(CN) – A rabbi who says Northwest Airlines kicked him out of its frequent-flier program for complaining too much can pursue a class action, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.
The federal appeals panel in Pasadena reversed a lower court and moved Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg’s bad-faith lawsuit against the airline forward, finding that a federal deregulation law does not pre-empt a common-law contract claim.
After being dismissed from the Northwest’s WorldPerks frequent-flier program, Ginsberg filed a class action against the airline, now part of Delta, two years ago in California’s Southern District. He claimed that Northwest had “revoked his membership arbitrarily because he complained too frequently about the services,” according to the ruling.
U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino dismissed the case, finding that the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) pre-empted the rabbi’s contract claims. The three-judge appellate panel disagreed, reversing unanimously and cautioning the lower court that the virtues of deregulation do not trump the common law.
“When Congress passed the ADA, it dismantled a federal regulatory structure that had existed since 1958,” Judge Robert Beezer wrote for the panel. “By including a preemption clause, congress intended to ensure that the states would not undo the deregulation with regulation of their own. Congress’s ‘manifest purpose’ was to make the airline industry more efficient by unleashing the market forces of competition – it was not to immunize the airline industry from liability for common law contract claims. Congress did not intend to convert airlines into quasi-government agencies, complete with sovereign immunity.”