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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
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United Ducks Appeal Over Kiosks for the Blind

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - United Airlines need not face a class action over its limited number of kiosks accessible to blind travelers at California airports, the Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday.

Issuing its decision 38 months after hearing oral arguments, the three-judge panel said federal statutes pre-empt the National Federation for the Blind's claims for violation of California's Unruh Civil Rights Act.

Such claims furthermore do not relate to a "service" provided by United, as outlined by the Airline Deregulation Act, according to the ruling.

The National Federation of the Blind sued United Airlines back in October 2010, joined by three individuals - Michael May, Michael Hingson and Christina Thomas.

Rather than offering audio output or other blind-friendly alternatives, United's machines operated exclusively by video and touch-screen navigation, according to the complaint

U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed the action, finding the claims pre-empted by both the Airline Deregulation Act and the Air Carrier Access Act.

Affirming on Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit pointed to its en banc opinion in the 1998 case Charas v. Trans World Airlines, which determined that the term "service" in the Americans with Disabilities Act refers to the provision of air transportation - such as "the prices, schedules, origins and destinations of the point-to-point transportation of passengers, cargo or mail," not airline-provided amenities like drinks and luggage handling.

Though the Federal Aviation Act contains a broad savings clause, it did not result in a reversal today.

"According to the federation, any state-law claims that fall outside the scope of the ADA express preemption provision are necessarily preserved by the FAA's savings clause. Not so," Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for a three-judge panel.

Under the federation's interpretation, "a passenger could sue an airline for violating any state standard of care not expressly preempted by the ADA, notwithstanding federal regulations covering in depth the particular field at issue," Berzon noted.

"The result would be chaotic."

New Department of Transportations regulations on accessibility of airport kiosks furthermore speak "directly to the concerns raised by the federation's suit," the ruling states.

"Given its great detail and pervasive extent, the new regulation preempts any state regulation of that same field," Berzon wrote.

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