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R.M. v. American Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

September 5, 2018

R.M., as parent and next best friend of M.W., a minor child, Plaintiff,
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., a Delaware corporation, Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff,
CHAD CAMERON CAMP, an individual, Third-Party Defendant.

          Brent J. Goodfellow JOHNSTONE & GOODFELLOW 1215 N.W. Adams McMinnville, OR 97128 Judy Danelle Snyder LAW OFFICES OF JUDY SNYDER Attorneys for Plaintiff Steven O. Rosen Lisa E. Lear

          THE ROSEN LAW FIRM, P.C. Attorneys for Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff Gordon L. Welborn Stephanie C. Kucera HART WAGNER, LLP 439 SW Umatilla Avenue Redmond, OR 87756 Attorneys for Third-Party Defendant

          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff R.M. as a parent and next best friend of M.W., a minor child, brings this action for negligence and common carrier liability against Defendant American Airlines, Inc. Defendant American Airlines also brings a claim for contribution against Third-Party Defendant Chad Cameron Camp. Currently pending before this Court are Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Third-Party Claim and Dismiss Third-Party Defendant Camp and Defendant American Airlines' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendant American Airlines' Motion for Summary Judgment and denies as moot Plaintiff's Motion to Strike.


         M.W. (“Plaintiff”) is a minor child and was a passenger on a June 15, 2016 flight from Dallas, TX, to Portland, OR, operated by Defendant American Airlines (“Defendant”). As a minor child flying alone, M.W. qualified as an unaccompanied minor or “UNMR.” Defendant American Airline's employees are advised that they are responsible for ensuring the safe travel of UNMRs until they reach their destination. Snyder Decl. Ex. 6 (“McMahan Dep.”) 45:1-15; 46:12-23; 47:5-16, ECF 86; id. at Ex. 27, 29, 30. Its Customer Policy for UNMRs-included in the training for flight attendants and the inflight manual used by flight attendants-specifies that flight attendants should pay extra attention to the UNMR's and “ensure their well being and safe travel.” Id. at Ex. 30. During their training, flight attendants are instructed to ensure that any UNMR is comfortable with where they are seated and who they are seated next to. Snyder Decl. Ex. 12 (“Smith Dep.”) 16:19-18:4. Flight Attendants may reseat the UNMR within the cabin if needed. Id. at Ex. 30.

         An American Airlines' employee assigned Plaintiff her seat on the Dallas to Portland flight when she checked in for the first part of her trip in San Antonio, TX. Shaffer Decl. ¶ 6, ECF 80. Plaintiff was assigned window-seat 21A. Id. Third-Party Defendant Chad Camp (“Defendant Camp”) was assigned middle-seat 21B on the same flight. Id. at ¶ 7. The aisle seat next to Defendant Camp-as well as several other seats on that flight-were vacant. Snyder Decl. Ex. 5 (“Kuykendall Dep.”) at 77:24-78:4, 116:6-9.

         After boarding was complete, a flight attendant informed Defendant Camp that he could move to the vacant aisle seat next to him if he wanted to have more space. Snyder Decl. Ex. 10 (“Price Dep.”) 63:9-6; Snyder Decl. Ex. 28. Defendant Camp declined. Id. Plaintiff was not given an opportunity to change her seat. Price Dep. 64:24-65:1. Despite the instructions given in the preflight safety video, a flight attendant also had to instruct Defendant Camp to put his tray table up and stow his bag under the seat in front of him. Id. at 59:7-60:23; Snyder Decl. Ex. 28 at 1. The flight attendants testified that there was nothing unusual or extraordinary about Defendant Camp. Price Dep. 58:1-16; Snyder Decl. Ex. 4 (“Kirklin Dep.”) 16:14-24. They also testified that he did not appear to be under the influence of intoxicants. See Kuykendall Dep. 116:3-5; Price Dep. 58:12-19; Kirklin Dep. 41:11-15, 50:2-6.

         As required by Defendant American Airlines' policies, the flight attendants took their seats prior to take off. Kukyendall Dep. 39:23-40:13. Once the airplane reached 10, 000 feet, the captain signaled to the flight attendants that they could get up from their seats. Id.; Kirklin Dep. 45:2-46:1; Shaffer Decl. Ex. 6. Flight attendant Caroline Warmath then began distributing snacks to the passengers. Kuykendall Dep. 41:14:42-9. When she reached row 21, she observed Defendant Camp's hand on Plaintiff's lap in her “groin” or “crotch” area. Id. at 13:24-14:22; Snyder Decl. Exs. 24, 26. Ms. Warmath immediately demanded Defendant Camp remove his hand, moved Defendant Camp to the rear of the plane, and notified lead flight attendant Anna Kirklin. Kuykendall Dep. 43:16-44:21; Price Dep. 73:8-74:23. Two “able-bodied men” were moved to the back of the aircraft to monitor Defendant Camp. Lear Decl. Ex. 12 (“Strader Dep.”) 22:12-14, ECF 79; Kuykendall Dep. 57:12-20; Price Dep. 75:25-76:8. Ms. Warmath also moved Plaintiff to a seat between two women in row eight, the second row behind first class. Snyder Decl. Ex 15 (“M.W. Dep.”) 54:1-14. After both were moved, the captain notified dispatch of the incident. Strader Dep. 25:11-13. At the time the message was sent to dispatch, radar shows that the aircraft was over Texas airspace and had been throughout the entire incident. Starkey Decl. ¶¶ 3-6, Ex. 1.

         Defendant American Airlines arranged to have law enforcement meet the flight at the gate when it arrived in Portland. Lear Decl. (“Rodriguez Dep.”) 33:6-9; Snyder Decl. Ex. 21. After M.W. was escorted off the airplane to meet her stepfather, Rodriguez Dep. 34:15-19, 35:17-19, Defendant Camp was removed from the airplane by police, Kirklin Dep. 39:19-21; Rodriguez Dep. 36:5-7.

         As a result of his conduct, Defendant Camp was charged with several crimes and ultimately pled guilty to both Assault with Intent to Commit Sexual Contact of a Minor and Indecent Sexual Proposal to a Minor. Lear Decl. Ex. 6 at 1. Despite pleading guilty, Defendant Camp testified at his deposition that he had no recollection of committing the assault. Lear Decl. Ex. 15 (“Camp Dep.”) 63:13-18.

         Plaintiff alleges that she has suffered physical, mental, and emotional injuries because of this incident. Am. Compl. ¶ 49, ECF 4. During the duration of the flight to Portland, she was afraid to leave her seat to use the restroom. M.W. Dep. 56:15-23. Days later, she was still in shock and “mentally . . . not okay.” Id. at 58:14-59:10. Her mother similarly testified that in the days following the flight Plaintiff suffered bouts of crying and was shocked, sad, and angry. Snyder Decl. Ex. 8 (“R.M. Dep.”) 158:2-159:9. She was then quiet and withdrawn for a few weeks. Id. After moving to Montana in August of 2016, she underwent counseling and was diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety. Id. at 70:1-72:21; Snyder Decl. Ex. 3 (“Holloway Dep.”) 30:18-24, 32:1-9; Lear Decl. Ex. 4 (Pl. Resp. Def. Interrog. 16). She was called names and blamed for what happened to her by her classmates. M.W. Dep. 63:15-65:18. For a month in the fall following the assault, she came home crying from school every day. R.M. Dep. 174:4-15. For some time, Plaintiff blamed herself for what happened. M.W. Dep. 92:25- 93:11.

         After the assault, Plaintiff also began avoiding young men. She is afraid of men in their twenties and never wants to fly alone again. Id. at 68:8-23, 69:17-24. She confirms there are no older male siblings at friend's homes before sleeping over. Id. at 77:25-78:5. Once a month, events trigger memories of the assault, such as seeing a man Defendant Camp's age or hearing people talk about flying alone. Id. at 92:13-24. She is uncomfortable walking down the street, worries about what others could do to her, and feels the need to avoid men. Id. at 61:15-66:21; Snyder Decl. Ex. 20. Her mother testified that Plaintiff is visibly anxious and will get jumpy when she is around men in public places. R.M. Dep. 127:2-128:19. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant's negligence caused her “extreme psychological, emotional and mental trauma and injury of a permanent nature” and has exposed her to an increased risk of future harms including decreased employability, academic performance, and other hazards. Am. Compl. ¶ 44.

         Plaintiff also provides evidence of other sexual assaults that occurred on various airlines in the years prior to the assault in this case. A 2013 news article describes an assault on a Delta flight by a pilot-traveling as a passenger-against an UNMR seated in a window seat. Lloyd Decl. Ex. 3, ECF 85. Two other articles describe five incidents of assault in 2013 and 2014, at least one of which involved an UNMR. Id. at Exs. 4-5. The 2014 NBC article also reports that “[s]everal other men have been charged with sexual assault against strangers on airplanes . . . since 2012.” Id. at Ex. 5 at 3. In 2015, a negligence suit was filed against American Airlines in Iowa for injuries a UNMR sustained when sexually assaulted on an American Airlines flight. Id. at Ex. 7. The news articles also broadly state that sexual assaults on commercial flights were on the rise but note no federal agency keeps statistics regarding the frequency of these crimes on airlines. Id. at Exs. 4-5. In 2014, the “Protecting Airlines Passengers from Sexual Assaults Act” was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. Id. at Ex. 6. The bill would have required the FAA to maintain statistics on the number of sexual assaults that occur on commercial flights and was introduced in response to the recent increase in reports of sexual assault on airlines in the United States. Id.

         On July 5, 2016, R.M. filed this case on behalf of the minor Plaintiff bringing claims for negligence against Defendant American Airlines and battery against Defendant Camp. Compl., ECF 1. After the Court informed Plaintiff that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the parties were not completely diverse, Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint dropping the claims against Defendant Camp and bringing claims solely against Defendant American Airlines. Order to Show Cause, ECF 3; First Amended Complaint, ECF 4. Defendant American Airlines then filed its Amended Answer and Third-Party Complaint against Defendant Camp. Am. Answer, ECF 11. Defendant American Airlines seeks contribution from Defendant Camp for any damages awarded against Defendant American Airlines for Defendant Camp's conduct. Id.

         Prior to the end of discovery, Plaintiff moved to strike Defendant American Airline's third-party claim and dismiss Defendant Camp. Pl. Mot. Strike, ECF 63. Defendant Camp joins in that motion. Mot Joinder, ECF 64. After the close of discovery, the parties stipulated to dismissing R.M-Plaintiff's mother-as party to this suit, Stip. Notice Dismissal, ECF 77, and Defendant American Airlines moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claim against it, Def. Mot. Summ. J., ECF 78. Oral argument was held on August 13, 2018.


         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis of its motion and identifying those portions of “‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).

         Once the moving party meets its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to present “specific facts” showing a “genuine issue for trial.” Fed. Trade Comm'n v. Stefanchik, 559 F.3d 924, 927-28 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). The nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and designate facts ...

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