Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court. (CV-92-1402). Eugene W. Reese, TRIAL JUDGE.
As Corrected. Released for Publication August 21, 1995. As Corrected December 8, 1995.
Almon, Hornsby, C. J., and Houston, Ingram, and Butts, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Almon
David Iyegha appeals from a summary judgment for United Airlines, Inc., in his action alleging conversion and wantonness. This action arose from incidents that occurred during Iyegha's international trip, taken partly on United. The issue presented is the extent to which the Warsaw Convention limits United's liability to Mr. Iyegha.
The following is a summary of the pertinent facts that could be found by viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Mr. Iyegha. In the summer of 1991, Mr. Iyegha purchased two airline tickets for him and his two-year-old daughter to travel to Nigeria to visit his family. The Iyeghas' itinerary took them on United from Birmingham, Alabama, to Washington, D.C., where they changed planes, and then to Heathrow Airport, London, England. The Iyeghas were then to fly British Airways from London's Gatwick Airport to Lagos, Nigeria. In Birmingham, Mr. Iyegha checked four bags to London's Heathrow and was issued boarding passes for the flights departing Birmingham and Washington, D.C.
The Iyeghas' flights to Washington, D.C., and to London's Heathrow were uneventful. Upon arrival in London, Mr. Iyegha was delayed in picking up his checked luggage by a long line at immigration. Approximately 45 minutes to an hour after arrival, the Iyeghas reached the baggage collection area. Mr. Iyegha found all of his luggage placed together in an area off the conveyer. The locks on all of the cases were secure and two of the cases were unharmed. One case, however, had been cut or torn open all the way across one side and had been tied up with a rope. The other case had a somewhat circular cut or tear that left a big hole in the side of the case. Mr. Iyegha eventually discovered that a significant number of clothes were missing from the damaged cases.
Mr. Iyegha took the damaged luggage with him on the bus to London's Gatwick Airport, assuming that he could report the damage to United at Gatwick. Upon arrival at Gatwick, Mr. Iyegha discovered that there was no United office there. A British Airways agent helped Mr. Iyegha by walking to another terminal and purchasing two new bags, for which Mr. Iyegha provided reimbursement.
Mr. Iyegha was then ready to check in for his flight to Lagos, Nigeria. However, the Iyeghas were not allowed to do so, because there were no tickets to Nigeria in their ticket materials. The United agent in Birmingham had erroneously removed the Iyeghas' British Airways tickets for the London/Lagos flight when he removed the United Airlines tickets for the Birmingham/London flights. The British Airways agent telephoned the United headquarters in the United States and was told that the Iyeghas would have to wait two days before replacement tickets could be issued. Because the Iyeghas' trip was planned to be for only two weeks, Mr. Iyegha purchased two new tickets to Nigeria, using a credit card. United later reimbursed Mr. Iyegha for the cost of the second pair of tickets, but not for the interest incurred on his credit card or for a $100 processing fee that he was charged.
Mr. Iyegha filed a complaint alleging that United wrongfully "took Plaintiff's tickets in Birmingham, Alabama and ripped Plaintiff's baggage apart and took the items [of clothing] listed." The complaint alleged that this conduct constituted conversion and that United wantonly destroyed Iyegha's property and took his tickets. The court granted United's motion for summary judgment. The allegation involving the damage to the baggage and the missing items and the allegation involving the taking of the Iyeghas' tickets will be addressed separately.
The Warsaw Convention *fn1 applies "to all international transportation of persons, baggage, or goods performed by aircraft for hire." Convention Art. 1(1). The Iyeghas' tickets were clearly for "international transportation" as that term is used in the Convention, see Convention Art. 1(2) (defining the term); Arkwright-Boston Manufacturer's Mut. Ins. Co. v. Intertrans Airfreight Corp., 777 F. Supp. 103 (D. Mass. 1991) (shipment of a machine from the United States to Ireland is "international transportation" under the Convention), and the Iyeghas' contract with United, as evidenced by their tickets, expressly provided that carriage would be subject to the Convention's limitations on liability. The Warsaw Convention limits the amount of damages an international passenger may receive from an airline because of lost or damaged baggage.
We note initially, although the parties have been silent on the point, that this Court has held that where a plaintiff has "a cause of action derived exclusively from the [Warsaw] Convention, ... all state common law causes of action that might otherwise have been available to [the plaintiff] are preempted." Newsome v. Trans Int'l Airlines, 492 So. 2d 592, 599 (Ala. 1986). Thus, the first issue is the extent to which the Warsaw Convention controls this case. See 49 U.S.C.A. § 1502. This Court has held that an airline may limit its liability to passengers in tariffs filed and approved pursuant to the Federal Aviation Act. Eastern Air Lines v. Williamson, 282 Ala. 421, 211 So. 2d 912 (1968). Further, the limitations of the tariff are valid and binding upon passengers, regardless of the passenger's lack of knowledge or assent to the provisions. Id. Here, United submitted in support of its motion for summary judgment a copy of the contract issued to passengers. The document states: "International transportation is governed by international tariffs on file with the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board and other governments as required" and "Presentation of this ticket for transportation on United Airlines shall constitute the passenger's acceptance of United's conditions of contract for carriage via United Airlines."
The back of the Iyeghas' boarding passes for the flight from Birmingham to Washington, D.C., which Mr. Iyegha admits to having read, states in bold print "Carriage hereunder is subject to the rules and limitations relating to liability established by ...