SCOTUS: Airlines Are Entitled to Immunity under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act Unless Statements Are Materially False

Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper, 571 U.S. ---, No. 12-315 (2014), holding that immunity for an air carrier under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, 49 U.S.C. § 44941(b) (ATSA), may not be denied without a determination that a statement by the carrier was materially false. This pivotal decision is a victory for air carriers, giving airlines necessary "breathing space to report potential threats to security officials without fear of civil liability for a few inaptly chosen words."

THE AVIATION AND TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ACT -

ATSA directs that air carriers and their employees who have "information . . . about a threat to civil aviation shall provide the information promptly to the Transportation Security Administration." 49 U.S.C. § 44905(a). Failure to report can result in civil penalties. Id. § 46301(a)(1)(A). This policy has been aptly called "when in doubt, report." ATSA also provides air carriers with immunity from civil liability for disclosure of suspicious activity, provided that the air carrier does not report information that it knows to be false or misleading. 49 U.S.C. §§ 44941(a)-(b).

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