The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois recently held in Bandurin v. Aeroflot Russian Airlines, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10296 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 22, 2020), that American passengers could not maintain a claim under the Montreal Convention arising from various inconveniences largely suffered while travelling through Moscow. The key allegations included significant travel delays, physical injuries suffered when the airline did not provide a wheelchair for a disabled passenger, and checked baggage delays and damage. Plaintiffs also brought breach of contract claims against Aeroflot and Finnair, and a RICO claim against Aeroflot only.
The foreign airline defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction and that plaintiffs failed to plead necessary elements of Montreal Convention Articles 17 (Death and Injury of Passengers and Damage to Baggage) and 19 (Delay). They also argued plaintiffs did not specify which contract terms the airlines allegedly breached, and that plaintiffs failed to plead necessary RICO elements.
The Court granted nearly all aspects of the defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that this was not the "exceptional case" that would have allowed the Court to exercise general personal jurisdiction over these two foreign airline defendants under Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117 (2014), nor did any alleged conduct by the airlines relate to Illinois such that the Court could maintain specific personal jurisdiction. Several plaintiffs' Montreal Convention, breach of contract and RICO claims survived the Court's personal jurisdiction analysis. Of those, the Court held: 1) the disabled plaintiff was not "embarking" for purposes of an injury under Montreal Convention Article 17 as she walked through the terminal to purchase a new ticket after she missed her initial flight, so the airline's failure to provide her a wheelchair was not actionable; 2) passengers who were denied boarding did not adequately state a claim for delay under Article 19, as the issue was one of nonperformance, as opposed to delay; 3) a passenger who was delayed due to mechanical malfunction had stated a claim for delay under Article 19 (although recovery would be limited to economic damages only); 4) plaintiffs failed to plead predicate acts of fraud or the existence of an enterprise necessary for their RICO claim to survive the motion to dismiss; and 5) plaintiffs had not adequately alleged what contractual terms the airlines violated by vaguely alleging a "voluntary contractual duty."
Bandurin shows that Montreal Convention claims have the potential to invite personal jurisdiction challenges, particularly where plaintiffs bring suit in jurisdictions unrelated to the underlying travel. After all, the jurisdiction conveyed in Article 33 does not also convey personal jurisdiction.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.