Court analyzes definition of “international carriage” under Montreal Convention

Jones v. USA 3000 Airlines (E.D. Mo. Feb. 9, 2009).  During a flight from St. Louis to Jamaica, a flight attendant allegedly pushed a service cart into the passenger’s knee, causing damage to the passenger’s “entire nervous system which had been severely shocked and deranged.”  The passenger filed a lawsuit against the airline in state court.

The airline removed the case to federal court on the grounds that the parties’ rights related to the incident were governed by the Montreal Convention, which completely preempted the passenger’s state law cause of action.  The passenger moved to remand the case, arguing that because Jamaica is not a signatory to the Convention, the flight at issue was not “international carriage” as defined by the Convention.  The passenger’s ticket was for round-trip transportation between St. Louis and Jamaica.

The Convention “applies to all international carriage of persons, baggage or cargo performed by aircraft for reward.”  Article 1(1).  Article 1(2) defines “international carriage” as follows:  “For the purposes of this Convention, the expression international carriage means any carriage in which, according to the agreement between the parties, the place of departure and the place of destination, whether or not there be a break in the carriage or a transhipment, are situated either within the territories of two States Parties, or within the territory of a single State Party if there is an agreed stopping place within the territory of another State, even if that State is not a State Party” (emphasis in original).

The court denied the passenger’s motion.  Citing numerous cases, the court concluded that, for round-trip international travel, “the place of destination” is the same as “the place of departure” and that it was irrelevant that the passenger’s outbound flight was to Jamaica, which is not a party to the Convention.  Thus, the court held that the Convention applied because the passenger’s “place of destination” was St. Louis, not Jamaica, and because the United States is a party to the Convention.  The court also held that the Convention completely preempted the passenger’s state law cause of action.

Note:  Where, as in the passenger’s memorandum in support of her remand motion, your only supporting precedent is a dissenting opinion in a 1977 case, you know your argument is a long shot.  Where the judge who wrote that dissenting opinion relied solely on Homer’s “The Odyssey” as support for his position, you really know your argument is a long shot.  It is not often that one sees a quote like this in an opinion:  “Even Ulysses, that most widely travelled of ancient heroes, was also most intent upon returning home.  Doubtless when he embarked from his home in Ithaca he always intended to return there once he had attended to his business in Troy.  But the fact that one intends to return home does not mean that that is where one is going when one sets out on a voyage.”

Update:  USA 3000 Airlines subsequently moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the passenger’s claims were time-barred under Article 35(1) of the Montreal Convention, which provides as follows:  “The right to damages shall be extinguished if an action is not brought within a period of two years, reckoned from the date of arrival at the destination, or from the date on which the aircraft ought to have arrived, or from the date on which the carriage stopped.”  Because the passenger had arrived at her destination in August 2005 but did not file the lawsuit until October 2008, the court granted the airline’s motion.


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