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Hughes v. Southwest Airlines Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 17, 2019

BRIAN HUGHES, individually and on behalf, of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Sara L. Ellis United States District Judge

         On February 11, 2018, Defendant Southwest Airlines Co. (“Southwest”) canceled Plaintiff Brian Hughes' flight from Phoenix, Arizona, to Chicago, Illinois, because it ran out of de-icer fluid. Hughes ended up flying to Omaha, Nebraska, and incurred additional costs for lodging, food, and parking, before flying to Chicago the next day. Hughes subsequently brought this putative class action lawsuit alleging breach of contract and negligence and seeking consequential damages on behalf of all Southwest customers whose flights were similarly canceled on that date, as well as on December 8, 24, and 28, 2017, and January 12 and 15, 2018. This Court previously dismissed Hughes' negligence claim with prejudice in its March 26, 2019, Opinion and Order, on the basis of preemption by the Airline Deregulation Act (“ADA”), 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1). The Court dismissed Hughes' breach of contract claim without prejudice for failure to state a claim after finding that Hughes had not identified the specific contractual duty that Southwest breached. Hughes then filed an amended complaint re-alleging breach of contract, and Southwest now moves to dismiss. Because Hughes has again failed to sufficiently plead the elements necessary to assert a breach of contract, the Court finds that Hughes has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and that further leave to amend the complaint would be futile.[1] Therefore, the Court grants Southwest's motion to dismiss and dismisses the amended complaint with prejudice.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor. AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis but must also be facially plausible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         ANALYSIS

         Southwest argues that Hughes' amended complaint must be dismissed for two reasons. First, Southwest argues that Hughes has failed to plead the elements of his breach of contract claim. Specifically, Southwest contends that Hughes has failed to identify a contractual duty that Southwest breached, and that Hughes has not pleaded damages because the Contract of Carriage (the “Contract”) explicitly precludes consequential damages. Second, Southwest argues that both the ADA and the Federal Aviation Act (“FAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 40101 et seq., preempt his claim. The Court first addresses the sufficiency of Hughes' claim. Because this analysis is determinative, the Court concludes this Opinion by explaining why preemption under the ADA and FAA does not apply in this case.

         I. Breach of Contract

         A. Breach of Duty

         To assert a claim for breach of contract under Texas law[2], a party must allege: “(1) the existence of a valid contract; (2) performance or tendered performance by the plaintiff; (3) breach of the contract by the defendant; and (4) damages to the plaintiff resulting from that breach.” Wells v. Minn. Life Ins. Co., 885 F.3d 885, 889 (5th Cir. 2018) (citation omitted). In his amended complaint, Hughes asserts that Southwest's duty to stock sufficient amounts of de-icer is, in essence, an implied term of the Contract. To support his claim, Hughes first points to § 4 of the Contract to assert that, as a ticket holder, he was entitled to transportation to Chicago:

a. Tickets
(1) No person shall be entitled to transportation except upon presentation of a valid Ticket or proof of identification acceptable to Carrier to confirm that transportation has been purchased. Such Ticket shall entitle the Passenger to transportation subject to this Contract of Carriage and, in particular, certain terms and conditions as follows.

Doc. 31-1 at 13.[3] Section 4 also contains the following provision regarding what would happen if Southwest canceled a flight:

c. Refunds
(4) Delays or Involuntary Cancellations. If a Passenger's scheduled transportation is canceled, terminated, or delayed before the Passenger has reached his final destination as a result of a flight cancellation, Carrier-caused missed connection, flight delay, or omission of a scheduled stop, Carrier will either transport the Passenger at no additional charge on another of Carrier's flights, refund the fare for the unused transportation in accordance with the ...

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