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Thede v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 30, 2018



          PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON United States District Judge

         Defendant United Airlines, Inc.'s motion to dismiss came on for hearing before this court on March 21, 2018. Plaintiff Jeremiah Thede appeared pro se. Defendant appeared through its counsel, Richard Grotch. Having read the papers filed by the parties and carefully considered their arguments and the relevant legal authority, and good cause appearing, the court hereby GRANTS defendant's motion, for the following reasons.


         On June 20, 2015, plaintiff was scheduled to fly on a United Airlines flight from Rome, Italy, to San Francisco, California. Dkt. 23, First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) ¶¶ 6-7. That flight was delayed by more than three hours. Id. Because plaintiff was hungry when he boarded the plane, plaintiff asked for food to tide him over until the in-flight meal was served. Id. ¶ 7. A flight attendant explained, however, that food would not be served until the plane was airborne. Id.

         After the plane took off but before the fasten seatbelt sign had been turned off, plaintiff left his seat and renewed his request for food. Id. ¶ 8. The flight attendant informed plaintiff that because the seatbelt sign had not been turned off, the crew was unable to serve food. Id. Plaintiff renewed his request for a snack after the seatbelt sign was turned off and a flight attendant gave plaintiff a package of crackers. Id. ¶ 9.

         After consuming that package of crackers, plaintiff asked for a second package but was told that each customer was limited to one snack. FAC ¶ 10. Believing that information to be false, plaintiff asked the flight attendant for her name so that plaintiff could register a complaint. Id. Though both the flight attendant and the head flight attendant refused to provide that information, plaintiff began to write-up a complaint. Id. ¶¶ 10-12. At some point later, a different flight attendant gave plaintiff another package of crackers and, according to plaintiff, “the situation began to de-escalate.” Id.

         Despite plaintiff's belief that the situation had de-escalated, the head flight attendant had reported to the pilot that plaintiff was creating a disturbance. FAC ¶ 13. Apparently triggered by this report, an off-duty pilot and the head flight attendant told plaintiff that if the disturbance continued, the flight would be diverted and plaintiff would be removed from the aircraft. Id. Plaintiff denied he was causing a disturbance or that he had threatened anyone-plaintiff “simply wanted to file a complaint about the poor customer service but was being denied the right to do so.” Id.

         After the in-flight meal was eventually served, plaintiff immediately fell asleep. FAC ¶ 14.

         While plaintiff was sleeping, the airplane had been diverted to Belfast, Northern Ireland. FAC ¶ 15. When the flight arrived in Belfast, armed officers removed plaintiff from the plane. Id. Based on the accusations of the flight crew, plaintiff was charged with assault and endangering an aircraft. Id. ¶ 16. While his criminal trial was pending, plaintiff remained in Belfast under house arrest. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. After a seven-day trial, commencing April 15, 2016-approximately 10 months after plaintiff's flight took off from Rome-plaintiff was found not guilty. Id. ¶ 17.

         Based on the above events, plaintiff makes claims against United for breach of contract, negligence, assault, defamation, and malicious prosecution. FAC ¶¶ 18-24. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages. Id. However, in his briefing and at the hearing on this motion, plaintiff stated that he did not oppose dismissal of his negligence, assault, and defamation causes of action. Those claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         Accordingly, this order only addresses the two remaining claims: plaintiff's breach of contract claim based on United's failure to fly him to San Francisco and plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim based on the flight attendants' statements leading to plaintiff's arrest and their testimony at the corresponding trial.[2]


         A. Legal Standard

         1. Motion to Dismiss Under FRCP 12(b)(6)

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests for the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. Ileto v. Glock, 349 F.3d 1191, 1199-1200 (9th Cir. 2003). Under the minimal notice pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, which requires that a complaint include a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), a complaint may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) if the plaintiff fails to state a cognizable legal theory, or has not alleged sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729 F.3d 953, 959 (9th Cir. 2013).

         While the court must accept as true all the factual allegations in the complaint, legally conclusory statements, not supported by actual factual allegations, need not be accepted. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). The complaint must proffer sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that ...

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