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Alam v. American Airlines Group, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 17, 2017

FAIMUL ALAM, SHAN ANAND, W.H., and M.K., Plaintiffs,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP, INC., AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., REPUBLIC AIRWAYS HOLDINGS INC., ENVOY AIR, INC., AMERICAN EAGLE, INC., and REPUBLIC AIRLINES, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          DORA L. IRIZARRY, Chief U.S. District Judge

         On January 18, 2016, Faimul Alam, Shan Anand, W.H., and M.K., [1] (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) commenced the instant action against American Airlines Group, Inc., American Airlines, Inc., Republic Airlines, Inc., Republic Airways Holdings, Inc., Envoy Air, Inc., and American Eagle, Inc., (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants discriminated against them on the basis of their race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“§ 1981”), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, the Federal Aviation Act (“FAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 40127(a), New York State Human Rights Law (“NYHRL”), New York Executive Law § 296, and Article 4 of the New York Civil Rights Law (“NYCRL”), N.Y. Civ. Rights Law § 40. (See generally Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”), Dkt. Entry No. 14.) Additionally, Plaintiffs assert claims for breach of contract, implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligence and gross negligence. (Id.)

         Before the Court is appearing defendants', American Airlines Group, Inc., American Airlines, Inc., Envoy Air, Inc., and American Eagle, Inc. (collectively, “Moving Defendants”), motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (See Mem. of L. in Supp. of Defs'. Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs'. Mem.”), Dkt. Entry No. 16.) Plaintiffs oppose. (See Pl.s' Mem. of L. in Opp. (“Pl.s' Opp'n”), Dkt. Entry No. 17.) For the reasons set forth below, Moving Defendants' motion is granted in its entirety.

         Republic Airways Holdings, Inc. and Republic Airlines, Inc. (“Republic Defendants”) have not appeared in this action. As Plaintiffs never filed an affidavit of service as to these defendants, the Court cannot determine whether the Republic Defendants were served properly. Moreover, Plaintiffs never moved for a certificate of default or default judgment against Republic Defendants. However, for the same reasons that this action is dismissed against Moving Defendants, it is dismissed against Republic Defendants.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are four men between the ages of 23-29. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-11.) Both Faimul Alam (“Alam”) and M. K. are Muslim and of Bengali descent, while W.K. is a Muslim of Syrian descent. (Id. ¶¶ 8-10.) Shan Anand (“Anand”) is Sikh and of Punjabi descent. (Id. ¶ 11.) On December 5, 2015, Plaintiffs along with their two friends, John Doe 1 and John Doe 2[2], planned a trip from New York City's LaGuardia Airport to Canada to celebrate John Doe 1's 20th birthday. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) M.K., W.H., John Doe 1, and John Doe 2 departed onboard an aircraft from New York City's LaGuardia Airport to Canada on the morning of December 5, 2015, while Anand left that evening and Alam the next day to meet them. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) The group booked flights departing from Toronto, Canada and arriving in New York City on December 8, 2015. (Id. ¶ 22.) Although initially booking a different return flight than the rest of the group, Anand and Alam paid a fee to change their flight to that of their friends. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24, 27.)

         On December 8, 2015, Plaintiffs, along with John Does 1 and 2, arrived at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada where they printed their boarding passes, checked their luggage, cleared customs and security, and proceeded to the gate where they boarded American Airlines Flight No. AA44718. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) W.H. sat in the first seat of business class; M.K. sat in seat three of business class; Alam and Anand sat in row six of the coach section, and John Does 1 and 2 sat in row seventeen near the rear of the aircraft. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) After boarding, W.H. and M.K. settled into their seats and fell asleep. (Id.)

         As W.H. slept, a flight attendant woke him up and demanded that he exit the aircraft. (Id. ¶ 32.) W.H. hurried out of the plane, but returned to retrieve his jacket, which he had left behind. (Id. ¶ 33.) “[A]ppearing nervous and scared, ” the flight attendant also proceeded to ask M.K. to exit the aircraft. (Id. ¶ 34.) When W.H. and M.K. asked the flight attendant, “what was going on, ” she demanded that they exit the aircraft without “questioning anything.” (Id.) After W.H. and M.K. had exited the plane and were waiting on the bridge, a flight attendant “rushed” to Alam and Anand and demanded, “in a hostile manner, ” that they also exit the aircraft. (Id. ¶¶ 35, 38.) Passengers aboard the flight proceeded to make “bigoted and racist comments, ” hold “their children and belongings close to their person[s]” and “stare[] in fear and hate” at Alam and Anand. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.) Some passengers “appeared prepared to physically assault Alam, ” which caused both Alam and Anand to fear for their safety. (Id. ¶ 39.) When Alam and Anand asked why they were being removed, they were told by a flight attendant to exit the aircraft “peacefully.” (Id. ¶ 40.) “Humiliated, embarrassed, and scared” Alam and Anand exited the aircraft where they met with W.H. and M.K on the bridge, which was located between the aircraft and the gate. (Id. ¶¶ 41, 43.) Unlike Plaintiffs, John Does 1 and 2 were not asked to exit the aircraft. (Id. ¶ 42.)

         As Plaintiffs waited on the bridge, an “Agent of Defendant” communicated with the captain of the flight at the entrance of the aircraft. (Id. ¶ 45.) The captain “shook his head indicating that he was saying ‘no'” at the “Agent” who turned to Plaintiffs and demanded that they return to the departure gate. (Id. ¶ 46.) Plaintiffs returned to the gate where they were “held there without explanation and until the flight taxied away from the Gate.” (Id. ¶ 47.) At the gate, an “Agent of Defendant appearing nervous and flustered” informed Plaintiffs that they could not remain on the aircraft because “the crew members and specifically the captain felt uneasy and uncomfortable with their presence on the flight and as such, refused to fly unless they were removed from the flight.” (Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiffs asked if their appearance had played a role in the decision, and were told by the “Agent” that their “appearance ‘did not help.'” (Id. ¶ 50.)

         Plaintiffs inquired about what “the next steps” were and were informed that it must be determined if the “next flight crew felt comfortable and safe flying with Plaintiffs” onboard. (Id. ¶ 55.) After some time, Plaintiffs were permitted to board the next flight to New York City. (Id. ¶ 56.)

         On January 18, 2016, Plaintiffs commenced the instant action asserting discrimination claims under both federal and New York State law. (See Dkt. Entry No. 1). On March 8, 2016, after Moving Defendants had moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint (“Amended Complaint” or “Am. Compl.”). (See generally Am. Compl.) The Amended Complaint asserted the same five claims as the initial complaint and added three new claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and for negligence and gross negligence. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 97-116.) On March 25, 2016, Moving Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (See generally Defs'. Mem.) Moving Defendants contend that dismissal is warranted because Plaintiffs' claims are preempted by the Montreal Convention and the statutes upon which Plaintiff's rely do not apply extraterritorially. (Id. at 1-2.) As the Court finds that Plaintiffs' claims are preempted by the Convention, the Court need not reach Moving Defendants' argument that the statutes upon which Plaintiffs rely do not apply extraterritorially.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, pleadings must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Pleadings are to give the defendant “fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Dura Pharms., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 346 (2005) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), overruled in part on other grounds by Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). “The pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant may move, in lieu of an answer, for dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To resolve such a motion, courts “must accept as true all [factual] allegations contained in a complaint, ” but need not accept “legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. For this reason, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to insulate a claim against dismissal. Id. “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Notably, courts only may consider the complaint itself, documents that are attached to or referenced in the complaint, documents that the plaintiff ...


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