An airline and its former employee are immune from the claims of a passenger who sued after her arrest for allegedly making a bomb threat, a judge ruled.
Eastern District Judge Eric Vitaliano (See Profile) said the Aviation and Transportation Security Act shielded JetBlue Airways and former ticketing agent Tiffany Malabet from Rosalinda Baez’s suit.
Vitaliano wrote in Baez v. JetBlue Airways, 09-cv-0596, that immunity for carriers and employees reporting perceived suspicious activity or threats “was designed to ensure that the sort of words that Baez does not dispute she used were reported. That is precisely what Malabet and JetBlue did and they are immune from accounting for that report.”
In an April 2008 incident that attracted widespread media attention, Baez was traveling from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Texas.
A ticketing agent failed to tell her the departure gate was in a different terminal. Baez arrived at the correct gate 10 minutes before departure. Her luggage was loaded, but Malabet would not let Baez board because the plane door was closed.
Baez said she asked Malabet “What if there was a bomb in my bag?”
Baez was charged with making a bomb threat but the count was dropped. Malabet offered inconsistent testimony on whether Baez said “bomb” in the form of a question or declaration, and Baez denied saying she had a bomb.
Baez pleaded to a misdemeanor for having marijuana in her luggage. She was also required to pay JetBlue about $13,500 for the re-routing of the plane to Virginia.
In 2010, Eastern District Nicholas Garaufis (See Profile) partially granted JetBlue and Malabet’s dismissal motion.
Vitaliano’s July 3 summary judgment ruling discarded the remaining claims, which included negligence, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Jon Norinsberg of Manhattan represented Baez. Christopher Kelly, a partner at Holland & Knight, represented JetBlue. George Spencer Kolbe of Raven & Kolbe represented Malabet.