American Airlines Customers Want Cert. In Virus Refund Suit

By Michelle Casady
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Law360 (October 30, 2020, 5:13 PM EDT) -- A proposed class of American Airlines customers is urging a federal judge in Texas to grant them class certification in their suit against the airline alleging they were denied refunds for flights canceled due to COVID-19.

In a memorandum filed Thursday, the passengers, led by Lee Ward, told U.S. District Judge Reed C. O'Connor that all of the factors a court should consider when determining whether to grant class certification weigh in their favor. Ward argued a class action would be more economical than bringing individual lawsuits and that the legal issues and evidence to be considered by the jury "will not vary among class members."

Because there are thousands of similarly situated passengers across the country, who were all allegedly injured in the same way because of the cancelation and refusal to refund, class certification is appropriate here, Ward told the court.

"Class treatment is also superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy because (i) no class member has an interest in individually prosecuting American, (ii) there are no pending related cases against American, on behalf of class members, (iii) it is expedient to concentrate the litigation before this Court, where American is located, and (iv) there are no likely difficulties in managing a class action here," he argued.

The three named plaintiffs — Ward, James Saunders and William Holloway — filed the suit on April 22, and American moved to compel arbitration in the case on Aug. 13.

American argued that Saunders and Holloway, who bought tickets for flights though Hotwire and Expedia, are subject to the travel agencies' terms of use that state the purchaser "must bring claims against travel suppliers (like American) in individual arbitration or small claims court."

The passengers argue they were not party to those agreements and are therefore not subject to arbitration.

Judge O'Connor requested additional information in order to rule on the arbitration issue, and American filed a supplemental response on Oct. 19 that includes an affidavit of David Coons, vice president for product and technology at Expedia, in which he confirms "the accuracy of American's description of the Expedia and Hotwire terms of use" that apply here.

American has alternatively argued that if the court doesn't send the case to arbitration, it should dismiss the lawsuit as barred by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which preempts state law clams having a connection with or reference to airline prices, routes or services.

Counsel for American declined to comment Friday and counsel for the passengers did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Ward, Saunders and Holloway are represented by Allen Ryan Vaught of Vaught Firm LLC; Daniel J. Kurowski, Steve W. Berman and Whitney K. Siehl of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP; and E. Adam Webb and G. Franklin Lemond Jr. of Webb Klase & Lemond LLC.

American is represented by Dee J. Kelly Jr. and Lars L. Berg of Kelly Hart & Hallman LLP and Michael E. Bern, James E. Brandt and Tyce R. Walters of Lathan & Watkins LLP.

The case is Ward v. American Airlines Inc., case number 4:20-cv-00371, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

--Additional reporting by Katie Buehler. Editing by Gemma Horowitz.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

Ward v. American Airlines, Inc.


Case Number

4:20-cv-00371

Court

Texas Northern

Nature of Suit

Contract: Other Contract

Judge

Reed C. O'Connor

Date Filed

April 22, 2020

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