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Michael Carlini, Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated v. United Airlines

April 19, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman


Plaintiff Michael Carlini, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, filed a two-count putative class action complaint against defendant United Airlines alleging a violation of the Electronic Funds Transfer Act ("EFTA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1693l-1, and common law breach of contract. Defendant has moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted.


The following facts are taken from plaintiff's complaint and are deemed true for the purposes of this motion. In March 2008, Barbara Carlini purchased a $750 United Airlines gift certificate for plaintiff through an online credit card transaction. Along with the gift certificate, defendant provided plaintiff with an insert offering "simple tips on redemption." This insert stated: "The certificate is valid for a period of one year from the date of issue and may be extended for an additional year by presenting the certificate for exchange prior to the expiration date."*fn1 At some point-the complaint does not indicate when-plaintiff attempted to redeem the certificate, and defendant refused to accept it because it had expired.

The parties' first communication was apparently in July 2008, when plaintiff asked defendant to clarify the gift certificate's expiration restrictions. In response, defendant stated that because the certificate was not issued to plaintiff in exchange for consideration, it was not a "gift certificate" under the EFTA.

In June 2010-almost two years after that exchange, and well over two years after defendant had issued the certificate-defendant informed plaintiff that the gift certificate had expired. Defendant explained that its certificates are valid for only one year from the date of issue, and that they are transferable but void if sold or bartered. Defendant also stated that it had issued plaintiff the gift certificate because of a flight delay plaintiff had experienced in March 2008. When plaintiff disagreed with that statement, defendant requested that he submit a scanned copy of the certificate for clarification.

In August 2010, defendant requested that plaintiff submit another copy of the expired certificate for further review; plaintiff did so. A month later, defendant provided plaintiff with a reference number to resolve the dispute.

Also in September 2010, defendant considered extending the certificate through March 13, 2013 (for a total of five years from its date of issue), but apparently decided against it. Instead, on September 9, 2010, defendant "extended an electronic promise" to plaintiff, offering to issue a new $750 gift certificate that plaintiff would be able to use "within the next year."

Plaintiff proceeded to file the instant putative class action complaint against defendant in October 2010. In Count I, plaintiff alleges that defendant has violated the EFTA by imposing a one-year expiration date on certain of its gift certificates. In Count II, plaintiff alleges breach of contract based on defendant's failure to provide gift certificates that were not subject to an expiration date.

Defendant now moves to dismiss the complaint, arguing that: (1) the EFTA's prohibition on expiration dates of less than five years was not in effect at the time the gift certificate was issued; (2) none of its actions constitutes an "electronic promise" for purposes of the EFTA; and (3) because plaintiff was neither a party to the contract nor was he intended as a third-party beneficiary, he cannot maintain a breach of contract claim.


I. Legal Standard

A complaint that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted should be dismissed. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). The court thus accepts the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). To provide the defendant with "fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests," the complaint must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 555; Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). In addition, the allegations must plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has ...

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