U.S. District Court Reaffirms the Preemptive Effect of the Montreal Convention

Continuing with this space’s recent focus on cases analyzing the scope of the Montreal Convention, this blog entry discusses yet another recent Montreal Convention case that establishes the broad scope of the Convention’s preemptive effect.  As frequent readers of this blog will recall, the Montreal Convention exclusively governs lawsuits against air carriers for damage arising from air transportation, and aircraft embarkation and disembarkation among signatory nations.  That is, the Montreal Convention preempts claims for damages that either are not enumerated within the Convention or are based on laws other than the Convention, such as state laws.  Further, because the Montreal Convention is a treaty of the United States, defendants almost always remove such cases to federal court.

Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, in Ong v. American Airlines, Inc.,1demonstrated courts’ decreasing tolerance for plaintiffs seeking to plead around the Montreal Convention in a brief opinion that paid short shrift to the Plaintiff’s arguments that have been repeatedly rejected in other Montreal cases throughout the country.  

The Plaintiff filed a state court action alleging that after she boarded an international flight,2 she attempted to change seats to one she admittedly did not purchase, at which point she got into a flight with a fight with a “white” passenger.3  American Airlines then removed her from the flight, a decision she alleged was racially motivated.  She sought damages for American Airlines’ alleged claim that she was a terrorist, which allegedly caused her to suffer emotional distress.  She also sought damages for breach of contract, false accusation, and mistreatment of an individual over the age of 65.  In addition to emotional distress damages, she sought to recover for the cost of her flight, civil penalties for race discrimination, court costs, and unspecified other damages.

American Airlines removed the case to federal court based on treaty jurisdiction, and then moved to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).  After reviewing the familiar 12(b)(6) standard, the Court reiterated the familiar holding that the Montreal Convention provides a passenger’s exclusive remedies for flights falling within its scope.  The Convention is the exclusive remedy for all passenger injuries that occur onboard a flight, or in the process of embarking or disembarking, even if the injury alleged is not compensable under the terms of the Convention.  Such was the case here, where Plaintiff’s injuries, regardless of how they could be characterized, occurred onboard the subject flight, and, because she was removed from the flight, during disembarkation. 

But Plaintiff’s state law claims, such as for emotional distress, and other claims, such as for court costs, are not among the recoverable claims enumerated in the Montreal Convention, which limits claims to those for passenger death or bodily injury, or damage to baggage, none of which the Plaintiff alleged here.  Moreover, because the Plaintiff’s claims were so far afield from the types of claims for which the Convention provides a remedy, the Court did not even allow her to amend her pleadings, despite the fact that the Plaintiff appeared pro se, which ordinarily would cause a court to allow leave to amend on an even more liberal basis than the already liberal federal court standard.  As a result, the Plaintiff’s claims were dismissed entirely, with prejudice.

1 No. 3:21-CV-421-L, 2022 WL 447082 (N.D. Tex., Feb. 14, 2022).

2 The Court paid such short shrift to Plaintiff’s suit that it did not even mention the flight departure and landing locations, although we can assume that the flight was between two Montreal Convention signatory countries.

3 Id. at *1.

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