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Gamson v. British Airways, PLC

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

June 5, 2014

EDWARD K. GAMSON, et al., Plaintiffs,

EDWARD K. GAMSON, Plaintiff, Pro se, Washington, DC.

LOWELL E. CANADAY, Plaintiff, Pro se, Washington, DC.

For BRITISH AIRWAYS PLC, Defendant: Kenneth Scott Nankin, NANKIN & VERMA PLLC, Bethesda, MD.


JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

This case proves the truth of Mark Twain's aphorism that " [t]he difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." Except here only a single letter's difference is involved.

Plaintiffs Edward Gamson and Lowell Canaday were set to fly first class from Washington through London to Granada, Spain, for some much-needed relaxation. Defendant British Airways, perhaps believing a Caribbean vacation preferable, instead booked the last leg of the trip to Grenada, in the West Indies. The couple only realized the error after departing London, probably somewhere over the North Atlantic. Although they eventually returned safely to Washington, they had missed out on their planned Spanish trip. As a result, they filed this pro se suit in D.C. Superior Court for damages based on British Airways' negligence and breach of contract in its erroneous booking.

Defendant has removed the matter to this Court on the ground that at least one of Plaintiffs' claims arises under the Montreal Convention, a treaty governing international air travel, which provides federal subject-matter jurisdiction. British Airways now moves to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs cannot state a claim under the Convention and that the U.S. Airline Deregulation Act preempts any remaining claims. Believing that the Montreal Convention does not completely preempt this case and that removal was thus improper,

Page 87

the Court remands the case back to the Superior Court.

I. Background

According to the Complaint, which must be presumed true for the purposes of this Motion, Plaintiffs, having gone two years without a vacation, planned a trip to Granada and Seville in Spain. Compl., ¶ 7. They booked their flights with Defendant British Airways, intending to travel from Washington Dulles Airport to London, and then to Granada, with a return flight from Lisbon, Portugal, to Washington Dulles. Id., ¶ 8. Plaintiff Gamson clearly explained to Defendant's agent that they wished to travel to Granada, Spain, and Defendant's agent on his own initiative suggested that Plaintiffs connect through London's Gatwick Airport. Id., ¶ ¶ 9-10. Gamson agreed and booked the tickets, which were transferred electronically to Plaintiffs and referred to " Grenada," without any indication of the country, airport code, or flight duration. Id., ¶ 10. After arriving in the sunny Caribbean, as opposed to sunny Andalusia, Plaintiffs learned that British Airways had made this error before. Id., ¶ 12.

They brought suit in the Superior Court for breach of contract, negligence, and gross negligence, seeking damages for the value of their tickets, non-refundable expenses for their lost vacation in Spain, lost wages, and other associated expenses. Id., ¶ ¶ 13-21. On March 28, 2014, Defendant removed the case to this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, on the ground that Plaintiffs' cause of action " arises under" federal law within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See Notice of Removal, ¶ 6. The federal law in question is the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, on May 28, 1999, ICAO Doc. No. 9740 (entered into force on November 4, 2003), reprinted in S. Treaty Doc. No. 106-45, 1999 WL 33292734 (" Montreal Convention" ). Having removed the matter, British Airways now moves to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), on the grounds that the Montreal Convention and the Airline Deregulation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1), preempt Plaintiffs' state-law claims. In addition to opposing that Motion, Plaintiffs ask the Court to remand the matter to Superior Court.

II. Analysis

In general, a defendant may remove a state-court action to federal court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) " if it qualifies as a 'civil action . . . of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction,' unless Congress expressly provides otherwise." Rivet v. Regions Bank of Louisiana,522 U.S. 470, 474, 118 S.Ct. 921, 139 L.Ed.2d 912 (1998) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), however, once a case has been removed, " [i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be ...

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