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Sanders v. Delta Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 20, 2014



CINDY K. JORGENSON, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 33.) Plaintiff has not filed a response.

Factual and Procedural Background [1]

Plaintiff Donald Sanders (Sanders) purchased a ticket from Delta Air Lines, Inc. (hereinafter "Delta") to fly to Egypt on or about March 20, 2012. (Doc. 21-2 at 1.) Ostensibly, this trip did not take place, and Defendant, Delta, eventually refunded the cost of the ticket to Sanders. (Doc. 29 at 1.) On January 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed a pro se Complaint in the Supreme Court of the State of New York alleging that Delta "denied him and his [dog the right] to fly." (Complaint, ¶ 3)

Delta removed the case to the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1441 and 1332. (Doc. 1.) On October 23, 2013, Delta's Motion to Change Venue to the District of Arizona, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), was granted. (Docs. 20 and 23.)

On January 27, 2014, Delta filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Sanders has not filed a response.[2]

Judgment on the Pleadings Standard

"After the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial - a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The Ninth Circuit has said "that Rule 12(c) is functionally identical to Rule 12(b)(6) and that the same standard of review applies to motions brought under either rule." Cafasso, U.S. ex rel. v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1055 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, dismissal by granting a motion for judgment on the pleadings is only appropriate if the complaint's factual allegations, together with all reasonable inferences, fail to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (establishing the pleading standard for Rule 12(b)(6) motions). While a complaint need not plead "detailed factual allegations, " the factual allegations it does include "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007). If there remains "no genuine dispute as to any material fact the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

When evaluating a defendant's Rule 12(c) motion, the allegations in the complaint must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Cervantes v. United States, 330 F.3d 1186, 1187 (9th Cir. 2003). However, a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action is not sufficient to establish a claim, and legal conclusions are not entitled to an assumption of truth. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

If a court determines that dismissal is appropriate, a plaintiff must be given at least one chance to amend a complaint when a more carefully drafted complaint might state a claim. Bank v. Pitt, 928 F.2d 1108, 1112 (11th Cir. 1991). Moreover, when dismissing with leave to amend, a court is to provide reasons for the dismissal so a plaintiff can make an intelligent decision whether to file an amended complaint. See Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132 (9th Cir. 1987).

Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

In the present case, Plaintiff's four page Complaint provides a fragmented, loosely related backstory of the Plaintiff's life and struggles, including unspecific allegations of racial and religious discrimination by the "Obama Administration, " the "State Department, " and other persons not parties to this case. (Complaint, ¶7-17.) For example, Plaintiff states that he was a "peacemaker" in northern Uganda and was told, by an undisclosed party, he would not receive some form of monthly payments unless he returned to America. ( Id. at ¶11-12.) It appears Plaintiff alleges he became ill upon his return to America and was denied medical treatment at a Veterans Administration Hospital "because [he] is a prophet and a man of God." ( Id. at ¶7.) Plaintiff's only statement in the Complaint that can be construed as remotely or causally related to Delta is that he, along with his canine companion, was sometime thereafter denied permission to board an unspecified flight to return to "Africa for religious healing." ( Id. at ¶3-4) However, Plaintiff fails to provide any further specifics to this claim, which leaves the Court in the dark as to basic facts such as a date, time, location, or reason for Delta's decision - beyond a veiled allegation that the State Department is aware he is a black male.

The only claim within the realm of plausibility that Plaintiff could be alleging against Delta is a racial discrimination claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981(b) for breach of the airline ticket contract. Yet, in order for a claim under § 1981 to survive judgment on the pleadings, a plaintiff must allege "that: (1) he or she is a member of a racial minority; (2) the defendant had an intent to discriminate on the basis of race; and (3) the discrimination concerned one or more of the activities enumerated in the statute." Rutstein v. Avis Rent-A-Car Sys., Inc., 211 F.3d 1228, 1235 (11th Cir. 2000). Here, the Plaintiff failed to allege the "critical" second element, see id., that Delta did not allow him to board a plane, thereby breaching their contract with Plaintiff, based on racial animus. Therefore, this claim could not survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

The Court is not to serve as an advocate of a pro se litigant, Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987), superseded on other grounds, in attempting to decipher a complaint or read in claims that do not exist. Moreover, failure to set forth claims in a discernible manner places the onus on the Court to decipher which, if any, facts support a claim, as well as to determine whether a plaintiff is entitled to the relief sought. Haynes v. Anderson & Strudwick, Inc., 508 ...

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