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Estate of Kekona v. Alaska Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 14, 2018

ALASKA AIRLINES, INC., et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Alaska Airlines, Inc.'s and Defendant Alaska Air Group, Inc.'s (collectively “Alaska”) motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 14). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court DENIES the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are based on the complaint (Dkt. No. 1-2). Bernice Kekona was a round-trip ticketed Alaska passenger, travelling from Maui to Spokane, connecting through Portland. (Id. at 5-8.) At the time, Ms. Kekona was a vulnerable adult who became confused when outside of familiar environments. (Id. at 6.) She had physical, visual, auditory, and mental impairments, and used an electric wheelchair for mobility. (Id. at 5-6.) Members of her family possessed a durable power of attorney, allowing them to make financial and medical decisions on her behalf. (Id. at 5.)

         Ms. Kekona was returning home from a trip she had taken to visit her children in Hawaii. (Id. at 5, 8-9.) When purchasing her round-trip ticket with Alaska, Ms. Kekona requested “‘mobility/wheelchair' assistance for the entire trip.” (Id. at 5) For a passenger with an electric wheelchair, this includes assistance on and off the airplane and a “gate-to-gate” escort. (Id. at 5- 6.) Alaska includes passengers requesting the service on a “Special Services” list it keeps for each flight. (Id.) Ms. Kekona was on that list for the entirety of her round trip. (Id. at 7.)

         In Portland, Alaska contracts with Defendant Huntleigh USA Corporation (“Huntleigh”) to provide this service. (Id. at 8.) Ms. Kekona's family contacted Alaska three times to confirm the airline would provide the service before Ms. Kekona's return flight, the final time being at the gate in Maui, just prior to her departure. (Id. at 7.) Alaska claims it notified Huntleigh that Ms. Kekona requested gate-to-gate service in Portland. (Id. at 8.) Huntleigh asserts Alaska failed to notify it that Ms. Kekona requested anything more than assistance exiting the aircraft. (Id.) Accordingly, when Ms. Kekona's flight from Miami arrived in Portland, Huntleigh employees assisted Ms. Kekona off the aircraft and transferred her to her electric wheelchair at the bottom of the sky bridge. (Id.) Huntleigh employees left Ms. Kekona when she reached the top of the sky bridge. (Id.) Ms. Kekona then showed her ticket to an Alaska employee, who pointed her in the direction of her next gate and did no more. (Id.)

         Ms. Kekona attempted to find her gate, but ended up driving her wheelchair onto the top of an escalator. (Id. at 9.) She tumbled down the escalator, with her motorized wheelchair landing on top of her. (Id.) She suffered serious injuries. (Id.) She indicated to responding emergency personnel that she “just got confused” and mistook the top of the escalator for an elevator. (Id.) Ms. Kekona died three-and-a-half months later from complications resulting from her June 7, 2017 injuries. (Id. at 15, 17.)

         Ms. Kekona's estate brought negligence, negligent training and supervision, survival, and wrongful death actions against Alaska and Huntleigh in King County Superior Court. (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 1, 15-21.) Alaska removed the matter to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. sections 1441 and 1446, based on the federal question implicated by the complaint, which asserts a breach of Alaska's duty to Ms. Kekona, as established by the Air Carrier Access Act (“ACAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 41705, et seq. (Dkt. No. 1 at 1); see 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Alaska now moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), asserting Ms. Kekona's estate fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Dkt. No. 14 at 1.) Specifically, Alaska alleges that: (1) the complaint fails to plead plausible grounds to pierce Alaska Air Group's corporate form, thereby precluding liability for acts or omissions of a subsidiary, Alaska Airlines, Inc.; (2) the AACA and its associated regulations preempt claims presented in the complaint; and (3) the complaint fails to plead plausible grounds that Alaska negligently trained or supervised its employees. (Dkt. No. 14 at 1-2.)


         A. Legal Standard: Motion to Dismiss[1]

         A defendant may move to dismiss a complaint when a plaintiff “fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To grant a motion to dismiss, the Court must be able to conclude that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, even after accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true and construing them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Fleming v. Pickard, 581 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must merely cite facts supporting a “plausible” cause of action. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). A claim has “facial plausibility” when the party seeking relief “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 672 (2009). Although the Court must accept as true a complaint's well-pleaded facts, conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences will generally not defeat an otherwise proper Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Vasquez v. L.A. County, 487 F.3d 1246, 1249 (9th Cir. 2007). However, “‘some latitude' may be appropriate where a plausible claim may be indicated ‘based on what is known, ' at least where . . . ‘some of the information needed may be in control of [the] defendants.'” Menard v. CSX Transp., Inc., 698 F.3d 40, 45 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Pruell v. Caritas Christi, 678 F.3d 10, 15 (1st Cir. 2012)) (alteration in original); see Soo Park v. Thompson, 851 F.3d 910, 928 (9th Cir. 2017), cert. denied sub nom. 138 S.Ct. 642 (2018) (citing Arista Records, LLC v. Doe 3, 604 F.3d 110, 120 (2d Cir. 2010)) (facts included in complaint need only be “suggestive” of unlawful conduct to survive a motion to dismiss); see also Williams v. Yamaha Motor Co., 851 F.3d 1015, 1028 (9th Cir. 2017) (information that could only be obtained through discovery need not be included in a complaint).

         B. Piercing the Corporate Veil

         Alaska asserts the complaint “fails to state plausible factual allegations to pierce Alaska Air Group's corporate form and impose liability against it for the alleged acts or omissions of its separately incorporated subsidiary, Alaska Airlines, Inc.” (Dkt. No. 14 at 5-6.) To pierce the corporate veil, a plaintiff must show that the corporate form was used to violate or evade a duty and that the corporate veil must be disregarded in order to prevent loss to an innocent party. Wash. Water Jet Workers Ass'n v. Yarbrough, 90 P.3d 42, 58 (Wash. 2004).

         Plaintiff alleges upon information and belief that, “[Alaska Air Group, Inc. is the] holding company for Alaska Airlines, Inc. and is responsible for the acts, omissions and other wrongful conduct of Alaska Airlines, Inc. At all relevant times, Alaska Air Group, Inc. exercised such dominion and control over Alaska Airlines, Inc. that it is liable.” (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 3.) Plaintiff goes on to plead Alaska's duty to Ms. Kekona, the manner in ...

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