Does the Airline Deregulation Act preempt a state claim for breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing concerning a frequent flyer program?
S. Binyomin Ginsberg sued Northwest Airlines, now Delta Airlines, after Northwest terminated his “WorldPerks” frequent flyer membership. Ginsberg asserted four state contract causes of action. Northwest argues that Ginsberg’s claims are preempted under the Airline Deregulation Act (“ADA”) of 1978, which preempts states from enacting or enforcing laws related to the price, route, or service of airline transportation. The District Court for the Southern District of California granted Northwest’s motion to dismiss the complaint. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding—in conflict with other circuit courts—that Ginsberg’s claim for breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing was not preempted. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that nothing in the ADA suggested that Congress intended to displace state common law contract claims that were only peripherally related to deregulation. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve the circuit split over whether state contract claims are preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act. The Court will also determine whether the Act preempts claims arising out of frequent flyer programs. The Court’s decision will impact the balance of state and federal regulatory interests under the ADA, and the scope of other federal preemption regimes.
Did the court of appeals err by holding, in conflict with the decisions of other Circuits, that respondent’s implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim was not preempted under the ADA because such claims are categorically unrelated to a price, route, or service, notwithstanding that respondent’s claim arises out of a frequent flyer program (the precise context of Wolens) and manifestly enlarged the terms of the parties’ voluntary undertakings, which allowed termination in Northwest’s sole discretion.
- Lawrence Hurley, Supreme Court to Hear Case of Disgruntled Frequent Flyer, MSN (May 21, 2013)
- Bart Jansen, Supreme Court to Hear Frequent-Flier Case, USA Today (May 20, 2013)
- Erin Carlyle, Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg Sues Northwest, Airline Dropped Him for Too Many Complaints, Minneapolis City Pages (Aug. 12, 2011)