USA: no private right of action pursuant to Air Carrier Access Act

Michael Wukoschitz's picture

Plaintiff-appellant Mary Lopez appealed a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York entered August 20, 2010 dismissing her disability discrimination claims against appellee Jet Blue Airways ("JetBlue") under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

The Plaintiff alleged that she required wheelchair assistance as a result of her disability, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, and that JetBlue discriminated against her by failing to provide timely wheelchair assistance during her July 3, 2009 flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York ("JFK") to Aguadilla International Airport in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico ("Aguadilla"), as well as during her July 10, 2009 return flight from Aguadilla to JFK. According to the Plaintiff, the wheelchair assistance she requested to board the flight at JFK on July 3, 2009 did not arrive until just before the aircraft door closed, and the delay caused pain and swelling in her foot, as well as resulting anguish, anxiety, and nightmares. In addition, Lopez asserts that she was not provided with wheelchair assistance in a timely fashion when she arrived at Aguadilla on July 10, 2009, for her return flight to JFK, and that when she landed at JFK she was taken by wheelchair to the baggage claim area but was not thereafter taken to her car.

In its judgement of December 1, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the District Court's decision:

The ACAA prohibits air carriers from discriminating against "an otherwise qualified individual" because "the individual has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." Nevertheless, the ACAA does not expressly provide a private cause of action against an air carrier for violation of its terms. The text and structure of the ACAA manifests no congressional intent to create a private right of action in a federal district court. The statute does not expressly provide a right to sue the air carrier, and that right should not be implied because the statute provides an administrative enforcement scheme designed to vindicate fully the rights of disabled passengers. In sum, although the ACAA is intended to protect the passengers of air carriers against discrimination on the basis of disability, the text and structure of the statute show that Congress chose to accomplish this goal through means other than private enforcement actions in the district courts. The District Court thus properly dismissed the disability discrimination claim brought by the Plaintiff pursuant to the ACAA.

Title III of the ADA prohibits "private entit[ies] that [are] primarily engaged in the business of transporting people" from discriminating on the basis of disability in the provision of "specified public transportation services." The statute defines "specified public transportation" as "transportation by bus, rail, or any other conveyance (other than by aircraft) that provides the general public with general or special service (including charter service) on a regular and continuing basis." Air carriers are not liable under this section for disability discrimination in the provision of services related to air transportation. Accordingly, the District Court properly dismissed the disability discrimination claim brought pursuant to Title III of the ADA.

Case: Lopez v. Jet Blue Airways, 10-3550-cv, NYLJ 1202534231735, at *1 (2d Cir., Decided December 1, 2011)

Full text of decision available here>>.

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