U.S. District Court Holds that Choice of Law Provision in Carrier’s Contract of Carriage Applied to All Aspects of Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Claim Arising From a Rough Landing

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently denied Delta Airlines’ motion to dismiss an action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), wherein it held Delta to the choice of law clause its own contract of carriage even though Delta argued that the law of the forum where the alleged injury to the plaintiff occurred applied.

In LeBlanc v. Delta Airlines,1 the plaintiff and her husband allegedly were injured as a result of a rough landing at the end of a flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans. The plaintiff’s husband filed suit in state court in Louisiana one year after the subject flight. Delta removed that action to federal court. Approximately one year later, and just one day short of two years after the subject flight, the plaintiff filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The cases were consolidated in the Eastern District of Louisiana, and Delta then moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), arguing that Louisiana’s statute of limitations applied, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is one year, and thus the plaintiff’s claims brought just short of the two year anniversary of the flight were time-barred. The plaintiff countered that Delta’s contract of carriage contains a choice of law clause selecting Georgia law, and accordingly, Georgia law, which has a two-year statute of limitations, applied to her claims. Under Georgia law, her claims would be timely.

The contract of carriage choice of law clause stated the following:

Any and all matters arising out of or relating to this Contract of Carriage and/or the subject matter hereof shall be governed by and enforced in accordance with the laws of the United States of America and, to the extent not preempted by Federal law, the laws of the State of Georgia without regard to conflict of law principles, regardless of the legal theory upon which such matter is asserted. This Contract of Carriage, including the Ticket and Fare Rules, represents the entire agreement between the parties relating to transportation by Carrier, and shall supersede all prior representations, understandings or agreements pertaining thereto, either oral or written. No other covenants, warranties, undertakings or understandings may be implied, in law or in equity.

Delta argued that the choice of law clause applied only to conflicts relating to carriage itself. In other words, Delta claimed that the choice of law clause could only be applied to contract-based claims, and as the plaintiff’s claims were tort claims for personal injuries, the law of the forum, Louisiana, applied. Thus, the court determined the applicable question for it to resolve was whether the plaintiff’s personal injury tort claims fell under the “any and all matters arising or relating to this Contract of Carriage and/or the subject matter hereof . . .” provision of the contract of carriage.

The choice of law analysis itself was governed by Louisiana law, the law of the forum, under Fifth Circuit precedent. The court held that Louisiana law distinguishes between choice of law provisions that are limited to contract interpretation, and those that are sufficiently broad that they are construed to encompass all disputes between the contracting parties arising out of the contract. Focusing on the clause “any and all matters arising or relating to this Contract of carriage and/or the subject matter hereof . . . ,” the court held that the clause was sufficiently broad to encompass not just contract interpretation, but all matters arising from the contract of carriage, including personal injury tort claims. On the basis of the foregoing, the court held that Georgia law applies to the plaintiff’s claims.

However, the court then noted that while Georgia substantive law would apply to the plaintiff’s claims under Louisiana’s choice of law rules, the procedural law of the forum, Louisiana, ordinarily still would apply to the plaintiff’s claims under Louisiana’s choice of law precedent. Inasmuch as a statute of limitations is a procedural matter, Delta argued that even if Georgia substantive law applied to the plaintiff’s claims, Louisiana’s statute of limitations applied to the question of whether her claims were timely brought.

But the plaintiff argued, and the court agreed, that the clause in the contract of carriage stating “shall be governed by and enforced in accordance with the laws of the United States of America and, to the extent not preempted by Federal law, the laws of the State of Georgia without regard to conflict of law principles,” meant that the contract of carriage applied Georgia law to all aspects of the plaintiff’s claims, not just the substantive legal aspects. Thus, Georgia’s two-year statute of limitations, though procedural, would apply to the plaintiff’s claims as well. Because the plaintiff brought her claim within that two-year period, Delta’s motion to dismiss was denied.


1 2021 U.S. Dist. Lexis 73617 (E.D. La. Apr. 16, 2021).

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