Federal judge dismisses lawyer's suit against United, US Airways; Lawsuit sought damages over airlines' decision to cancel flight in blizzard

By Jon Campisi | Feb 7, 2012

A federal judge in Philadelphia has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Narberth, Pa. lawyer and his wife against two major airlines for allegedly causing financial hardship and interrupting travel plans they canceled flights due to inclement weather.

David and Cherie Shulick originally filed their complaint last month in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, but it was later transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The defendants, United Airlines and U.S. Airways, were accused of violating Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.

On Feb. 2, U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter ruled in favor of the defendants, which had moved to dismiss the lawsuit against them.

The suit had also contained counts of negligent misrepresentation, negligent infliction of emotional distress and civil rights violations.

The claims arose out of the airlines’ cancellation of several of the Shulicks’ flights due to severe blizzards and the ensuing problems that occurred, such as costs relating to having to rearrange their travel plans.

The couple was attempting to return home to the Philadelphia region from their vacation in Colorado back in December 2010 when the airlines canceled flights because of the extremely bad weather.

The plaintiffs had also claimed that they experienced discriminatory treatment on the part of airline workers throughout their ordeal.

In their complaint, the Shulick’s additionally claimed that U.S. Airways canceled another flight, this one a return flight from Orlando to Philadelphia in early January of last year.

Upon their return from Colorado, the couple went on a cruise, and it is from this vacation that the two claim they also had trouble returning.

The Shulicks claimed that they sustained more than $17,000 in damages stemming from the costs of the original flights, the rebooked flights, rental car fees and hotel stays.

The emotional distress damages in the complaint topped the actual damages, with the plaintiffs seeking more than $50,000, which were their costs of $17,000 trebled.

In seeking their respective dismissal motions, the airlines argued that the Shulicks’ claims fall within a broad preemption contained with the federal Deregulation Act because the alleged violations of the state’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and negligent misrepresentation arise from changes in flight schedules, subsequent notification of changes, rebooking and refund policies, “which clearly relate to the airlines’ routes, rates and services,” the ruling states.

The Shulicks, however, had argued that their claims had little to do with services provided by the airlines after ticket purchase, but rather arose from fraud and negligent misrepresentation in the formation of their contracts with the airlines.

Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that the defendants made “misleading and deceptive, and or confusing representations about their services” in order to engage and solicit the plaintiffs’ business, but separately failed to provide the contracted-for services, according to the ruling.

Pratter disagreed with the Shulicks’ arguments, and found that their claims are indeed preempted by federal statute.

The judge also ruled that the Shulicks failed to state a “cognizable claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress,” and that the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction on the count in the lawsuit that alleged civil rights claims.

The discriminatory acts in question referred to in the suit took place in Louisiana, and since Louisiana has an applicable statute addressing discrimination in places of public accommodation, the plaintiffs should have first filed their claims of discrimination with the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights, Pratter wrote.

Instead, the Shulicks filed a complaint in early February 2011 with the Pennsylvania office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“Notice must be filed with the state or the local agency of the state within which the discrimination occurred,” the judge wrote.

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