JetBlue Ducks Suit Over Not-Quite Bomb Threat

MANHATTAN (CN) – Hypothetical or not, a frequent-flying executive’s remark about a bomb in her luggage gave JetBlue reason enough to refer the matter to the FBI, the Second Circuit ruled on Thursday.
     An attorney for the executive said in a phone interview he was “greatly disappointed” with the decision and may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
     The case stems from an early morning flight to Austin, Texas, that Rosalinda Baez tried to board in New York City on April 15, 2008.
     Though Baez arrived at JFK International Airport nearly two hours before the domestic flight, she made it to the counter with just minutes to spare before her 8:05 a.m. departure.
     Baez admittedly got upset and made a cryptic remark when JetBlue’s agent told it was too late to board.
     “Isn’t it a security risk to let a bag go on a plane without a passenger?” Baez asked, referring to her already checked luggage. “What if there was a bomb in the bag?”
     The agent responded that Transportation Security Administration workers would have detected it.
     While Baez insists that she responded “TSA – my ass,” and walked away, JetBlue staff told federal authorities that she said: “Well, I have a bomb in my bag, so are you guys going to turn the plane around cuz [sic] I need my bag?”
     Authorities allege that Baez continued to go off about the TSA not knowing “how to do their f-ing job,” but Baez denies having made such a rant.
     The plane took off without Baez but was diverted two hours later in Richmond, Va., where law enforcement pulled out all of the passengers, searched them and brought bomb-sniffing dogs on deck.
     Security officers found no bomb on the plane, but they did find marijuana residue on Baez’s luggage.
     Authorities dropped the bomb-threat charge against Baez, but she got three years of probation drug charges related to the pot found in her luggage. The New York Post reported that Baez also had to pay JetBlue $23,000 for the cost of rerouting the plane.
     Baez then sued Jetblue and the gate agent whom she questioned about her luggage for negligence, defamation, false arrest and emotional defense.
     U.S. District Judge Eric Vitaliano found last year that she did not have enough evidence to bring the case to trial.
     A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit unanimously affirmed on Thursday.
     “Because it is undisputed that Malabet and JetBlue were aware of ominous (even if ambiguous) references to a bomb on a flight, no reasonable jury could find that differences in wording between Baez’s account and Malabet’s constituted materially false statements made to law enforcement.,” Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote for the court.
     In a phone interview, Baez’s attorney, Jon Norinsberg, said he is “greatly disappointed” and “going to consider all options,” including taking the case to the Supreme Court.
     Norinsberg called the facts of the case “a lot more complex” than it might seem from the court’s opinion, and said that the issues might clarify what had been an open question in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision of Air Wisconsin Airlines v. Hoeper.
     By a 6-3 margin, the high court in that case overturned a $1.4 million verdict to a pilot who sued Air Wisconsin for defamation for describing him to airport security as recently fired, possibly armed and mentally unstable.
     Referring to that case, Norinsberg said: “The central question is whether immunity should be decided by the jury or the judge.”
     Norinsberg said he has not yet spoken to his client, Baez, who is now an overseas consultant in the United Kingdom.
     Baez’s lawsuit blamed JetBlue for her firing from her previous six-figure job performing high-level Internet marketing work.
     A JetBlue spokesman declined to comment.

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