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Baugh v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

February 23, 2015

DOROTHEA BAUGH, Plaintiff,
v.
DELTA AIR LINES, INC., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, Jr., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Dorothea Baugh's ("Plaintiff) Motion to Remand to State Court and Motion for Attorneys' Fees [5] (the "Motion to Remand") and her Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint [3] ("Motion to Amend"). Also before the Court are Delta Air Lines, Inc.'s ("Defendant") Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and/or Strike Complaint [2] ("Motion to Dismiss") and its Motion for Oral Argument [8] on its Motion to Dismiss ("Motion for Oral Argument").

I. BACKGROUND

On June 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Complaint [1-1] ("Complaint") in the State Court of Fulton County, Georgia. Plaintiffs Complaint, on its face, raises a claim for damages based upon state-law negligence by Defendant. Plaintiff alleges that, on September 19, 2012, Plaintiff was a "paying customer and invitee of Defendant at the Boston Logan International Airport...." (Complaint ¶ 5). After entering the airport, Plaintiff checked into her flight and was "flagged as blind and needing assistance." (Id. ¶ 6). After her flight was called for boarding, Plaintiff "notified Defendant's employee stationed in front of the gate that she was blind and needed assistance boarding Defendant's aircraft, but Defendant's employee instructed her to immediately proceed with boarding without assistance." (Id. ¶ 8). Following the instructions of Defendant's employee, Plaintiff claims she tripped and fell while attempting to walk down the sloping ramp to board the aircraft. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10). She alleges she suffered serious injuries and incurred medical expenses as a result of her fall. (Id.).

Plaintiff asserts that Defendant owed her a duty of care, and that Defendant's breach of that duty was the cause of her injuries. (Id. ¶¶ 11-13). Plaintiff's Complaint does not allege any federal statute or regulation that applied to Defendant's conduct, and her claims are not brought pursuant to a federal statute or regulation.

On August 7, 2014, Defendant filed its Notice of Removal [1] (the "Notice"), asserting that Plaintiff's "claims present a Federal Question and/or are pre-empted by Federal law." (Notice at 2). Defendant asserts that the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (the "ACAA")[1] is a federal law that prohibits air carriers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. (Id. at 2-3). Defendant argues that Plaintiff's state-law negligence claim is preempted by the ACAA, and that the rights and remedies she may have, if any, are only those afforded by the ACAA. (Id.). To the extent that Plaintiff contends she has other claims not preempted by federal law, the Court has supplemental jurisdiction over them pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. (Id. at 4).

On August 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Motion to Remand, asserting that her Complaint raises only a state-law negligence claim, and that Defendant seeks to "manufacture" federal question jurisdiction by contending that Plaintiff's actual claim is one based on discrimination under the ACAA.

On August 13, 2014, Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss, asserting that, because Plaintiff's claims are actually disability discrimination claims under the ACAA, Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed because the ACAA does not provide a private right of action. On August 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Motion to Amend her Complaint, in which she seeks permission to file an amended complaint that, in part, adds an allegation that the Defendant was negligent per se under Massachusetts law for failing to exercise the duty of care for disabled passengers set forth in the ACAA. (Amended Complaint [3-1] ¶ 12(g)).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

"[A]ny civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant" to federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Where removal is challenged, the removing party has the burden to show removal is proper, or the case must be remanded to the state court. Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001). "[U]ncertainties are resolved in favor of remand." Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994). Once a case is removed, "[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).

B. Federal Question Jurisdiction

Defendant contends that removal of this action is proper because the Court has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). Whether a claim "arises under" federal law "is governed by the well-pleaded complaint rule, ' which provides that § 1331 jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." Dunlap v. G&L Holding Grp., Inc., 381 F.3d 1285, 1290 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)). The plaintiff is "the master of the claim, " and he may avoid federal jurisdiction by relying exclusively on state law, even where a federal claim is also available. Id . (quoting Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392). Even when a plaintiff has pleaded only state-law causes of action, however, he may not avoid federal jurisdiction if either "(1) his state-law claims raise substantial questions of federal law or (2) federal law completely preempts his state-law claims." Id . (citing Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 13 (1983)).

Plaintiff asserts only a state-law cause of action in her Complaint. For the Court to have federal question jurisdiction, Plaintiff's claim must either raise a "substantial federal question" or be "completely preempted" by federal law. See id. at 1291.

C. Analysis

The ACAA amended the Federal Aviation Act (the "FAA). See 49 U.S.C. § 40101 et seq . In 2003, the ACAA implementing regulations, entitled the "Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel, " were enacted (the "ACAA Regulations"). The ACAA Regulations "prohibit[] both U.S. and foreign carriers from discriminating against passengers on the basis of disability; require[] carriers to make aircraft, other facilities, and services accessible; and require[] carriers to take steps to accommodate passengers with a disability." 14 C.F.R. § 82.1.

Defendant claims that because Plaintiff is physically disabled and her claim arose while attempting to board an aircraft, her rights and remedies are those allowed pursuant to the ACAA and, because the ACAA preempts Plaintiff's state-law claim and does not provide a private cause of action, Plaintiff's claim is required to be dismissed. (Notice at 2-4; Motion to Dismiss at 7-10). Plaintiff, in her Motion to Remand, contends she is not asserting a discrimination claim pursuant to the ACAA, but only a state-law tort claim for damages based upon Defendant's negligence. (Motion to Remand at 2). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was negligent in failing to:

(a) keep its premises and approaches safe for invitees, in violation of Massachusetts law; (b) ensure that the premises and boarding procedures were in a safe and proper condition for blind passengers; (c) properly and adequately assist Plaintiff in boarding Defendant's aircraft, after Defendant knew, or should have known, of her condition; (d) follow its own policies and procedures in assisting disabled, or blind invitees into Defendant's aircraft; (e) properly assist Plaintiff when defendant knew this created a hazardous condition, in violation of Massachusetts law; and (f) exercise extraordinary care required to protect Plaintiff, a known blind passenger, while she was attempting to negotiate the boarding ramp and board Defendant's aircraft, in violation of Massachusetts law.

(Motion to Remand at 4; Complaint ¶ 11).

Four of Plaintiff's claims appear to relate to Defendant's alleged failure to assist Plaintiff in boarding Defendant's aircraft. The ACAA Regulations provide that an air carrier:

must promptly provide or ensure the provision of assistance requested by or on behalf of passengers with a disability, or offered by carrier or airport operator personnel and accepted by passengers with a disability, in enplaning and deplaning.

14 C.F.R. § 382.95. Neither this Court nor the Eleventh Circuit has addressed directly whether the ACAA preempts state-law negligence claims.

1. Complete Preemption

Under the Supremacy Clause, when a state law conflicts, or is incompatible, with federal law, federal law preempts the state law. Teper v. Miller, 82 F.3d 989, 993 (11th Cir. 1996); see also U.S. CONST. art. VI, § 2. Preemption generally arises under three circumstances: (1) where Congress has expressly preempted state law ("express preemption"); (2) where Congress has legislated so comprehensively that federal law occupies an entire field of regulation and leaves no room for state law ("field preemption"); or (3) where federal law conflicts with state law such that it is impossible to comply with both or that the state law stands as an obstacle to the objective of the federal law ("conflict preemption"). United States v. Alabama, 691 F.3d 1269, 1281 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Fla. State Conf. of NAACP v. Browning, 522 F.3d 1153, 1167 (11th Cir. 2008)). The ACAA does not contain an express preemption provision, and Defendant does not argue that a conflict exists between the ACAA and Massachusetts law, and the Court does not find a conflict.[2] The question in this case is whether there is field preemption of Plaintiff's claim.

Field preemption "precludes the states from regulating conduct in a field that Congress, acting within its proper authority, has determined must be regulated by its exclusive governance.'" Odebrecht Const., Inc. v. Sec'y, Florida Dep't of Transp., 715 F.3d 1268, 1274 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Arizona v. United States, 132 S.Ct. 2492, 2501 (2012)). The Court "may infer congressional intent to displace state law altogether from a framework of regulation so pervasive that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it or where there is a federal interest so dominant that the federal system will be assumed to preclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject.'" Id . (quoting Arizona, 132 S.Ct. at 2501). Field preemption, also called complete preemption, is:

a narrowly drawn jurisdictional rule for assessing federal removal jurisdiction when a complaint purports to raise only state law claims. It looks beyond the complaint to determine if the suit is, in reality, purely a creature of federal law, even if state law would provide a cause of action in the absence of the federal law. It transforms the state claim into one arising under ...

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