Flying Imams Update

According to this Washington Post Article, the Flying Imams' lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss yesterday. But the article does not tell the whole story. In fact, the article misrepresents Judge Montgomery's decision as an unqualified victory for CAIR and the Flying Imams. I have read the ruling, and offer a brief summary of its effect on the suit.

The decision rules on several motions:

  1. U.S. Airways' Motion to Dismiss
  2. U.S. Airways' Motion for Summary Judgment
  3. MAC's Motion to Dismiss
  4. Plaintiffs' Rule 56(f) Motion
  5. Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike

I. MAC's Motion to Dismiss

MAC is the Metropolitan Airport Commission, a state actor. This is a FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

The court denied MAC's motion to dismiss Count 3 (§1983 claim for 4th Amendment violations: unreasonable search and seizure), ruling that Plaintiffs had adequately plead a charge that they had been arrested without probable cause.

Similarly, the court denied MAC's motion to dismiss Count 3 (§1983 claim for 4th Amendment violations: equal protection), ruling that Plaintiffs had adequately plead a charge that they had been discriminated against on the basis of their race or religion. The court found the complaint sufficiently clear to put MAC on adequate notice of Plaintiffs' claims and the grounds on which they were based.

The court granted MAC's motion to dismiss Count 3 (§1983 claim for 6th Amendment violations: right to counsel) because Plaintiffs did not respond to the motion.

The court denied MAC's motion to dismiss Count 4 (tortious failure to adequately train) because the motion depended on complete dismissal of Count 3, which was not granted.

The court granted MAC's motion to dismiss Count 5 (tortious false arrest) because it appeared to assert that claim against U.S. Airways, but not against MAC. Because the complaint did not clearly state a false arrest claim against MAC, the court dismissed that claim as against MAC.

The court denied MAC's motion to dismiss Count 10 (violation of Minnesota Government Data Practices Act) because Plaintiff Shahin's allegation that she was "afraid to go out in public" after MAC failed to remove her Social Security Number from a police report before publishing it on the Internet was sufficient to state a claim for emotional damages.

The court denied MAC's motion to dismiss Count 17 (invasion of privacy) for the same reason. MAC had asserted that emotional damages were insufficient to support a claim for invasion of privacy, but the court found otherwise.

II. U.S. Airways' Motion to Dismiss

U.S. Airways is the airline. It is not a state actor. This is a FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

The court denied U.S. Airways' motion to dismiss Count 3 (§1983 claim for 4th Amendment violations: various) because, although U.S. Airways is not a state actor, it can still be held liable under §1983 if it "jointly engaged with public officers in the denial of civil rights." The complaint alleged that U.S. Airways had jointly engaged in search, seizure, and arrest with the public officers of MAC. Therefore, the complaint sufficiently stated the claim.

The court denied U.S. Airways' motion to dismiss Count 5 (tortious false arrest). U.S. Airways argued that it had not performed the arrest (MAC had), and so it could not be liable for false arrest. But the Minnesota Supreme Court (Minnesota law controls this claim) had ruled that private actors could be held liable for false arrest if they provide information to law enforcement. Therefore, U.S. Airways may be subject to a false arrest claim. U.S. Airways also asserted a federal defense under 49 U.S.C. §44941, which gives air carriers immunity from suit for terrorism-related voluntary information disclosures to law enforcement. However, the court found that Plaintiffs had alleged activity (acting in concert with MAC, not just providing information) that was not covered by the statute, and denied the motion to dismiss.

The court granted U.S. Airways' motion to dismiss Count 6 (violation of Air Carrier Accest Act) because it found that the ACAA did not create a private right of action. ACAA requires air carriers to provide access to disabled persons; Plaintiff Sadeddin alleged that he had been effectively denied access because the airline ignored his blindness on the presumption that he was faking it. The Act does not explicitly create a private right of action, and the court looked to precedent from other circuits to determine that a private right of action could not be implied.

The court denied U.S. Airways' motion to dismiss Count 12 (intentional infliction of emotional distress) because it found that the facts alleged by Plaintiffs might, if proven true, amount to extreme and outrageous conduct.

III. U.S. Airways' Motion for Summary Judgment & Plaintiffs' Rule 56(f) Motion

This is a motion for summary judgment in favor of U.S. Airways on all counts.

The court denied the motion. U.S. Airways asserted immunity under the Federal Aviation Act, 49 U.S.C. §44902, which allows airlines to refuse to board a passenger so long as its refusal is not arbitrary or capricious. U.S. Airways believed it had presented enough evidence by affidavit to establish that its refusal to board Plaintiffs was not arbitrary or capricious within the meaning of the statute. The court did not answer this question, because Plaintiffs had filed a competing Rule 56(f) motion. Rule 56(f) allows a party opposing a motion for summary judgment to assert by affidavit that it is unable to properly oppose the motion merely by affidavits. In other words, Plaintiff asserted that discovery was necessary before it could adequately respond to U.S. Airways' motion for summary judgment. The court agreed, so it granted Plaintiffs' 56(f) motion and denied U.S. Airways' motion without prejudice, which means U.S. Airways is free to file for summary judgment on the same grounds in the future, presumably after some discovery has taken place.

U.S. Airways also moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiffs' state-law claims were preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act, 49 U.S.C. §41713(b)(1), which provides that the states may not make legislation or rules "relating to" airline services or fares. The court found different interpretations of the preemptive effect of the ADA on boarding practice claims and the meaning of the word "services" under the statute, but did not decide one way or the other on preemption. Instead, the court found precedent indicating that determining the scope of "services" in the context of allegations of racial or religious bias in boarding practices required some discovery. Therefore, the court denied the motion without prejudice.

IV. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike

U.S. Airways, after filing its motion for summary judgment, learned of a case from the 9th Circuit that supported its position with an additional, implied preemption argument, and informed the court of the case. Plaintiffs responded with their own letter suggesting that the case was distinguishable. U.S. Airways responded to Plaintiffs' response, asserting that the case tended to support their interpretation of the law. Plaintiffs moved to strike this last letter as an unsolicited supplemental memorandum of law, barred by a local court rule. The court granted the motion to strike the letter, asserting that U.S. Airways could not correct its failure to brief the implied preemption issue in an unsolicited memorandum of law.


In sum, the rulings are generally pro-Plaintiffs, but that is to be expected at this stage of the game. Notably, the court left the door open for U.S. Airways to move for summary judgment on the same grounds after a bit of discovery. The ruling is by no means a conclusive victory for anyone.

Tiny Update: It is important to note that the most interesting aspect of this case, the claim against various John Doe defendants, is no longer an issue: Plaintiffs voluntarily withdrew those charges early in the case when they filed an amended complaint.

Tom G Varik