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MUTAMBARA v. LUFTHANSA GERMAN AIRLINES

March 24, 2003

AGRIPPAH M. MUTAMBARA ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
LUFTHANSA GERMAN AIRLINES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION ORDERING FURTHER BRIEFING ON THE FORUM NON CONVENIENS ISSUE
I. INTRODUCTION

Ambassador Agrippah M. Mutambara, Esther Mutambara, and their two children Ibrahim and Mwaarianesu (collectively, "the plaintiffs") bring this suit against Lufthansa German Airlines ("Lufthansa" or "the defendant"). The plaintiffs allege that Lufthansa personnel at the Frankfurt International Airport harassed and discriminated against the plaintiffs based on their African and perceived Muslim origin by questioning the validity of their visas and refusing to allow the two children to board a connecting flight to Moscow. The case comes before the court on Lufthansa's motion to dismiss for forum non conveniens and failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. For the following reasons, the court does not rule on the motion but instead orders a status report and supplemental briefing.

II. BACKGROUND

Ambassador Mutambara is a citizen of Zimbabwe and serves as Zimbabwe's ambassador to Russia. Compl. ¶ 4. He and his family live at the Zimbabwean Embassy in Moscow. Id. The defendant is a German corporation. Id. at 3-4.

On May 31, 2001, the plaintiffs flew on a Lufthansa flight from Moscow to Boston. Id. The itinerary included a transfer at Frankfurt International Airport. Id. During their return trip from Boston to Moscow on June 14, 2001, the plaintiffs once again had to board a connecting flight in Frankfurt. Id. The plaintiffs allege that "while waiting in the queue for boarding" their connecting flight in Frankfurt, Lufthansa officials questioned them regarding the validity of their diplomatic and service passports and visas. Id. Despite Ambassador Mutambara's attempts to explain that diplomatic agreements between Russia and Zimbabwe exempted certain holders of diplomatic and service passports from carrying their visas, Lufthansa officials allegedly told him that although he and his wife could board the airplane, his children could not. Id. As a result, the family missed their connecting flight to Moscow. Id.

After the incident, Lufthansa officials allegedly denied the plaintiffs access to their luggage for clothing and medication, and rudely rebuffed the plaintiffs' attempts to speak with a manager. Id. Consequently, the plaintiffs were stranded in the airport and forced to sleep overnight on chairs. Id. The plaintiffs further allege that as a result of being denied access to warm clothing, "the family, especially, the youngest child became physically ill [due] to the stress of the situation and environment." Id. The family boarded a flight to Moscow the next day. Id. ¶ 7.

The plaintiffs claim that Lufthansa officials acted in such a manner because the airline "maintains a policy of subjecting to special interrogation, scrutiny and questioning . . . individuals of African, or perceived Muslim ethnicity, ancestry or appearance based on their race, religion and/or national origin." Id. ¶ 9. As a result of the incident, the family experienced humiliation, shame, and emotional distress. Id. ¶ 8.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs set forth eight counts. In their opposition to Lufthansa's motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs concede that they failed to state a claim on counts I (Federal Aviation Act), III (Civil Rights Act of 1866), IV (Civil Rights Act of 1964) and VI (loss of consortium) but urge the court not to dismiss the remaining four counts. Pls.' Opp'n at 1-2. The remaining four counts allege violations of the common law duty to provide non-discriminatory transportation via common carrier, violations of "local human rights laws," violations of the Warsaw Convention, and false imprisonment. Id. ¶¶ 15-37.

In its motion to dismiss, Lufthansa argues that the court should invoke the doctrine of forum non conveniens to determine that this district is not a proper forum for the plaintiffs' claims. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss at 11-13. Lufthansa also argues that the court should dismiss the claims for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Id. at 5-11. For the reasons that follow, the court orders a status report and further briefing on the forum non conveniens issue. The court will not address Lufthansa's additional arguments until it determines whether this district is an appropriate forum for this case.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for the Forum Non Conveniens Doctrine

The court first outlines the purpose of the forum non conveniens doctrine. Next, the court discusses the two-pronged inquiry for determining whether forum non conveniens applies to this case.

1. Purpose of the Forum Non Conveniens Doctrine

The doctrine of forum non conveniens is "a supervening venue provision, permitting displacement of the ordinary rules of venue when, in light of certain conditions, the trial court thinks that jurisdiction ought to be declined." Am. Dredging Co. v. Miller, 510 U.S. 443, 453 (1994). Under forum non conveniens, dismissal ordinarily is appropriate where trial in the plaintiff's chosen forum would impose a heavy burden on the defendant or the court, and where the plaintiff is unable to offer any specific reasons of convenience supporting his choice. Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 249 ...


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