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Karrani v. Jetblue Airways Corporation

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

July 31, 2019

JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORPORATION, a Delaware Corporation, Defendant.




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant JetBlue Airways Corporation (“JetBlue”)'s Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. #52. Plaintiff Abdikarim Karrani opposes JetBlue's Motion in entirety. Dkt. #69. The Court has determined that oral argument is not necessary. Having reviewed the Motion, Plaintiff's Response, Defendant's Reply, and all documents submitted in support thereof, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.


         Plaintiff claims that JetBlue discriminated against him on the basis of his race, national origin, and/or ethnicity under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by wrongfully removing him from an airline flight. Mr. Karrani is an 81-year-old U.S. citizen born in Somalia who now resides in Washington state. On January 20, 2018, Mr. Karrani was returning home on JetBlue Flight 263 from New York bound for Seattle when a medical emergency occurred in Row 1. Dkt. #53-2 at 5. The medical emergency required the plane to make an emergency landing in Billings, Montana shortly thereafter. During the plane's descent into Billings, Mr. Karrani-whose age and diabetic condition causes him to experience sudden and urgent needs to use the restroom-attempted to use the lavatory at the front of the plane and found it occupied by another passenger. Dkt. #53-7 at 4. After shutting the door, Mr. Karrani proceeded to stand outside the bathroom. Noticing Mr. Karrani waiting next to the restroom, JetBlue flight attendant Cynthia (i.e. Cindy) Pancerman approached to direct him to the back lavatory. Id.

         The precise details of what happened between Ms. Pancerman and Mr. Karrani remain a dispute of fact. Ms. Pancerman claims that she attempted to guide Mr. Karrani towards the back lavatory and, in response, Mr. Karrani hit her. Dkt. #68-1 at 50-51. Mr. Karrani, in contrast, claims that Ms. Pancerman initiated physical contact by pushing him towards the back and, startled and anxious, he attempted to brush her hand off him. Dkt. #53-7 at 5. According to Mr. Karrani, Ms. Pancerman did not say anything else to him except: “Go to the back one.” Id. After this interaction, Mr. Karrani proceeded to the back of the plane to use the back lavatory. It is undisputed that the plane's captain, Captain Mitchell Ouillette, was not a witness to the event.

         During the plane's final descent into Billings, the pilots in the cockpit-Captain Ouillette and co-pilot Michael Cheney-received a call from Ms. Pancerman. While the parties dispute what details Ms. Pancerman provided to the pilots regarding her interaction with Mr. Karrani, it is undisputed that during the plane's final approach into Billings, a call was made from the cockpit requesting law enforcement to meet the airplane upon landing. Dkt. #68-1 at 10-11. Once the plane landed, airport police boarded the plane and escorted Mr. Karrani off the plane. Dkt. #53-7 at 6.

         After interviewing witnesses, airport police officer Randy Winkley issued an incident report and determined that he would not charge Mr. Karrani with assault. Dkt. #68-1 at 106, 116. However, Captain Ouillette did not allow Mr. Karrani to re-board the flight. Id. at 111. As a result, while the remaining passengers were transported to Seattle, Mr. Karrani was driven by police to a hotel in Billings to stay overnight. The next day, he purchased a new flight on Delta from Billings to Seattle which JetBlue did not refund, even after he reported his ordeal to a JetBlue supervisor at Seattle Tacoma airport. Dkt. #1 at 5. On October 15, 2018, Mr. Karrani filed this lawsuit. JetBlue now seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 on the basis that Mr. Karrani has not raised a triable issue of fact that his removal from Flight 263 was because of his race, ethnicity, or national origin.


         A. Plaintiff's Request for Judicial Notice

         As a preliminary matter, Plaintiff requests that this Court take judicial notice of several documents published by the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”). See Dkt. #60. Specifically, Plaintiff requests judicial notice of two DOT guidance documents related to passenger discrimination in air travel, see Dkt. #60-1 at 4-15, and four Consent Orders issued by DOT against domestic airline carriers for discriminatory removal of minority passengers from aircrafts, see Dkt. #60-1 at 16-35. Federal Rule of Evidence 201 provides that courts may take judicial notice of adjudicative facts “generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court” or “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Jespersen v. Harrah's Operating Co., Inc., 444 F.3d 1104, 1110 (9th Cir. 2006) (en banc) (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 201) (internal quotations omitted). JetBlue does not dispute that the records at issue are self-authenticating pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 902(5), Dkt. #66 at 2, so the remaining issue is whether the documents are a proper subject of judicial notice.

         Plaintiff's request the Court take judicial notice with respect to the existence of these materials-specifically, that DOT has issued non-binding policy guidance that airlines may use to prevent discrimination against passengers, and that DOT has adjudicated various claims against airlines alleging discriminatory removal. See Interstate Nat. Gas Co. v. S. California Gas Co., 209 F.2d 380, 385 (9th Cir.1953) (A court “may take judicial notice of records and reports of administrative bodies.”). While JetBlue opposes judicial notice of these materials, its opposition chiefly addresses what inferences and conclusions the Court may draw from their contents. Whether to take judicial notice in the first instance is a separate inquiry from how the Court may rely on the contents of the documents. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff's request.

         B. Parties' Motions to Strike

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) and Local Rule 7(g), Plaintiff and JetBlue move to strike various documents on the grounds that a court may not consider improper lay opinions, unauthenticated documents, or inadmissible hearsay statements on summary judgment. Dkt. #69 at 16; Dkt. #72 at 10-11. Because the Court does not ...

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