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Meyer v. United Airlines

February 15, 2009

JOHN W. MEYER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED AIRLINES, INCORPORATED, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff John W. Meyer ("Meyer") sued his employer, United Airlines, Incorporated ("United"), claiming that United: (1) retaliated against him for using leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; (2) interfered with his substantive rights under the FMLA; and (3) retaliatorily discharged him under Illinois common law for complaining internally that United's maintenance procedures violated FAA safety regulations. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), United brings this Motion to Dismiss Count III of Meyer's Complaint. United argues that the express preemption clause of the Federal Airline Deregulation Act ("FADA"), 49 U.S.C. § 41713, preempts Meyer's retaliatory discharge claim. Additionally, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e), United requests a more definite statement as to Meyer's Count II. For the reasons stated, this Court denies United's Motion to Dismiss Count III and grants United's Motion for a More Definite Statement as to Count II.

PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

United, a major international airline, employed Meyer as an aircraft mechanic. (Compl. ¶¶ 1-4.)*fn1 His duties included performing safety inspections of United's aircraft. (Compl. ¶ 60.) In October 2003, Meyer notified United of his need for FMLA leave to tend to his own serious health condition. (Compl. ¶ 7.) On March 16, 2004, United tendered FMLA papers to Meyer and requested medical certification of his condition. (Compl. ¶8.) Meyer's physician completed the medical certification, which noted that Meyer would require intermittent FMLA leave for conditions such as severe migraines, diverticulitis and esophageal reflux, and Meyer tendered the certification to United's staff physician, Dr. McGuffin. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11.) Dr. McGuffin disagreed with Meyer's physician about the amount of intermittent leave Meyer would require, but performed no diagnostic tests or physical exams, and did not provide an independent opinion as to the amount or extent of intermittent leave Meyer would require to treat his conditions. (Compl. ¶¶ 12-13.) Additionally, United did not obtain second or third medical opinions, and it did not indicate that the medical certification contained any deficiencies. (Compl. ¶ 14, 17.) Later, United disciplined Meyer for the time he took off from work. (Compl. ¶ 18.)

In June 2005, Meyer informed United that he would again require intermittent FMLA leave to care for his pregnant wife who suffered from gestational diabetes. (Compl. ¶ 19.) On July 26, 2005, Meyer turned over a request for medical certification, but United's physician was unavailable to certify the paperwork. (Compl. ¶ 21.) On September 6, 2005, a United physician, Dr. Rosi, completed the certification form and returned it to Meyer, and United retroactively certified Meyer for FMLA leave for the period of July 18, 2005 through September 10, 2005. (Compl. ¶¶ 23-24.)

However, United subsequently disciplined him for time that he took off. (Compl. ¶ 25.) On January 27, 2006, United terminated Meyer for the stated reason of "lack of dependability." (Compl. ¶ 27.)

Meyer alleges that United failed to advise him with respect to his rights under the FMLA, failed to respond to his requests made pursuant to the FMLA, substantially interfered with the exercise of his FMLA rights, restricted him in the use of his time while on FMLA leave, harassed him for exercising his FMLA rights, and ultimately retaliated against him for exercising his FMLA rights by disciplining and terminating him. (Compl. ¶¶ 29-46.)

Meyer also alleges that United terminated him in retaliation for notifying his supervisors that certain United maintenance procedures violated FAA safety regulations. (Compl. ¶ 61, 63.) When Meyer found defects in aircraft during his safety inspections, he had responsibility for correcting them before the end of his shift. (Compl. ¶ 62.) Joseph Moser, his supervisor, instructed Meyer to not make a record of the defects that he could not correct before the end of his shift. (Compl. ¶¶ 63-64.) Meyer thought that such conduct violated FAA safety regulations, because he believed he had a duty to record all defects he discovered regardless of whether he could fix them before the end of his shift. (Compl. ¶ 63, 64.) He informed his supervisors of these beliefs but they took no corrective action. (Compl. ¶ 65.) Moran then threatened him and assigned him additional clean-up duties. (Compl. ¶ 65.) He alleges that after his complaints, United took no corrective action, the violations continued, and he suffered adverse job actions, including harassment and termination. (Compl. ¶ 78.)

STANDARD

When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Murphy v. Walker, 51 F.3d 714, 717 (7th Cir. 1995). To state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff need not allege all facts involved in the claim. See Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994). However, in order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the claim must be supported by facts that, if taken as true, at least plausibly suggest that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). Such a set of facts must "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" of illegality. Id. at 1965.

DISCUSSION

I. United's Motion to Dismiss Count III

As previously noted, Count III of Meyer's complaint alleges retaliatory discharge under Illinois common law. Meyer alleges that United terminated him because he complained to United supervisors that the airline's aircraft maintenance policies did not comport with FAA regulations; and therefore, its stated reason for his termination is pretextual. United counters that FADA's Whistleblower Protection Program ("WPP") preempts Meyer's state retaliatory discharge claim related to air safety. Alternatively, United argues that FADA preempts Meyer's state retaliatory discharge because the claim relates to the services of United, an air carrier. While the Seventh Circuit has addressed several cases related to FADA preemption of state laws, it has not yet decided whether FADA, as amended by the WPP, preempts state retaliatory discharge claims related to air safety against airlines.

In 1978, Congress enacted FADA in order to allow competitive market forces "to provide efficiency, innovation, and low prices; and, to decide on the variety and quality of, and determine prices for, air transportation services." 49 U.S.C. ยง 40101(a)(12). To ensure that the States would not undo federal deregulation with regulation of their own, FADA included an express preemption provision. See ...


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