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Jones v. Air Line Pilots Association

May 25, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge


Before 2007, pilots who had turned sixty were prohibited from flying commercial airliners. In 2007, the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act ("FTEPA" or "the Act"), Pub. L. No. 110-135, 121 Stat. 1450 (2007), raised the mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots to sixty-five. FTEPA operates prospectively, however, and allows pilots who turned sixty before its enactment to return to flying commercial airliners only under very limited circumstances. James Jones, a former Continental Airlines pilot, challenges as unconstitutional FTEPA's restrictions on pilots who turned sixty before the Act passed. He also brings claims under federal and state anti-discrimination laws. For the reasons detailed below, the Court will dismiss Jones's complaint.


In 1959, the Federal Aviation Administration enacted the so-called "Age 60" rule, which prohibited pilots from flying commercial airliners past their sixtieth birthday. See 14 C.F.R. § 121.383(c). FTEPA abrogated the Age 60 rule, and allows pilots to fly commercial airliners until they turn sixty-five. See 49 U.S.C. § 44729(a), (d). The Act contains a "non-retroactivity" provision, however, that significantly limits the ability of pilots who turned sixty before FTEPA's passage (and who were thus forced to retire) to return to work. In general, such pilots may only fly for commercial airlines if they are "newly hired by an air carrier as a pilot on or after [FTEPA's] date of enactment without credit for prior seniority or prior longevity for benefits . . . under any labor agreement or employment policies of the air carrier." Id. § 44729(e)(1)(B).*fn1

Thus, pilots who turned sixty before December 13, 2007 -- the date of FTEPA's enactment -- may fly commercial airliners only if they work without credit for their past experience. FTEPA also contains a "protection for compliance" provision. This provision states that "[a]n action taken in conformance with [FTEPA] . . . or taken prior to the date of enactment of [FTEPA] in conformance with [the Age 60 rule], may not serve as a basis for liability or relief in a proceeding, brought under any employment law or regulation, before any court or agency of the United States or of any State or locality." Id. § 44729(e)(2).

Jones was a pilot for Continental Airlines between 1981 and 2007, until the Age 60 rule forced him to retire several weeks before FTEPA was passed. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 27, 30. Because Jones turned sixty before FTEPA's enactment, the Act permits him to work as a commercial airline pilot only if he does not receive credit for his prior seniority. Jones contends that this restriction, as well as FTEPA's protection for compliance provision, is unconstitutional. He also argues that Continental Airlines and the Air Line Pilots Association, International ("ALPA") --the commercial airline pilots' collective bargaining representative -- violated federal and state employment laws by, inter alia, dismissing him upon his sixtieth birthday. Finally, Jones brings a claim against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"). The United States, ALPA, and Continental Airlines have each filed motions to dismiss. And the United States has filed a motion for partial summary judgment on Jones's FOIA claim.


All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); accord Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). A claim to relief is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach," under which a court first identifies the factual allegations entitled to an assumption of truth and then determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

The notice pleading rules are not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff. See Dura Pharms., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512-13 (2002). When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor. See Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979). The plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Nor does the court accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," or "naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Aktieselskabet AF 21. November 2001 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (the D.C. Circuit has "never accepted legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations" (internal quotation marks omitted)).


I. Does FTEPA Violate Equal Protection?

Jones contends that FTEPA's non-retroactivity and protection for compliance provisions are discriminatory on the basis of age in violation of the Constitution's Equal Protection guarantee.*fn2 Equal protection challenges based on age receive rational basis review. See Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 83 (2000); Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 470 (1991). This standard provides that the government "may discriminate on the basis of age without offending the Constitution if the age classification in question is rationally related to a legitimate state interest." Kimel, 528 U.S. at 83. Age classifications "must be upheld against equal protection challenge if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification." Nguyen v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv., 533 U.S. 53, 77 (2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, "[t]hose attacking the rationality of the legislative classification have the burden to negative every conceivable basis which might support it." Fed. Commc'ns Comm. v. Beach Commc'ns, Inc., 508 U.S. 307, 314-15 (1993) (internal quotation marks omitted). And legislative choices are "not subject to courtroom factfinding and may be based on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data." Id. at 315. Thus, "it is entirely irrelevant for constitutional purposes whether the conceived reason for the challenged distinction actually motivated the legislature." Id.

Jones insists that FTEPA's non-retroactivity provision*fn3 cannot survive even this forgiving review. He contends that classifications between airlines pilots are only rational if there is a safety justification for the classification. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 35. And given that FTEPA generally allows pilots to fly commercial airliners until their sixty-fifth birthday, Jones argues that there can be no safety justification for restricting his ability to fly. According to Jones, then, without such a safety justification the non-retroactivity provision is irrational.

Jones's premise is flawed, however, because in regulating the aviation industry, Congress may take into account factors other than safety. Although safety of course is of paramount importance, see 49 U.S.C. § 40101(a)(1) (the Secretary of Transportation must consider "assigning and maintaining safety as the highest priority in air commerce"), Congress must balance safety considerations with other rational legislative goals, see, e.g., id. § 40101(a)(5) ("coordinating transportation by, and improving relations among, air carriers, and encouraging fair wages and working conditions"), (a)(9) ("preventing unfair, deceptive, predatory, or anticompetitive practices in air transportation"). Preserving a calm labor market is one such rational goal. See Kimel, 528 U.S. at 92-93 ...

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