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Mulvey v. American Airlines Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 6, 2019

AARON MULVEY and CAROLYN MULVEY, Plaintiffs,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITE STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This lawsuit involves claims by pro se Plaintiffs Aaron and Carolyn Mulvey that Defendants American Airlines Inc. (“America”), Delta Air Lines Inc. (“Delta”), Southwest Airlines Co. (“Southwest”), and United Airlines, Inc. (“United”) violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1, 3, by “artificially inflating prices and conspiring with one another to commit fraud on the plaintiffs.”[1] Complaint, ECF No. 1, ¶ 2; see Pls.' First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 19 (incorporating by reference the allegations of the Complaint). Pending before this Court is Defendants American Airlines, Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc's [9] Motion to Dismiss, which alleges that Plaintiffs lack standing under Article III and antitrust laws. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [2] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as it currently stands, the Court GRANTS Defendants American Airlines, Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc's [9] Motion to Dismiss and dismisses without prejudice Plaintiffs' claims against these two Defendants.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs' case was transferred to this Court based upon American, Delta and United “fil[ing] a Notice of Potential Tag-Along Action with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”).” Joint Stipulation Extending Time to Respond to Complaint, ECF No. 4 (extending the time for Defendants American and Delta to respond to the Complaint); see In Re Domestic Airline Travel Antitrust Litigation, 15mc1404 (CKK). In the underlying MDL action referenced above, Defendants Southwest and American have entered into Settlement Agreements with the Plaintiffs' Class Counsel, and notification of the settlements was provided to putative class members. According to Plaintiffs' Class Counsel, an opt-out request was received from the Plaintiffs in this case, Aaron and Carolyn Mulvey, and accordingly, these Plaintiffs are not part of the settlement class in the underlying MDL action.

         On January 25, 2019, Defendants American and Delta filed their [9] Motion to Dismiss, On January 31, 2019, this Court issued an Order notifying the pro se Plaintiffs that they had until February 25, 2019 to respond to the [9] Motion to Dismiss, and furthermore, that such response should include “either an Amended Complaint, or a precise statement of the nature of the claims they are making in their Complaint and the legal grounds in order to assist the Court and parties in determining [Plaintiffs'] claims.” Order, ECF No. 16. Plaintiffs responded to the Motion to Dismiss by filing a two-page First Amended Complaint, which was accepted by this Court for filing on March 4, 2019, despite several procedural deficiencies including Plaintiffs' failure to include a certificate of service, failure to request leave to amend pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15 (a)(2), and the questionable timeliness of the filing, which was received in the Clerk's Office on February 26, 2019.[3] That First Amended Complaint incorporates by reference the allegations in Plaintiffs' original Complaint, and it adds the following paragraph:

Plaintiffs hereby supplement Plaintiff's Original Complaint and additionally allege that they do have Article III and Antitrust standing. Specifically, the Plaintiffs purchased airline tickets from both Delta Airlines Co. and American Airlines, Inc. and have in turn suffered concrete harm. While the plaintiffs frequently travel on Southwest Airlines, the plaintiffs purchased airfare from defendants Delta Airlines Co. and American Airlines, Inc. and have in turn been harmed. These allegations in supplement to the plaintiffs' original complaint filed at cause number 3:18-cv-3038, in the Northern District of Texas, establish that the Plaintiff has both Article III standing and Antitrust standing.

         Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 19, at 1-2. Defendants filed their [18] Reply in Support of their Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         When a motion to dismiss is filed, a federal court is required to ensure that it has “the ‘statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate [the] case[.]'” Morrow v. United States, 723 F.Supp.2d 71, 77 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998)). “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction” and can adjudicate only those cases or controversies entrusted to them by the Constitution or an Act of Congress. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). “In an attempt to give meaning to Article III's case-or-controversy requirement, the courts have developed a series of principles termed ‘justiciability doctrines, '” including the doctrines of standing and ripeness. Nat'l Treasury Employees Union v. United States, 101 F.3d 1423, 1427 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (citing Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984)).

         A. Standing Under Article III

         “Article III of the Constitution limits the ‘judicial power' of the United States to the resolution of ‘cases' and ‘controversies.'” Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471 (1982). A case or controversy exists only if the plaintiff has standing, which is a “predicate to any exercise of [the Court's] jurisdiction.” Dominguez v. UAL Corp., 666 F.3d 1359, 1361 (D.C. Cir. 2012). Because standing is a “threshold jurisdictional requirement, ” a court may not assume that a plaintiff has standing to proceed to evaluate a case on its merits. Bauer v. Marmara, 774 F.3d 1026, 1031 (D.C. Cir. 2014). A plaintiff “bears the burden of showing that he has standing for each type of relief sought.” Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 555 U.S. 488, 493 (2009). If standing “is lacking, then the dispute is not a proper case or controversy, [and] the courts have no business deciding it or expounding the law in the course of doing so.” Dominguez, 666 F.3d at 1361 (alteration in original, quotation omitted). “[E]very federal court has a special obligation to satisfy itself of its own jurisdiction before addressing the merits of any dispute.” Dominguez, 666 F.3d at 1362 (quotation omitted).

         To establish constitutional standing, a plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that it “(1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016), as revised (May 24, 2016) (citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61 (1992)); Andrx Pharm., Inc. v. Biovail Corp. Int'l, 256 F.3d 799, 806 & n.9 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (“As in any civil action for damages, the plaintiff in a private antitrust lawsuit must show that the defendant's illegal conduct caused its injury . . . The plaintiff's first step is to plead an injury-in-fact.”) At the pleading stage, this requires Plaintiff to “‘clearly . . . allege facts demonstrating' each element.” Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1547 (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 518 (1975)). Plaintiff cannot “rely on a bare legal conclusion” to establish an injury-in-fact. Maya v. Centex Corp., 658 F.3d 1060, 1068 (9th Cir. 2011); see Martin-Trigona v. Fed. Reserve Bd., 509 F.2d 363, 367 (D.C. Cir. 1974) (in determining standing, conclusory statements are insufficient allegations of an injury in fact).

         1. Injury in Fact

         The critical question in this case centers around injury in fact, which is the “‘[f]irst and foremost'” element of standing. Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1547 (quoting Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 103 (1998) (alteration in original)). “To establish injury in fact, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered ‘an invasion of a legally protected interest' that is ‘concrete and particularized' and ‘actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.'” Id. at 1548 (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560). “For an injury to be ‘particularized,' it ‘must affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.'” Id. (quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560 n.1). For an injury to be “concrete, ” it “must be ‘de facto'; that is, it must actually ...


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