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Cooper v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 1, 2017


          OPINION & ORDER

          VALERIE CAPRONI United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Sharon Charles Cooper (“Plaintiff”) sued Defendant United Airlines, Inc. (“United”) for damages arising from her arrest at London Heathrow Airport (“Heathrow”). The facts of this case start with what should have been a trip of a lifetime-an African safari-and end with an arrest following a missed connection at Heathrow. Although anyone who has had a difficult flight experience can sympathize with the plight of Ms. Cooper when she missed her connecting flight, neither that sympathy nor all of the facts presented in connection with Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Dkt. 47, suffice to create a question of fact for the jury. Accordingly, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


         Plaintiff purchased a roundtrip ticket from Newark, New Jersey, to Nairobi, Kenya, using United Airlines frequent flier miles. Pl.'s Local Rule 56.1 Counterstatement (“56.1”) ¶¶ 2, 3 (Dkt. 56).[2] Plaintiff's return voyage involved a flight on Ethiopian Airlines to Heathrow. 56.1 ¶¶ 4-6, 8-10. She was to connect at Heathrow with a United flight back to Newark. Id. ¶ 10. According to Plaintiff, United made all of her flight arrangements. Id. ¶¶ 8-10.

         Because her Ethiopian Airlines flight arrived late into London, Plaintiff missed her connection. Id. ¶¶ 19, 23-25, 35. She went to the United counter, but all United employees had left for the day, as United's last flight had already departed. Id. ¶¶ 31, 33. Plaintiff proceeded to the United Club Departure Lounge (the “Lounge”). Id. ¶¶ 36, 38-40; Def.'s Ex. B, Pl. Dep., 75:4-78:11 (Dkt. 48-2). By the time Plaintiff arrived at the Lounge reception area, all United employees had gone for the evening, and the Lounge was staffed by Sodexo employees.[3] 56.1 ¶¶ 40-41.

         Sodexo is an independent contractor that operates the Lounge at particular hours. Id. ¶ 42. Sodexo and United are parties to a Service Agreement, which “sets forth the terms and conditions under which Sodexo will provide food and beverage services, cleaning services and employee staffing” at the Lounge. Def.'s Ex. F, Service Agreement (“SA”), ¶ 1 (Dkt. 48-6). The Service Agreement includes specifications concerning employee appearance and attitude, 56.1 ¶ 52, and notes that Sodexo will train Lounge employees in “[g]eneral knowledge about United, ” SA at 28.

         After arriving at the Lounge reception area, Plaintiff explained that she had missed her connecting United flight and that she had arrived on Ethiopian Airlines. 56.1 ¶ 53. A Sodexo employee informed Plaintiff of United's policy that, if a delivering carrier has arrived late, the customer must be rebooked by the delivering carrier. Id. ¶ 54. Pursuant to that policy, the Sodexo employee instructed Plaintiff to return to Ethiopian Airlines. Id. ¶ 56. Plaintiff told the employee that she was “very tired” and asked to use the Lounge restroom. Id. ¶ 61. The employee informed Plaintiff that she would need to present a reservation for an upcoming flight to enter the Lounge. Id. ¶ 82. At that time, Plaintiff did not have a reservation for an upcoming flight. 56.1 ¶ 64.[4]

         Despite being told that she could not enter the Lounge, Plaintiff entered and sat down. Id. ¶¶ 87-89. A Sodexo manager contacted Heathrow Security. Id. ¶ 97. Plaintiff then contacted her son, who was in the United States, via FaceTime, and he proceeded to audio record the subsequent events. Id. ¶ 90. Heathrow Security arrived and informed Plaintiff that the Lounge staff did not have the capability to rebook her ticket from the Lounge. Def.'s Ex. G, FaceTime Tr. (“FaceTime Tr.”) 2:5-6 (Dkt. 48-7). Heathrow Security reiterated to Plaintiff that she needed to go to the Ethiopian Airlines ticket counter to rebook her flight. Plaintiff refused because it was “too far” and she was “hot” and “tired.” Id. 3:13-24. The following exchange ensued:

Heathrow Security: You can't be here.
Plaintiff: I can be here.
Heathrow Security: No, you can't.
Plaintiff: I'm going to sit right here.
Heathrow Security: Ma'am, I'm going to get the police.
Plaintiff: Get the police. I don't care.

Id. 3:25-4:8. Heathrow Security proceeded to call the Metropolitan Police (“Police”). 56.1 ¶ 105. At or around this time, Plaintiff's son contacted United by telephone to book her on the next available flight from London to Newark. Id. ¶ 93.[5]

         Shortly after Plaintiff's son had successfully booked a reservation for a United flight, the Police arrived. FaceTime Tr. 27:21-28:8. According to Plaintiff, the Sodexo employees told the Police that they did not want Plaintiff in the Lounge. 56.1 ¶ 144. Although Plaintiff showed her reservation to the Police, Heathrow Security explained that Plaintiff could not remain in the Lounge, even with a reservation, because the Lounge closes overnight. FaceTime Tr. 36:20-25. Heathrow Security further advised Plaintiff that, in accordance with the rules of the airport, Plaintiff was not allowed to remain airside-that is, beyond the security gate-without a ticket for a flight on ...

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