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Gennadiy Volodarskiy and Oxana Volodarskaya On Behalf of Themselves, Their Minor Children, All Others Similarly Situated v. Delta Air Lines

October 29, 2012

GENNADIY VOLODARSKIY AND OXANA VOLODARSKAYA ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES, THEIR MINOR CHILDREN, ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DELTA AIR LINES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Gennaldiy Volodarskiy, Oxana Volodarskaya, and their minor children (together, "the Volodarskiys") brought this putative class action lawsuit against Defendant Delta Air Lines for breach of contract based on Delta's failure to comply with Regulation No. 261/2004 of the European Parliament and European Council (EU 261), which Plaintiffs allege was incorporated into Delta's International Conditions of Carriage.*fn1 Four other cases founded on similar allegations have been filed in this district by the same plaintiffs' counsel against other airlines. See Polinovsky v. British Airways PLC, No. 11 C 779; Polinovsky v. Deutsche Lufthansa AG, No. 11 C 780; Gurevich v. Compagnia Aereas Italiana, SPA, No. 11 C 1890; Giannopoulos v. Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana, S.A., No. 11 C 775. Delta now moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint pursuant Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, Delta's motion [R. 17] is granted.

I.

In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true the complaint's factual allegations and draw reasonable inferences in the Volodarskiys' favor. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, ------ U.S. --------, 131 S. Ct. 2074, 2079 (2011). Plaintiffs Gennaldiy Volodarskiy and his wife Oxana Volodarskaya are Illinois residents who purchased tickets to travel with their children from London's Heathrow Airport to Chicago O'Hare Airport on August 17, 2009. R. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 5, 21. They were confirmed passengers on Delta Flight #DL89, which ended up being delayed at Heathrow for over 8 hours. Id.

¶ 22. The Volodarskiys were not informed of this delay any time before the scheduled departure time, and received no compensation from Delta for the delay. Id. ¶¶ 23, 25.

The Volodarskiys allege that they were entitled to compensation for this delay under a European Union regulation, known as EU 261, which applies to passengers with confirmed tickets on flights departing from or arriving to airports located in EU member states. EU 261 provides passengers on qualifying flights that are cancelled with a set amount of compensation so long as the cancellation was not caused by unavoidable extraordinary circumstances.*fn2 Id. ¶¶ 9, 10. Although EU 261 does not explicitly provide compensation for flight delays, as potentially distinct from cancellations, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has interpreted EU 261 to treat delays longer than three hours as functionally equivalent to cancellations for purposes of compensation. Cases C-402/07 & C-432/07, Sturgeon v. Condor Flugdienst GmbH, 2009 E.C.R. I-10923.

The Volodarskiys claim that Delta is required to comply with EU 261 because Delta's International Conditions of Carriage, which govern Delta's international flights, allegedly incorporate EU 261 by reference. Compl. ¶ 38. Specifically, the Volodarskiys contend that incorporation of EU 261 arises from Rules 1(B)(4), 55, and 87 of Delta's International Conditions of Carriage, as well as a document entitled, "European Union -- Notice of Your Rights in the Event of Flight Delay or Flight Cancellation," which is posted on Delta's website. Id. ¶¶ 16, 17. Because the Volodarskiys did not receive compensation for their delayed flight, they claim that Delta violated its International Conditions of Carriage, and filed this putative class action for breach of contract. Id. ¶ 39.

II.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint generally need only include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quotation and citation omitted). The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule "reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to 'focus litigation on the merits of a claim' rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).

"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). "[W]hen a ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56); McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 2010) (courts accept factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

III.

In moving to dismiss the Volodarskiys' breach of contract claim, Delta advances several arguments. First, Delta contends that its flight-services contract with the Volodarskiys confers no right to compensation because it does not incorporate, as a matter of law, EU 261. Second, and in the alternative, Delta asserts that the Volodarskiys' claim is preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act, 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b). Third, Delta argues that dismissal is appropriate because the Volodarskiys have failed to exhaust all other available remedies in the EU prior to filing suit in the United States. As explained below, the first two grounds require dismissal of the complaint.

A.

Delta first argues that the Volodarskiys have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because Delta had no contractual obligation to compensate the Volodarskiys for their flight delay. It is undisputed that the terms of Delta's contract with its international passengers, as outlined in Rule 1(A) of Delta's International Conditions of Carriage, are set forth in (1) the passengers' tickets, (2) the Conditions of Carriage, and (3) Delta's published fare rules and regulations. Compl. Exh. 2 at 2. It is also undisputed that nothing in the contract itself explicitly adopts EU 261 or its compensation requirements.*fn3 What is in dispute is whether the contract incorporates EU 261 by reference, thereby requiring Delta to compensate its international passengers for cancellations and delays in accordance with the EJC's Sturgeon decision. Thus, whether the Volodarskiys have alleged a valid breach of contract claim ...


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