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Vera Shtapova, et al v. United Airlines

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS EASTERN DIVISION


February 17, 2011

VERA SHTAPOVA, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,*FN1
v.
UNITED AIRLINES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

This Court's invariable practice is to consider, as it must, the existence or nonexistence of subject-matter jurisdiction at the very inception of litigation (see, e.g., Wernsing v. Thompson, 423 F.3d 732, 743 (7th Cir. 2005)). And if a question as to such jurisdiction arises at any stage of the proceedings, the same duty of sua sponte examination persists regardless of whether the parties have raised or addressed that question (Craig v. Ontario Corp., 543 F.3d 872, 874-75 (7th Cir. 2008)). Here this Court's review of the motion for partial summary judgment on damages submitted by defendants United Airlines ("United") and Lufthansa German Airlines ("Lufthansa") against plaintiffs Vera Shtapova and Vladimir Shtapov (collectively "Shtapovs") has occasioned just such an inquiry.

Article 1(2) of the Montreal Convention ("Convention"), on which Shtapovs seek to base their action, defines its scope (and thus this Court's subject matter jurisdiction) this way:

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.

Here Shtapovs' United ticket reflects a flight that originated in Perm, Russia, made stops in Frankfurt, Germany and Washington, D.C. and terminated in Chicago. Such a flight would not appear to fit within the scope of the Convention because Russia, unlike the United States, is not a signatory to that treaty (see U.S. Dep't of State, Multilateral Treaties in Force as of January 1, 2010, at 320, available at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/143863.pdf).

There may however be a possibility that further input from Shtapovs as to their underlying travel agreement may suffice to establish jurisdiction. For example, Gustafson v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 658 F.Supp.2d 276, 287 (D. Mass. 2009) has held that a round-trip ticket originating and ending in a signatory country with a stop in another state comes within the Convention's scope.

This Court does not of course rule on what is at best a hypothetical possibility. But given what has been said here, unless on or before March 3, 2011 Shtapovs' counsel files (and delivers to this Court's chambers a hard copy of) a further submission that provides (1) an appropriate factual predicate for jurisdiction (e.g., that Shtapovs' previously-submitted one-way ticket was actually purchased as part of a round-trip ticket originating and terminating in the United States*fn2 ) coupled with

(2) a brief legal discussion of the subject, this Court will be constrained to dismiss this action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.*fn3


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