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LaBeau v. MN Airlines, LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 14, 2020

Wayne Thomas LaBeau and Ma Florentina Busso LaBeau, Plaintiffs,
v.
MN Airlines, LLC, doing business as Sun Country Airlines, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant MN Airlines, LLC, doing business as Sun Country Airlines (Sun Country). (Dkt. 24.) Sun Country argues that it is entitled to summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' Montreal Convention claim (Count I), breach-of-contract claim (Count II), and negligence claim (Count III). Plaintiffs concede that Sun Country is entitled to summary judgment as to their negligence claim, but they contend that genuine disputes of material fact preclude summary judgment as to their two remaining claims. For the reasons addressed below, Sun Country's motion for summary judgment is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Wayne Thomas Labeau and Ma Florentina Busso LaBeau are residents of Minnesota. Sun Country is an airline with its principal place of business in Eagan, Minnesota. In March 2018, Plaintiffs used Sun Country's website to book a vacation to Los Cabos, Mexico. The reservation was part of a $2, 094.46 travel package that included lodging and airfare for two.

         Plaintiffs flew from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport to the Los Cabos, Mexico, International Airport on April 7, 2018. Plaintiffs were scheduled to return to Minnesota on April 14, 2018, aboard Sun Country flight 550. On that day, however, the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport closed for approximately eight hours as the result of a snowstorm, and Sun Country flight 550 was cancelled. Plaintiffs had checked out of their hotel and were awaiting a shuttle to take them to the Los Cabos airport when they learned that their return flight to Minneapolis had been cancelled. Plaintiffs unsuccessfully attempted to contact Sun Country by phone. Approximately one hour after they learned that their Sun Country flight had been cancelled, Plaintiffs purchased tickets to Tijuana, Mexico, on another airline. Plaintiffs did not speak with a Sun Country representative before booking their tickets to Tijuana. Plaintiffs flew to Tijuana the next day, crossed the Mexico-United States border on foot, and stayed with a family member in California for several days. Plaintiffs subsequently flew from California to Minnesota on April 18, 2018.

         Sun Country refunded Plaintiffs their entire round-trip airfare on April 14, 2018- the date of the cancelled flight. On April 21, 2018, Plaintiffs spoke to a Sun Country employee by phone and requested reimbursement for the additional costs that Plaintiffs expended returning home. The Sun Country employee told Plaintiffs that Sun Country would reimburse them for the expenses they incurred. After putting Plaintiffs on hold to confirm this arrangement with Sun Country's reservation support department, the Sun Country employee referred Plaintiffs to a website where they could submit their receipts for reimbursement. After receiving Plaintiffs' receipts, Sun Country sent Plaintiffs a check for $462.80, which was in addition to the $746.46 that Sun Country had previously refunded Plaintiffs for their airfare

         Plaintiffs commenced this lawsuit in Minnesota conciliation court and obtained a judgment against Sun Country. That judgment was vacated when Sun Country removed the case to Dakota County (Minnesota) District Court for trial de novo. Plaintiffs subsequently filed an amended complaint in November 2018. Count I alleges that Sun Country violated the Montreal Convention by “stranding Plaintiffs in Mexico and causing delay in their return to the United States.” Count II alleges that Sun Country's employee made a binding promise to reimburse Plaintiffs for expenses they incurred when attempting to return from Mexico and that Sun Country breached this promise. Count III alleges that Sun Country negligently refused to send a rescue flight to Mexico or assist Plaintiffs in booking a return flight with another airline. Sun Country removed the case to this Court and now moves for summary judgment.

         ANALYSIS

         Sun Country moves for summary judgment on all three counts of Plaintiffs' amended complaint. Summary judgment is proper when, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact” and the moving party is “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Windstream Corp. v. Da Gragnano, 757 F.3d 798, 802-03 (8th Cir. 2014). A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the opposing party must cite with particularity those aspects of the record that support any assertion that a fact is genuinely disputed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A); accord Krenik v. County of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). The Court addresses each count of the amended complaint in turn.

         I. Montreal Convention Claim (Count I)

         Count I of the amended complaint alleges that Sun Country violated the Montreal Convention by “stranding Plaintiffs in Mexico and causing delay in their return to the United States.” Sun Country moves for summary judgment on this claim, arguing that Plaintiffs' return flight was cancelled as opposed to being delayed and, therefore, the Montreal Convention is inapplicable.

         The Montreal Convention is a treaty that governs the liability of airlines with respect to international air travel. See Sompo Japan Ins., Inc. v. Nippon Cargo Airlines Co., 522 F.3d 776, 780-81 (7th Cir. 2008). The United States Senate ratified the Montreal Convention on July 31, 2003, and the treaty entered into force on September 5, 2003. Id. at 781. Plaintiff's Montreal Convention claim is based on Article 19, which in relevant part provides:

The carrier is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo. Nevertheless, the carrier shall not be liable for damage occasioned by delay if it proves that it and its servants and agents took all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid the damage or that it was impossible for it or them to take such measures.

Campbell v. Air Jamaica Ltd., 760 F.3d 1165, 1170 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air (Montreal Convention) art. 19, May 28, 1999, S. ...


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