Court holds that no implied ACAA private right of action exists

Wright v. American Airlines, Inc. (E.D. Mo. Mar. 3, 2008).  The plaintiff filed suit for herself and her minor son against American, alleging that her son was injured because he was denied accommodations for his disability, osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as “Brittle Bone Disease,” while traveling on American’s flights.  She alleged a cause of action under the federal Air Carrier Access Act, 49 U.S.C. § 41705, which prohibits airlines from discriminating against disabled persons, as well as various state law causes of action.  According to the plaintiff, DOT had determined that American had violated the ACAA with respect to its treatment of her son by failing to provide timely lift assistance and accurate information as to the aircraft’s accessibility.

American moved to dismiss the ACAA count on the grounds that an individual has no private right of action to enforce the ACAA.  The ACAA does not expressly provide a private right of action.  American contended that the ACAA’s comprehensive administrative enforcement scheme, which gives DOT the power to force compliance with the ACAA, to revoke an airline’s carrier certificate and to impose fines, indicates that Congress did not implicitly intend to provide individuals with a private right of action to enforce the ACAA.

The court agreed with American.  Although the Eighth Circuit had concluded in a 1989 case that an implied private right of action to enforce the ACAA did exist, the Supreme Court had adopted a new test in Alexander v. Sandoval, a 2001 case, that restricted the circumstances under which a court may determine that a implied private right of action exists under a federal statute.  Siding with other post-Sandoval cases, the court held that the ACAA does not provide a private right of action, reasoning that the statute’s extensive administrative enforcement scheme suggested that Congress “intended to preclude alternative means of enforcing the statute.”  Accordingly, the court dismissed the ACAA count.

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