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Alessio v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

February 15, 2018

CHRISTINA ALESSIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED AIRLINES, INC., et al., DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. SARA LIOI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On July 7, 2017, pro se plaintiff Christina Alessio (“Alessio”) filed this action against defendant United Airlines, Inc. (“United”) and several individual defendants: Oscar Munoz, Scott Kirby, Brett Hart, Robert Milton, Sam Risoli, Mary Sturchio, Janie DeVito, and Kim Piszczek (“individual defendants”) (United and individual defendants collectively referred to as “defendants”). Now before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement.[1] (Doc. No. 8 [“Mot.”].) Alessio opposes the motion (Doc. No. 10 [“Opp'n”]), and defendants have filed a reply. (Doc. No. 12 [“Reply”].) For the following reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss is granted, but Alessio is granted leave to amend her complaint to state a cause of action against United for a failure to accommodate a disability.

         I. Background

         Alesssio is a flight attendant employed by United. (Doc. No. 1 (Complaint [“Compl.”]) at 2[2].) Though largely incoherent, Alessio's complaint appears to revolve around her belief that United is unlawfully using hazardous air fresheners and/or cleaning products in its aircraft. According to Alessio, these air fresheners and/or cleaning products constitute “poison” under federal law, and the use of these products “is simply wrong and harmful.” (Id. at 2-3.) Alessio indicates that she is raising a matter of public health, and underscores her duty as a flight attendant to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for passengers. She references two charges she alleges she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), [3]and appends to her complaint, among other documents, certain filings associated with those charges. (Id. at 5, 6; Doc. No. 1-5 [“EEOC Docs.”].) She also alludes to workplace injuries that she or others may have suffered, presumably by United's use of the cleaning products and air fresheners. (Compl. at 3.) Finally, she cites generally to 49 U.S.C. § 5124 and various portions of United's flight attendant's policy and procedures manual.

         II. Standard of Review

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although this pleading standard does not require great detail, the factual allegations in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level[.]” Bel Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citing authorities). In other words, “Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Id. at 556 n.3 (criticizing the Twombly dissent's assertion that the pleading standard of Rule 8 “does not require, or even invite, the pleading of facts”).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Rule 8 does not “unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Id. at 678-79. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 679 (citation omitted). “The Court need not, however, accept unwarranted factual inferences.” Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         Further, although pleadings and documents filed by pro se litigants are “liberally construed” and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007), pro se plaintiffs must still meet basic pleading requirements and courts are not required to conjure allegations on their behalf. Erwin v. Edwards, 22 F. App'x 579, 580 (6th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted); see Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985) (District courts are not required to conjure up questions never squarely presented to them or to construct full claims from sentence fragments. To do so would “require . . . [the courts] to explore exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se plaintiff. . . [and] would . . . transform the district court from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of an advocate seeking out the strongest arguments and most successful strategies for a party.”) (citation omitted); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (The complaint must contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do.”); Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 437 (6th Cir. 1988) (all complaints must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all material elements of some viable legal theory to satisfy federal notice pleading requirements) (citations omitted).

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “may consider the [c]omplaint and any exhibits attached thereto, public records, items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to [a] motion to dismiss so long as they are referred to in the [c]omplaint and are central to the claims contained therein.” Bassett v. Nat'l College Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Amini v. Oberlin Coll., 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001)). The EEOC Docs., appended to the complaint, meet this standard and can be considered.

         III. Discussion

         Alessio's complaint is difficult to follow. As best as the Court can surmise, and based upon the labels and conclusions contained in the pleading, Alessio appears to be raising the following claims: (1) a violation of 49 U.S.C. § 5124, (2) age discrimination, (3) retaliation, and (4) a failure to accommodate her alleged disability. After liberally construing Alessio's complaint, the Court finds that Alessio has failed to state a claim upon which the Court may grant relief. Nonetheless, as explained below, the Court shall permit Alessio leave to amend her complaint to set forth factual allegations that support a claim for a failure to accommodate a disability against United.

         A. No Private Cause of Action Under Title 49

         Alessio makes repeated reference to 49 U.S.C. § 5124, and, indeed, it is the only statute she cites in her pleading. Section 5124 provides criminal penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for violations of certain provisions applicable to the transportation of hazardous materials. The statute does not expressly provide for a private cause of action, and the Court is unaware of any federal court that has recognized one. It is well settled that “the fact that a federal statute has been violated and some person has been harmed does not automatically give rise to a private cause of action in favor of that person.” Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, 442 U.S. 560, 568, 99 S.Ct. 2479, 61 L.Ed.2d 82 (1979) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Rather, “[p]rivate rights of action to enforce federal law must be created by Congress.” Alexander v. Sadoval, 532 U.S. 275, 286, 121 S.Ct. 1511, 149 L.Ed.2d 517 (2001) (citation omitted). Courts, therefore, are tasked with determining whether Congress intended to create a private cause of action, and may perform this duty by considering “the text and structure of the statute at issue, the legislative history, and any relevant case law.” Courtney v. Ivanov, 41 F.Supp.3d 453, 458 (W.D. Pa. 2014) (citing McGovern v. City of Phila., 554 F.3d 114, 119 (3d Cir. 2009) (further citation omitted)). “Statutory intent [as to the existence of a private cause of action] is determinative. Without it, a cause of action does not exist and courts may not create one, no matter how desirable that might be as a policy matter, or how compatible with the statute.” Alexander, 532 U.S. at 287 (citations, including internal citations, omitted).

         There is nothing in the text of the statute, its legislative history, or any case law relevant to 49 U.S.C. § 5124 that would suggest that Congress intended to create a private cause of action for civil violations of this statute governing criminal penalties.[4] In the absence of any evidence of congressional intent to create a private cause of action, the Court is without authority to recognize one. Accordingly, Alessio has failed to state a cause of action under 49 U.S.C. § 5124, and this claim is dismissed with prejudice.

         B. ...


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