Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Autistic Teen Made to Deplane May Sue U.S.

(CN) - An autistic teenager who says he was ordered off a United Airlines flight may bring negligence claims against the United States, but not its agencies, a federal judge ruled.

Ryan Shankar was 18 at the time he filed his 2013 complaint, which concerns events that occurred on Oct. 4, 2009, when he and his family arrived at Honolulu International Airport for a flight home to San Francisco.

A delay at the ticket counter allegedly caused Shankar to exhibit some behaviors associated with autism, such as making odd noises and flailing his arms. After nearly an hour, the family got their tickets and went through the security checkpoint where Shankar gave the security agent a "high five" and uttered "good job."

Shankar said the agent at first reciprocated, but later yelled, "this kid hit me." Shanker allegedly proceeded through the airport "calm and happy," bought fries at a Burger King and then boarded the flight without further incident.

Once on the plane, however, Shankar said a flight attendant ordered him and his family off, per the unexplained direction of the pilot.

As Shankar was escorted off the plane, United Airlines agents reportedly gave the security agent a "thumbs up" sign.

Shankar sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration and United Airlines in April 2013, but named only the two government agencies as defendants in a July amended complaint.

U.S. District Judge Nathanael Cousins in the Northern District of California dismissed that action last week, but said Shankar has leave substitute the United States for the federal defendants on his tort claims.

In calling for amendments to the emotional distress claim, Cousins said Shankar had failed "to allege outrageous conduct."

Cousins meanwhile dismissed the claim under the Americans With Disabilities Act against the federal defendants with prejudice based on his finding that the government is not subject to the claimed provisions, Title II or Title III.

Shankar also failed to show standing or to state a claim with regard to his claims under the Rehabilitation Act, according to the ruling, which dismissed those claims with leave to amend.

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not return a request for comment, while Shankar's attorney, Andrea Tytell, declined to discuss the ruling.

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