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Class Action Defense Cases–Dickson v. American Airlines: Texas Federal Court Dismisses Class Action Against Airline Finding Limitations Period Expired On Claims Under Montreal Convention

Putative Class Action Against American Airlines Asserting Claims under Montreal Convention based on Flight Delays caused by Weather Dismissed without Leave to Amend because Two Year Limitations Period Expired Texas Federal Court Holds

On December 17, 2009, plaintiff filed a putative class action against American Airlines for alleged violations of the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air (“Montreal Convention”), which “provides for compensation to consumers in international air carriage by air for delay of passengers or their baggage or cargo as well as personal injury and death”; specifically, the class action complaint alleged that on December 29, 2006, plaintiff and approximately 2,000 to 33,000 other class members, all airline passengers, “were delayed over 3 hours” and that some of the class members, including plaintiff, were “confined to AA aircraft on the ground for extended periods of time and affected by related actions of AA.” Dickson v. American Airlines, Inc., ___ F.Supp.2d ___ (N.D.Tex. January 28, 2010) [Slip Opn., at 1-2]. According to the allegations underlying the class action, plaintiff, along with his wife and child, “suffered inconveniences and damages at the hands of defendant when they were passengers on an airplane operated by defendant in late December 2006 as part of their trip from San Francisco to the country of Belize when, due to weather conditions, their flight was diverted from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Austin, Texas.” Id., at 2. The class action complaint further alleged that adverse weather conditions caused plaintiff and his family to be “confined in the aircraft for over eight hours,” and that more than 2,000 other AA passengers on 120 other flights were also confined to aircrafts that day, while as many as 33,000 on 1100 other AA flights suffered delays of at least 3 hours.” Id., at 2-3. Because of the 2 year statute of limitations on Montreal Convention claims, the class action alleged that the limitations period was tolled by the filing of other class actions against defendant, id., at 3-4. Defense attorneys moved to dismiss the class action on the grounds, inter alia, that the statute of limitations period had expired and was not tolled, and that the Montreal Convention does not provide for recovery of damages based on “inconvenience, emotional and physical distress and injury, deprivation of liberty” based on flight delays. Id., at 4. The district court granted defendant’s motion and dismissed the putative class action complaint without leave to amend.

The district court first considered the statute of limitations argument, and found that the limitations period had not been tolled. See Dickson, at 6-16. We do not discuss the Montreal Convention in detail; suffice it to say that the federal court concluded that “by the express language of the Convention” a lawsuit must be filed within 2 years; thus, “The time element expressed in the Convention is not a limitation provision but is a part of the definition of the right to recover damages based on the provisions of the Convention.” Id., at 9 (citations omitted). Based on this holding, the federal court found it unnecessary to address defendant’s other arguments. However, the district court did address plaintiff’s request for leave to amend. The court denied leave to amend under Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, concluding that “[t]he court cannot think of anything worthwhile that would be gained by giving plaintiff an opportunity to file an amended complaint, and declines to do so.” Id., at 18. Accordingly, the district court dismissed the putative class action complaint. Id.

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