Tag Archives: Airline Deregulation Act of 1978

D.Mass.: Skycaps’ State Law Claims Preempted By Airline Deregulation Act Of 1978 (ADA)

Travers v. JetBlue Airways Corp.

Skycaps, who assist airline passengers with the curbside check-in of their luggage, receive most of their compensation in the form of tips paid by the passengers. The plaintiffs, past and present skycaps for JetBlue Airways Corporation (“JetBlue”), accuse the airline of diverting tip revenue to itself by its imposition of a $2 fee assessed for each bag checked at the curbside (the “curbside check-in fee”). According to the plaintiffs, passengers erroneously believe the $2 fee goes directly to the skycaps because it is cash only, physically collected by the skycaps, and in an amount typically (that is, historically) given as a tip. The plaintiffs allege that the curbside check-in fee has caused their compensation to decrease dramatically because few passengers give a tip in addition to the $2 fee.

The amended complaint asserted claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, the Massachusetts Minimum Wage Law, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, §§ 1, 7, the Massachusetts Tips Law, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 152A, and state common law claims for tortious interference with contractual and/or advantageous relations and unjust enrichment/quantum meruit. JetBlue has moved to dismiss all state law claims as expressly preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (“ADA”), 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b) (1), or impliedly preempted by the Federal Aviation Act (“FAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 49191 et seq. Alternatively, JetBlue moves to dismiss the tortious interference and unjust enrichment claims for failure to state a claim.

The Court discussed preemption under the ADA in general stating, “All preemption challenges “ultimately turn[ ] on congressional intent,” Good v. Altria Group, Inc., 501 F.3d 29, 33 (1st Cir.2007), and the “primary indicator of intent is the text of the congressional act claimed to have the preemptive effect,” id. at 34.

The ADA’s preemption provision states: “[A] State … may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier….” 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1) (emphasis added). Relying on the words “related to,” the Supreme Court has emphasized that the ADA expresses a broad preemptive purpose. Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374, 384 (1992); see Altria Group, Inc. v. Good, 129 S.Ct. 538, 547 (2008) (recognizing the “unusual breadth of the ADA’s preemption provision”). State law claims are “related to” an airline’s prices, routes, or services, and thus preempted, if the state law either, on its face, “explicitly refers to” or, in application, has a “significant effect” on an airline’s prices, routes, or services. Buck v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 476 F.3d 29, 34 (1st Cir.2007); United Parcel Serv., Inc. v. Flores-Galarza, 318 F.3d 323, 335 (1st Cir.2003). On the other hand, state law claims having only a “tenuous, remote, or peripheral” relationship to an airline’s prices, routes, or services are not preempted. Morales, 504 U.S. at 390. Evaluation of this relationship centers “on the effect that the state law has on airline operations,” not on “the state’s purpose for enacting the law.” N.H. Motor Transp. Ass’n v. Rowe, 448 F.3d 66, 78 (1st Cir.2006) (emphasis in original).”

Turning to the facts in the case before it, the Court said, “[t]he question here, therefore, boils down to this: Are the plaintiffs’ state law claims “related to” JetBlue’s prices, routes, or services? The answer seems obvious. The plaintiffs seek to impose liability under the Massachusetts statutory and common law claims for JetBlue’s action in setting (and collecting) a price for a service provided to its customers. To avoid liability under the state claims, JetBlue would have to alter its decisions about its price and services. Potential liability under the state claims, therefore, is a means by which the State effectively regulates JetBlue’s price and service with respect to curbside check-in.

The plaintiffs’ own argument necessarily acknowledges that their claims “relate to” JetBlue’s price for the curbside baggage check-in. They claim not to challenge the existence of JetBlue’s curbside check-in fee, but only the manner in which the fee is collected (i.e., cash-only, by the skycaps, and in an amount typically given as a tip). Two alternatives, which preserve skycap tip income, are proposed by the plaintiffs: JetBlue could charge the $2 fee either when passengers purchase their tickets or during self-check-in, and then list the charges as “baggage handling fees” on the passengers’ receipts. (See Pls.’ Opp’n to Def. JetBlue Airways Corp.’s Mot. to Dismiss 10 n.8.) To propose these two alternatives is to implicitly acknowledge that their state law claims are a vehicle for regulating JetBlue’s assessment and collection of a fee for the curbside check-in service. The question, however, is not whether such regulation would be beneficial or desirable, but whether it is permitted in light of the ADA’s broad preemption of any state regulation of an airline’s “prices” or “services.”

Furthermore, any argument that the state law claims here have no more than a “tenuous, remote, or peripheral” relationship to JetBlue’s prices or services is belied by the plaintiffs’ own complaint. They seek not only money damages for past wrongs, but also injunctive relief “ordering Defendants to cease their violations of the law.”(Am.Compl.10.) Whether indirectly, by threat of liability for money damages, or directly, by injunctive order, the plaintiffs’ broader goal is to compel JetBlue to change its practices with respect to the imposition and collection of the curbside check-in fee. That relationship to JetBlue’s prices and services is not “tenuous, remote, or peripheral.

In sum, the ADA preempts the plaintiffs’ state law claims. The defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ( dkt. no. 46) is GRANTED. Counts II-V of the amended complaint are dismissed as against JetBlue.”

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