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Court rules airline baggage class action lawsuit may proceed

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A federal appeals court has reinstated a putative class action lawsuit filed by an airline passenger seeking reimbursement of her baggage fee after her luggage was not returned to her until the following day.

Hayley Hickcox-Huffman bought a ticket on US Airways to fly from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to San Luis Obispo, California, in 2009 and checked one bag, paying a $15 fee, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Hayley Hickcox-Huffman v. US Airways Inc.; US Airway Group Inc.

Her bag did not show up on the baggage carousel and US Airways, which has since merged with Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Inc., delivered it the next day.

Ms. Hickcox-Huffman filed a putative class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Jose to get her $15 back, claiming breach of contract, among other charges.

The District Court dismissed her case on the basis her claim was preempted by 1978’s Airline Deregulation Act, and Ms. Hickox-Huffman appealed.

A unanimous three-judge 9th Circuit panel reinstated the case, holding the deregulation act did not apply. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1995 ruling in American Airlines Inc. v. Wolens, “The states may not impose their own rules regarding fares, routes, or services, but may afford relief for breaches of obligations the airlines voluntarily undertook themselves, even when the obligations directly relate to fares, routes, and services,” the ruling said.

“Because Hickcox-Huffman’s claim is for breach of contract of a voluntarily assumed contractual undertaking, and she pleads breach of contract, the claim is not pre-empted by the Airline Deregulation Act as construed by Wolens,” said the panel, in reinstating the case and remanding it for further proceedings.