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Okeke-Henry v. Southwest Airlines, Co.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 13, 2017

CHINWEIFENU OKEKE-HENRY Appellant
v.
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES, CO. Appellee

         Appeal from the Order Entered April 1, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No: December Term, 2015 No. 1420

          BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., STABILE, and MOULTON, JJ.

          OPINION

          STABILE, J.

         Appellant, Chinweifenu Okeke-Henry, appeals from the April 1, 2016 order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, granting judgment on the pleadings in favor of Appellee, Southwest Airlines Co. ("Southwest"). Following review, we vacate and remand.

         Appellant filed a complaint on December 16, 2015, alleging she was injured when she was struck in the head by a suitcase carried by another passenger while boarding a Southwest flight in Denver, Colorado on December 16, 2013. In her Complaint, Appellant alleged that:

8. [Appellant's] injuries resulted from the actions and inactions of [Southwest], which were careless, negligent, or reckless in that [Southwest]:
a) failed to properly monitor and oversee the boarding process on its aircraft;
b) failed to properly train its employees to protect its passengers' safety during the boarding process;
c) failed to properly supervise its employees during the boarding process; and
d) failed to otherwise ensure that its passengers would not be injured in the boarding process.

Appellant's Complaint at ¶ 8.

         Southwest filed a responsive pleading denying Appellant's injuries were caused by Southwest and asserting various affirmative defenses, including preemption under the Federal Aviation Act ("FAA"), 49 U.S.C.A. § 40101 et seq. Southwest's Answer and New Matter, 1/25/16, at ¶¶ 8-9, 32-33.

         On February 17, 2016, Southwest filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting the pleadings were closed in light of Appellant's failure to file a reply to Southwest's new matter and contending Southwest was entitled to judgment on the pleadings because Appellant's claims were preempted by the FAA. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, 2/17/16. Later that day, Appellant filed her reply to Southwest's new matter, "specifically den[ying] that [Appellant's] claims are barred or limited in any way." Appellant's Reply to New Matter, 2/17/16, at ¶¶ 32-33.[1]

          On March 7, 2016, Appellant filed a response in opposition to Southwest's motion for judgment on the pleadings, denying that her claims were preempted by the FAA, claiming the FAA's preemption did not prohibit state law remedies but merely required assertion of a standard of care under the FAA, and contending that she intended to file a motion to amend her complaint to reference the ...


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