Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, January 9, 2020


Page 1


Ninth Circuit:

Malicious Prosecution Action Lies Against Airline Based on Allegations to Officials Following Flight

Opinion Says Montreal Convention Does Not Bar State Claims


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday reinstated a malicious prosecution action brought by a man against United Airlines based on allegedly false testimony against him at a criminal trial in Northern Ireland stemming from allegedly erratic conduct on his part while aboard a flight from Rome to San Francisco.

Plaintiff Jeremiah Thede was found not guilty by a jury in 2015 after a seven-day trial, conducted 10 months after the flight he was on was diverted to Belfast where he was taken into custody by armed officers and accused of assault and endangering an aircraft. Thede was under house arrest during the 10-month wait.

He acknowledged expressing annoyance over being denied a packet of crackers during the three-hour wait for the aircraft to take off, but denied acting in a threatening manner.

District Court Opinion

District Court Chief Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton of the Northern District of California on March 30, 2018, dismissed Thede’s claims for breach of contract and malicious prosecution, granting leave to amend the contract claim but ruling that an action for malicious prosecution is barred by the Montreal Convention. That accord, applicable to international flights, bars an action under state law based on “injuries” to a passenger; liability is subject to a limitation on damages.

Hamilton explained:

“Here, plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claim is based on the United flight attendants’ statements to Northern Ireland officials about the in-flight incident. Were it not for the onboard incident, the flight would not have been diverted, the flight attendants would not have made any statements to the Northern Ireland officials, and plaintiff would not have been arrested or prosecuted. Thus, the flight attendants’ statements—indeed the prosecution itself—arose directly from the events that took place during the international flight. Because these events are within the substantive scope of the Convention, plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claim is preempted.”

Thede chose not to amend and appealed from the dsmissal of his malicious prosecution claim.

Memorandum Opinion

Reversal came yesterday in a memorandum opinion, which says:

“Thede argues the Convention does not apply because his injury arises from the false testimony United’s employees allegedly gave at fas criminal trial in Belfast 10 months after he had disembarked from United’s aircraft. United argues that the Convention applies because the alleged false testimony at Thede’s trial cannot ‘meaningfully be separated’ from ‘all that transpired during the international flight.’ We agree with Thede.”

Under the Ninth Circuit’s 2010 decision in Eid v. Alaska Airlines, Inc., the opinion says, the convention is preempive as to accusations made by the flight crew to authorities in Northern Ireland during the flight or after the passenger was taken off the craft. However, it goes on to declare:

“…Thede’s malicious prosecution claim is also based on events that took place during and following his ten-month confinement to house arrest while he waited for his criminal trial in Belfast. Thede alleges that United ‘made certain false claims about [him] the court, and to the news media, which caused him to be arrested, charged, and tried in criminal court.’ Thede also alleges that United ‘’was actively involved in causing [him] to be prosecuted in a criminal proceeding.’…[T]hese allegations are both spatially and temporally distinct from when Thede was ‘on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.’…Accordingly, Thede alleges facts that give rise to a malicious prosecution claim outside the Convention’s substantive scope.”

The case is Thede v. United Airlines, Inc., 18-15903.


Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company