attached to its motion the Notice to Pro Se Litigant Who Opposes a Motion for Summary Judgment, as required by Local Civil Rule 56.2. (Docket # 42.) Although Ms. Fawemimo has submitted no opposition papers, the Court draws every reasonable inference in her favor. 766 F.3d at 167.


         Ms. Fawemimo alleges that on or about March 5, 2010, she was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 19 from JFK Airport to Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”). (Compl't ¶ 9.) She claims that while taking her seat, she “was seriously and painfully injured sustaining severe personal injuries . . . due to the reckless and dangerous TV monitor which protruded from the wall in front of and above of the plaintiff's seat (the middle seat) was painted to blend in with the wall [sic].” (Compl't ¶ 10.) According to Ms. Fawemimo, the seat “was negligently, carelessly, and dangerously too close to the wall. Consequently, plaintiff sustained a severe head injury, and bradycardia to her heart when she hit her head against the TV monitor while taking her seat.” (Compl't ¶ 11.) She alleges that she was transported from LAX to a hospital, causing her to “miss[ ] her once in a lifetime event because, Ms. Fawemimo spent the next three days at different hospitals.” (Compl't ¶ 13.) She alleges that she now suffers from “an irreversible medical problem that is attributed to this accident.” (Compl't ¶ 18.)

         The Complaint alleges that American negligently failed to provide safe seating, or to warn passengers about the potential safety issues regarding “protruding” TV monitors. (Compl't ¶ 17.) Ms. Fawemimo seeks approximately $11.5 million in compensatory damages and $21 million punitive damages. (Docket # 13.) She also seeks injunctive relief requiring an increase in the distance between aircraft seats and walls, and requiring that aircraft walls and monitors be painted different colors. (Compl't ¶ 22.)

         Discovery in this case is closed. In its motion for summary judgment, American contends that Ms. Fawemimo's claims are preempted by the Federal Aviation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 1301, et seq., as amended by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1) (“ADA”).

         “The Supremacy Clause, U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2, ‘invalidates state laws that ‘interfere with, or are contrary to, ' federal law.'” Air Transp. Ass'n of Am., Inc. v. Cuomo, 520 F.3d 218, 220 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Hillsborough Cnty. v. Automated Med. Labs., Inc., 471 U.S. 707, 712 (1985)). “Express preemption arises when a federal statute expressly directs that state law be ousted, ” whereas implied preemption arises when “Congress intended the Federal Government to occupy a field exclusively, or when state law actually conflicts with federal law.” Id. (quotation marks, alterations and citations omitted). Implied preemption applies when the federal interest in a field is “sufficiently dominant” that it precludes “supplementation by the States . . . .” Id. at 221. The Second Circuit has concluded that the FAA “does not preempt all state law tort actions, ” and that states may enact laws that do not conflict with federal statute or regulations. See id. at 224-25.

         A “determination regarding preemption is a conclusion of law . . . .” Drake v. Lab. Corp. of Am. Holdings, 458 F.3d 48, 56 (2d Cir. 2006). The ADA's preemption provision states:

Except as provided in this subsection, a State . . . may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a . . . service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation under this subpart.

49 U.S.C.A. § 41713(b)(1). None of the exceptions applies to this case, meaning that Fawemimo's negligence claims are preempted if they relate to the “service of an air carrier . . . .” See ...

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