Jacob Rudolph decided enough was enough. After repeatedly denying his refund request, Rudolph has sued United Airlines and is now seeking class-action status, a move which would allow all those impacted by United’s failure to promptly to refund tickets to sue in common cause.
Rudolph is a police officer is a small town in Minnesota. He was supposed to travel from Hilton Head, South Carolina (HHH) to Minneapolis (MSP) via Chicago (ORD) last Saturday, April 4, 2020, but his flights were cancelled (several days before). But when he approached United for a refund, his request was denied. Instead, he was offered a voucher for $1521.45, the cost of the three plane tickets.
With the trip cancelled and no further trips on the horizon, Rudolph filed lawsuit in Illinois.
United has engaged in unfair and deceptive conduct through its policy to issue refunds, limiting and forcing customers into a rebooked flight or travel voucher instead of returning their money.
The lawsuit claims:
- Violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act
- Unjust enrichment
- Fraudulent misrepresentation
United has no comment except to note that it has not been served yet.
You can read the full complaint here.
A Potential Defense From United?
Congress enacted the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) in 1978, which prohibited states from enforcing any law “related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.” 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1). Here, Rudolph is suing under Illinois state law and also includes consumer protection statutes from 49 other states in its complaint, as it seeks to provide a common remedy for citizens of 50 different states and validate its class action standing.
If the lawsuit proceeds, United may argue that the ADA precludes such claims. But 25 years ago the Supreme Court ruled that preemption did not preclude certain breach of contract claims. American Airlines, Inc. v. Wolens, 513 U.S. 219 (1995).
Even the customer-unfriendly Ginsberg decision in 2014 will likely not be a roadblock. Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg, 134 S. Ct. 1422 (2014). Since Ginsberg, lower courts have distinguished “between voluntarily assumed contractual obligations and obligations imposed on contracting parties by state law.”
It was only a matter of time before people starting suing United over its failure to provide prompt refunds. With recent Department of Transportation clarification that airlines cannot drag their feet on refunds or insist upon vouchers in their place, it will be interesting to see if United now backs down or digs in.
> Read More: The Existential Airline Dilemma: Refund Or Survive