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Brannen v. British Airways PLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 1, 2017

DANIEL E. BRANNEN, Plaintiff
v.
BRITISH AIRWAYS PLC and VIKING RIVER CRUISES, INC., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          Kane Judge

         Before the Court are Defendants British Airways PLC (“British Airways”), and Viking River Cruises, Inc.'s (“VRC”), motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. Nos. 7, 22.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant both motions.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff Daniel E. Brannen (“Brannen”) initiated the above-captioned action by filing a complaint against Defendants in this Court on April 21, 2017. (Doc. No. 1.) Brannen's allegations stem from an incident that took place on November 1, 2015, at Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Brannen and his wife were traveling from Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey to Marseilles, France on a British Airways flight as part of a European cruise vacation arranged through VRC, and they stopped at Heathrow Airport before boarding a connecting British Airways flight to Marseilles. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-20.) While Brannen was boarding an inter-terminal bus to travel from one terminal of the Heathrow Airport to another for his connecting flight, he suffered an injury to his shin, which resulted in cellulitis and an infection in his left leg. (Id. at ¶¶ 24, 27, 37.)

         In the complaint, Brannen avers that on October 31, 2015, he and his wife traveled on British Airways flight 188 from Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, and arrived at Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom on November 1, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Brannen and his wife allegedly disembarked from terminal 5 at Heathrow airport and proceeded to terminal 3 “to embark on their scheduled connecting flight to Marseilles, France.” (Id. at ¶ 21.) Subsequently, “[a]t terminal 3, a British Airways agent told Mr. and Mrs. Brannen that their British Airways connecting flight was canceled, ” and the airline agent “instead arranged for Mr. and Mrs. Brannen to travel to Brussels, Belgium, on Brussels Airlines, SN flight 2096, and then on SN 3603 from Brussels to Marseilles” on November 1, 2015. (Id.) When Brannen communicated with the agent from British Airways, the agent provided “an e-ticket receipt for flights 2096 and 3606, and specifically instructed Mr. and Mrs. Brannen immediately to travel from terminal 3 to terminal 4, using the airport's inter-terminal transfer bus system, to get their boarding passes and embark on Brussels Airlines, SN flight 2096.” (Id. at ¶ 22.) Brannen and his wife then “followed the British Airway[s] agent's instructions, for the immediate purpose of embarking” on the flight to Brussels. (Id. at ¶ 23.)

         When the inter-terminal bus arrived “[a]t the transfer bus stop at terminal 3, the bus stopped too far from the curb, ” and “[p]assengers began boarding by stepping directly from the curb onto the bus, which required a long step.” (Id. at ¶ 24.) Brannen, “an elderly man with arthritis in his right foot, ” uses a cane to assist him in walking and “was using his cane when he tried to board the bus.” (Id. at ¶ 26.) Brannen alleges that “[b]ecause the bus stopped too far from the curb, ” he “stepped forward with his good, left foot, but the foot slipped off the bus as he tried to board, causing him to hit his shin on the bus ledge, which then caused him to fall backward.” (Id. at ¶ 27.) After arriving at terminal 4, Brannen and his wife then proceeded to the Brussels Airlines counter to obtain their boarding passes and “to continue embarking, ” when an airline representative “informed them that this flight was canceled too.” (Id. at ¶ 29.) When they “returned to terminal 3 to the British Airways transfer desk, to get new flight instructions, ” Brannen and his wife “were told they could not get a flight until the following day.” (Id. at ¶ 30.)

         After returning to the hotel at the airport that evening, Brannen “discovered a large bruise and hematoma on his left shin, ” and when he returned to the United States at the conclusion of his vacation, he met with a podiatrist as a result of a previously-scheduled appointment on November 10, 2015. (Id. at ¶¶ 31, 35.) The podiatrist “was concerned by the hematoma, ” and as a result, instructed Brannen to proceed “to the hospital immediately for an ultrasound to check for blood clots, ” and the ultrasound showed no blood clots. (Id. at ¶ 36.) In addition, the podiatrist recommended that Brannen meet with a primary care doctor in regard to his injury. (Id.) On the same day, Brannen's primary care physician “diagnosed cellulitis and a serious infection in the injured left leg.” (Id. at 37.) Brannen also asserts that he has incurred medical expenses and lost wages, and that he has suffered pain and “permanent disfiguration.”[2] (Id. at ¶¶ 38-40.)

         Brannen's two-count complaint sets forth strict liability claims against VRC and British Airways under the Montreal Convention. (Id. at 8-9.) The bases for Brannen's claims under the Montreal Convention are that VRC “was a contracting carrier under Articles 39 and 40 of the Montreal Convention, ” British Airways “was an actual carrier, and/or was a contracting carrier, under Articles 39 and 40 of the Montreal Convention, ” and that “[t]he accident that caused Mr. Brannen's injury took place in the course of the operations of his disembarking from British Airways flight 188 . . . [and] embarking on Brussels Airlines flight 2096.” (Id. at ¶¶ 43-45, 52-54.)

         On May 24, 2017, British Airways filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 7.) On June 22, 2017, VRC also filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 22.) Both motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for disposition.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide the defendant notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008). The plaintiff must present facts that, accepted as true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires “only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” a complaint may nevertheless be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for its “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court's inquiry is guided by the standards of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Under Twombly and Iqbal, pleading requirements have shifted to a “more heightened form of pleading.” See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must set out “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Id. The plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility that the Defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Accordingly, to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following steps a district court must take when determining the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint “not entitled” to the assumption of truth; and (3) determine whether any “well-pleaded factual allegations” contained in the complaint “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). A court may also consider “any ‘matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.'” ...


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