Nevada Federal Court Holds that the Air Carrier Access Act Does Not Establish a Private Cause of Action for Discrimination Based on Physical and/or Mental Impairments

Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP

Plaintiff, a passenger with a rare blood disorder that causes internal neurological anxiety requiring prescription medication, filed a pro se Complaint against Spirit Airlines alleging the airline mistreated her due to her medical condition. Per the Complaint, the airline refused to let plaintiff fly on her scheduled flight and forced her to book another flight the following evening on five separate occasions. The complaint alleges (1) discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (2) discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (“ACAA”); and (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”).

First, the Nevada federal judge denied Plaintiff’s claim for disability under the ADA, because the definition of “specified public transportation” for purposes of Title III of the ADA, does not include airlines. Second, the Court rejected plaintiff’s attempt to rely on Fifth and Eighth Circuit opinions which held that the ACAA creates an implied private cause of action. Instead, the Court found that it was bound by Ninth Circuit precedent which concluded that the ACAA prohibits air carriers from “discriminating against disabled individuals” who have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” but does not establish a private cause of action.

Lastly, the Court held that plaintiff’s IIED claim was preempted. In analyzing whether a particular state law claim is preempted, the Court determines whether the FAA has issued “pervasive regulations” in a particular area. Multiple courts have interpreted the ACAA to preempt certain state law claims such as negligence. The Court held that plaintiff’s IIED claim was not separate, but “inextricably intertwined” with the federal ACAA claim because it arose out of the same facts and, thus, the IIED state law claim was preempted by the ACAA federal regulation. Covino v. Spirit Airlines, Inc., 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177300 (D. Nev. Sept. 17, 2021)

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