Myra Knowlton filed a breach of contract claim against American Airlines, Inc. ("AA") alleging that she was not provided a free breakfast as promised on an American Airlines flight in November 2005. AA removed the matter to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1441(b), alleging the Plaintiff's cause of action arises under either the Convention for the Unification fo Certain Rules Relating to International Transportation by Air ("Warsaw Convention") or the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air ("Montreal Convention") and the court therefore had jurisdiction because Plaintiff's claim arose under an international treaty. The Court considered Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.
Plaintiff booked a round-trip ticket with AA to fly from Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Baltimore, Maryland to the Dominican Republic. Plaintiff received an electronic confirmation of her travel itinerary from AA which included the notation "breakfast" on the flight departing from Baltimore on January 26, 2006. Once on the flight, Plaintiff did not receive a free breakfast. Instead the Plaintiff was told that AA no longer provided complimentary meals but that she could purchase breakfast for $3.00.
On March 3, 2006, Plaintiff filed a class-action complaint against AA on behalf of herself and others similarly situated. On March 31, 2006, AA removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1441(b), alleging Plaintiff's cause of action arises under either the Warsaw Convention or the Montreal Convention and, as such, is a federal question. On April 28, 2006, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand arguing her claim does not arise under either the Warsaw Convention or the Montreal Convention because those treaties only address claims for personal injury, property damage, and damage caused by delay arising during international flights. AA argued that even though the Montreal Convention did not discuss carrier liability for a breach of contract action as alleged by Plaintiff, the treaty still pre-empts Plaintiff's claim.
The U.S. is a party to the Montreal Convention which supersedes the much older Warsaw Convention. The Montreal Convention imposes three categories of strict liability on air carriers. Liability will be imposed for 1) the accidental death or bodily injury of a passenger while on board, embarking, or disembarking the plane; 2) damage to or loss of baggage; and 3) damage resulting from delay of passengers, baggage, or cargo. Article 29 of the Montreal Convention contains an express statement of exclusivity, stating "any action for damages, however founded, whether under this Convention or in contract or in tort or otherwise, can only be brought subject to the conditions and such limits of liability as are set out in this Convention."
AA asserted complete preemption as the basis for federal question removal jurisdiction. "Under complete preemption a state claim arises under federal law when Congress 'so completely pre-empts a particular area that any civil complaint raising the select group of claims is necessarily federal in character." Therefore, "if the Defendant can show that the Montreal Convention completely preempts Plaintiff's breach of contract claim, then removal was appropriate."
Citing a split in authority over whether the Montreal Convention or its predecessor, the Warsaw Convention, completely preempt state law claims, the Court was persuaded by the reasoning of those cases in favor of preemption. The Court concluded that "[t]he treaties were designed to create a uniform system of liability among airlines for claims arising from international flights... As a matter of public policy, airlines should not be subject to contract claims in state courts involving a three-dollar breakfast." Accordingly, the Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand was denied.
This opinion can be found in PDF.