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Adelson v. American Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 24, 2017

JOEL W. ADELSON, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., and BRITISH AIRWAYS, PLC, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          WILLIAM ALSUP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         In this personal injury action under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, defendants move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). For the reasons herein, defendants' motion is Granted. Plaintiff may file a motion seeking leave to amend.

         STATEMENT

         The following facts are taken from the complaint. In December 2015, plaintiff Joel Adelson, M.D., purchased air transportation from San Francisco to Delhi, India, through “One World Partner Airlines” and with American Airlines Advantage Award miles. In January 2016, Adelson returned to San Francisco via three international flights. First, from Delhi to Helsinki; second, from Helsinki to London; and third, from London to New York - returning to California by other arrangements. Adelson flew on defendant British Airways, PLC's flights for the second and third legs of his return journey (Compl. at 2).

         Upon arrival in London at “Gate 3” of Heathrow Airport, Adelson made his way, within the secured area of Heathrow, to “Terminal 5” via “inter-terminal transportation.” As he attempted to pass into the building of Terminal 5, Adelson was “suddenly and violently” struck by a large metal door closing on him without warning. The impact inhibited the use of his right arm and caused a later-diagnosed rotator cuff tendon tear, amongst other “serious and probable injury to some extent to the muscles, tendons, and other components” and “shock and other injuries.” Additionally, Adelson incurred “extreme pain, disability, interruption and interference with normal activities, including those required in the exercise of his profession” as a medical doctor and lecturer associated with the University of California, Irvine (id. at 2-3).

         Based on these allegations, Adelson made a single claim against defendants American Airlines, Inc., and British Airways, PLC, under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, which is formally known as the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, Done at Montreal, May 28, 1999, S. Treaty Doc. No. 106-45, 1999 WL 33292734. Both defendants have answered Adelson's amended complaint (Dkt. Nos. 5, 7, 14).

         Defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), arguing Adelson failed to state a claim compensable under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention. This order follows full briefing and oral argument.

         ANALYSIS

         Our court of appeals has held:

Judgment on the pleadings is properly granted when, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, there is no issue of material fact in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Analysis under Rule 12(c) is substantially identical to analysis under Rule 12(b)(6) because, under both rules, a court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint, taken as true, entitle the plaintiff to a legal remedy.

Chavez v. United States, 683 F.3d 1102, 1108-09 (9th Cir. 2012). To be entitled to a legal remedy under Article 17, Adelson must allege facts that show an (1) accident (2) that caused him to suffer bodily injury (3) took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking. Eastern Airlines, Inc. v. Floyd, 499 U.S. 530, 535-36 (1991).

         Defendants raise two issues with Adelson's pleading. First, defendants argue Adelson fails to proffer sufficient facts to satisfy the third element as to both American Airlines and British Airways - namely, that the accident did not occur in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking, or on board an aircraft. Second, defendants argue that no claim can be made against American Airlines because American Airlines was not Adelson's contracting or actual carrier as understood under the Montreal Convention.

         1. The Montreal Convention.

         Both sides agree that the Montreal Convention applies here. Its predecessor, the Warsaw Convention, dates back to 1929.[1] At that time, “[m]any international air carriers . . . endeavored to require passengers, as a condition of air travel, to relieve or reduce the carrier's liability in case of injury.” El Al Israel Airlines, Ltd. v. Tsui Yuan Tseng, 525 U.S. 155, 169 (1999). The Warsaw Convention addressed that practice by creating a comprehensive liability scheme premised on a compromise between international air carriers and their global customers. That compromise prohibited the use of liability waivers by the former while limiting recovery by the latter. Ibid.

         Seventy years later, the Montreal Convention updated this scheme. The preamble to the Montreal Convention recognized both “the need to modernize and consolidate the Warsaw Convention and related instruments” and “the importance of ensuring protection of the interests of consumers in international carriage by air and the need for equitable compensation based on the principle of restitution.” Like the Warsaw Convention, the Montreal ...


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