Nicholas Malfitano Jun. 27, 2015, 11:58am


PHILADELPHIA – A federal court decided on June 18 that a contractual lawsuit against American Airlines will not be returning to its point of origin in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

Senior Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled the litigation initiated by Philadelphia resident Sangmi Lee against American Airlines in April in the lower court would not return there, due to the disputed claims being governed by the Montreal Convention.

The Montreal Convention is a 1999 agreement created for the express purpose of establishing uniformity in procedure for international air travel passage and the baggage, cargo and passengers associated with it.

Lee purchased a ticket in Philadelphia for an American Airlines flight on Dec. 27, departing from Miami to Ladyville, Belize. Employees of American Airlines refused to allow Lee to board her plane, through a misinterpretation of the immigration laws of Belize, resulting in Lee missing her flight there and forcing her to take a flight to Guatemala instead.

As a result of the airline’s refusal to permit Lee to board her flight to Belize, she was forced to incur $5,361.76 in what she alleges were unnecessary expenses. Lee further claimed she had made numerous attempts to rectify the situation with American Airlines, but that it had not made good on reimbursing her for the cost of the flight to Guatemala and ignored her.

Approximately one month after Lee’s suit was filed, counsel for the defense motioned for the case to be moved up to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, due to the Montreal Convention being a treaty of international law. The federal court agreed, and removed the case on May 14.

That same day, Lee filed a motion to remand, which brought the matter before Buckwalter.

Buckwalter explained Lee wasn’t asserting the Montreal Convention does not pre-empt all state law claims – instead, assuming the Montreal Convention is in fact pre-emptive and contends instead that her claim does not fall within the Convention’s scope of liability because it does not involve “international carriage.” However, Buckwalter said Article 19 of the Montreal Convention covers Lee’s situation in “establishing liability for certain delays in travel.”

“As part of the second segment of a multi-leg trip beginning and ending in New York, but stopping in several countries along the way, plaintiff sought to obtain a boarding pass at the airport for her flight from Miami to Belize,” Buckwalter said. “When plaintiff approached a ticket counter to obtain a boarding pass for her flight to Belize, an agent for defendant denied her a boarding pass due to a belief – mistaken or not – that plaintiff did not have the required visa. A second agent likewise denied her a boarding pass on the same grounds. As a result, plaintiff changed the destination of her flight to Guatemala, which was the next destination of her trip.”

Buckwalter said those allegations support the concept that Lee’s travel delays would fall under the heading of Article 19 of the Montreal Convention.

“Given that the Montreal Convention provides substantive relief, subject matter jurisdiction exists in this Court. In light of the foregoing, the Court finds that plaintiff’s claims, as pled, fall within the scope of the Montreal Convention, thereby vesting subject matter jurisdiction in this Court. Accordingly, plaintiff’s motion to remand must be denied,” Buckwalter said.

The plaintiff is seeking judgment in the amount of $5,361.76, in addition to attorney’s fees, court costs and any other relief the Court deems appropriate and just.

The plaintiff is represented by Douglas A. Grannan of the Law Offices of Douglas Grannan, in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Elaine D. Solomon and Ethan Simon of Blank Rome, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-02666

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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