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Stokes v. Southwest Airlines

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

April 13, 2017

KELLIE STOKES, Mom and Friend of B.S., Plaintiff,


          A. JOE FISH Senior United States District Judge

         Before the court is the motion of the defendant, Southwest Airlines Co. (“Southwest”), to dismiss the claims of the plaintiff, B.S., pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (docket entry 20). For the reasons stated below, the defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         B.S., by and through his next friend and mother, Kellie Stokes, commenced this action against Southwest, alleging various claims arising out of events that occurred during a Stokes family trip on Southwest. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (“Amended Complaint”) (docket entry 17). B.S. is a Texas resident. Id. ¶ 4. Southwest operates as a common carrier airline, and its corporate office is in Dallas, Texas. Id. ¶ 5.

         B.S is a minor afflicted with autism. Id. ¶ 4. B.S. contends that Southwest did not permit B.S. to board a flight because of his disability, and that Southwest's conduct violates the Air Carrier Access Act (“ACAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 41705. Id. ¶ 20. B.S. also brings state law negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) claims arising from Southwest's alleged treatment of him during his travels and its alleged failure to provide reasonable accommodations to B.S.'s disability. Id. ¶ 32.

         On August 13, 2014, B.S., then 11 years old, was traveling from Oakland, California, to Dallas, Texas, when he and his family missed their flight due to delays at a security checkpoint. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9. Southwest gate agents booked the family on another flight to Denver, Colorado, where they would have to spend the night and continue to Dallas in the morning. Id. ¶ 10. When the family was walking through the jet bridge to board the flight to Denver, B.S. became extremely anxious and repeatedly asked his mother where they were going. Id. In response, B.S.'s mother explained multiple times that they were flying to Denver first and would be home in the morning. Id. A Southwest pilot who had been walking behind them on the jet bridge then leaned down and yelled in B.S.'s face, “YES, we are going to DENVER!!” Id. (emphasis in original). B.S.'s mother then declared to her family, “[t]urn around, we are not getting on this flight because it's not safe.” Id. In response, the Southwest pilot allegedly smirked and laughed. Id. A Southwest agent then booked the family on another flight, this time to San Diego, California. Id.

         B.S. and his family checked into a hotel after arriving in San Diego. Id. ¶ 11. After four hours of sleep, the family returned to the San Diego airport for their flight to Dallas. Id. Before boarding, B.S. became upset and ran away into the busy terminal, and B.S.'s mother asked the gate agent for assistance from security to locate B.S. Id. Before security arrived, B.S. had returned to his mother and had calmed down. Id. The gate agent then informed B.S.'s mother that the family would not be permitted to board the flight to Dallas. Id. The gate agent's supervisor, after a discussion with the flight's captain, confirmed that B.S. and his family would not be permitted to board the flight. Id. The family later flew from San Diego to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and from Albuquerque to Dallas without further incident. Id.

         B. Procedural Background

         B.S. filed his original complaint on August 12, 2016. See Original Complaint (docket entry 1). B.S. filed an amended complaint on December 22, 2016. See Amended Complaint. In response, Southwest filed the instant motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (docket entry 20). B.S. then filed a timely response, which was followed by Southwest's timely reply. See Plaintiff's Response (docket entry 23); Defendant's Reply (docket entry 24). The motion is now ripe for decision.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

         “To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)), cert. denied, 552 U.S. 1182 (2008). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks, brackets, and citation omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” In re Katrina Canal, 495 F.3d at 205 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (internal quotation marks omitted). “The court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. (quoting Martin K. Eby Construction Company, Inc. v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The Supreme Court has prescribed a “two-pronged approach” to determine whether a complaint fails to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). The court must “begin by identifying the pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 679. The court should then assume the veracity of any well-pleaded allegations and “determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief.” Id. The plausibility principle does not convert the Rule 8(a)(2) notice pleading standard to a “probability requirement, ” but “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully” will not defeat a motion to dismiss. Id. at 678. The plaintiff must “plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not ‘show[n]' -- ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (alteration in original) (quoting ...

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