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Landis v. US Airways

March 18, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hay, Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, Cheryl Landis ("Landis" or "plaintiff") filed the instant complaint bringing claims against US Airways, Inc. ("US Airways") for negligence (Count I), intentional tort (Count II), and breach of contract (Count III), and claims against The Boeing Company ("Boeing"), for strict liability (Count IV), breach of implied and express warranty (Count V), and negligence (Count VI), after she was allegedly injured while a passenger on an airplane scheduled to depart from Pittsburgh International Airport for Palm Beach International Airport on July 27, 2006.

According to the Complaint, Landis was aboard US Airways' Flight 231 at approximately 9:45 a.m. on July 27, 2006, when the plane, which was allegedly designed and manufactured by Boeing, experienced a "nose gear collapse" causing the aircraft to shake violently as it pushed off from the gate. Complaint ¶¶ 6, 8, 13 [Dkt. 1]. Landis alleges that US Airways did not take all necessary measures to avoid the accident despite the fact that a crewman warned the first officer that the nose landing gear wheel was not oriented with the nose of the airplane during the pre-flight inspection. Landis contends that as a direct result of the nose landing gear collapse she suffered severe physical injuries, including extensive nerve damage requiring her to have cervical surgery, continuous muscle spasms and numbness in her neck and various nerves. Landis further contends that because of her injuries, she has accumulated extensive medical bills which, in turn, has impacted her credit score. Id., ¶¶ 7, 9, 10, 11.

Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) filed by US Airways and a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) submitted by Boeing. We will address each motion seriatim.

I. Motion to Dismiss

The United States Supreme Court has recently held that a complaint is properly dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) where it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (rejecting the long-adhered to 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). In assessing the sufficiency of the complaint, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 935 (1985). The Court, however, need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Public Employees' Retirement System v. Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126. 143 (3d Cir. 2004), citing Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The question is not whether the plaintiff will prevail in the end but, rather, is whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of his or her claims. See Oatway v. American International Group, Inc., 325 F.3d 184, 187 (3d Cir. 2003).

Here, US Airways contends that Landis' claims are properly dismissed as they are preempted by federal law. Specifically, US Airways argues that because the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, codified as amended at 49 U.S.C. §§ 40101-49105 (the "FAA"), was enacted to provide the exclusive system of regulation of air safety and flight operations, any claims brought under state law are preempted. Because Landis has asserted only Pennsylvania common law tort and contract claims against it, US Airways argues they are preempted by the FAA and properly dismissed.

This precise issue was addressed by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Abdullah v. American Airlines, Inc., 181 F.3d 363, 366 (3d Cir. 1999) ("Abdullah"), wherein the Court held that:

[T]he FAA and relevant federal regulations establish complete and thorough safety standards for interstate and international air transportation that are not subject to supplementation by, or variation among, jurisdictions. While some courts have found federal law to preempt discrete aspects of air safety ... we hold that federal law establishes the applicable standards of care in the field of air safety, generally, thus preempting the entire field from state and territorial regulation.

Id. at 367 (citations omitted). See Fidelity Federal Sav. and Loan Ass'n v. de la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 153 (1982), quoting Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218, 230 (1947) (Absent explicit pre-emptive language, Congress' intent to supersede state law altogether may be inferred because "[t]he scheme of federal regulation may be so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it" [or] because "the Act of Congress may touch a field in which the federal interest is so dominant that the federal system will be assumed to preclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject ..."). Thus, the standard of care applicable to aviation safety is derived solely from the FAA and any claims premised on violations of standards imposed by state law are properly dismissed.

As previously discussed, Landis has brought claims against US Airways for violations of Pennsylvania common law sounding in tort and contract. Because the standard of care imposed by state common law is preempted by the FAA, and Landis has not otherwise set forth a federal standard of care alleged to have been breached, her claims against US Airways are properly dismissed. See Levy v. Continental Airlines, Inc., 2007 WL 2844592 at * (E.D. Pa. Oct. 1, 2007) ("Levy") (Finding that, under the FAA, federal law provides the pertinent standard of care for aviation safety and that the plaintiff's claims alleging violations of standards imposed by state common law and state statutes were properly dismissed); Margolies-Mezvinsky v. U.S. Air Corp., 2000 WL 122355 at *2 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 28, 2000) (Finding that the plaintiff's state law claim for negligence during the operation of an airplane was properly dismissed as she failed to set out a duty owed to her under federal law which is a key element of her case).

Landis nevertheless argues that because she has stated in the jurisdictional statement of her complaint that, "[j]urisdiction is based on 14 C.F.R. § 91.101, as this is a civil action arising under the [FAA]," and has generally alleged that US Airways was careless and reckless, she has satisfied her burden under the notice pleading standard. Complaint ¶ 4. We disagree.

First, § 91.101 merely states that "[t]his subpart prescribes flight rules governing the operation of aircraft within the United States and within 12 nautical miles from the coast of the United States," and does not, in and of itself, set forth what those rules are or the appropriate standard of care. Second, as argued by US Airways, plaintiff has not alleged anywhere in the Complaint that US Airways violated the FAA but, rather, has alleged only that US Airways violated duties owed to her under state law.*fn1

More importantly, however, in Abdullah, the Third Circuit found that, in determining the standards of care in an aviation negligence action, a court must refer not only to specific regulations but also to the overall concept that aircraft may not be operated in a careless or reckless manner. The applicable standard of care is not limited to a particular regulation of a specific area; it expands to ...

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