August 26, 2008

Iraqi Plaintiffs Can Sue Over Removal From Flight, Rules U.S. District Court in Michigan

By Report

Plaintiffs who alleged they were wrongfully removed from a flight because they were of Iraqi descent can sue the airline, a U.S. District Court in Michigan has ruled. The plaintiffs were a group of Michigan residents who were scheduled to fly on an American Airlines flight from San Diego to Chicago.

They alleged that unnamed members of the flight crew falsely identified them as security risks. The pilot then returned the plane to the gate and removed all of the passengers, including the plaintiffs.

The airline and the police separated, interrogated and searched the plaintiffs for one hour in front of American Airlines' staff and passengers. The original flight was cancelled and the plaintiffs and the other passengers were unable to reach their destination until the next day.

The plaintiffs sued the airline under federal law for discrimination in air transportation and equal rights and civil rights violations. They also sued for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence under state law.

The airline argued that the federal claims were barred because an airline has discretion under federal law to refuse service to a passenger it "decides is, or might be, inimical to safety."

But the court disagreed.

"[T]he ... plaintiffs have satisfied their basic pleading requirement, with the implication being [that] the defendant had arbitrary and capricious motives, rather than a reasonable concern for safety," the court said.

It also rejected the airline's argument that the plaintiffs' state law tort claims were preempted by federal law because the decision to remove them "relates to" the airline's "rates, routes and services."

"[A]llegations that members of an aircrew improperly profiled the plaintiffs on the basis of race or national origin, used that basis to remove them from the aircraft, and finally caused law enforcement authorities to detain them for a period of time are sufficient to survive this motion to dismiss," the court said.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Al- Tawan v. American Airlines, No. 07-CV-14687. July 28, 2008. Lawyers USA No. 99310517.

Originally published by Lawyers USA Staff Report.

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