Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Airline Passenger Lacked Standing to Bring Antitrust Challenge Against Ticket Restrictions

This posting was written by Jeffrey May, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

An airline customer’s claim that an airline’s “No Transfer” policy prevented him from buying a less expensive ticket for a flight by foreclosing the emergence of a secondary market of ticket resellers in violation of federal antitrust law was too speculative to support Article III standing, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. has ruled.

No reasonable juror could find that the customer was overcharged as a result of the challenged policy.

The customer relied on surveys as well as the testimony of a co-founder of a former reseller of airline tickets. However, that analysis could not be used to conclude that the complaining customer would have benefited from a secondary market, the court ruled. The surveys and testimony failed to present an accurate picture of the prices that would have been negotiated in the secondary market.

The court rejected the customer’s argument that injury-in-fact in antitrust cases should be inferred when the defendant’s wrongdoing prevented more precise proof of the fact of injury. That principle applied only to the showing needed to support a damage award, not to the constitutional requirement that the plaintiff show the fact of injury.

Because the customer lacked standing to challenge the policy in federal court, the lower court should not have assumed jurisdiction to dismiss on the merits of the dispute. Even though the merits of a particular claim might have been clear, the court should not have bypassed jurisdictional issues.

Standing was a check that reinforced the constitutional principle that some disputes were beyond the authority of federal courts to resolve, the appellate court explained. The judgment of the district court was vacated, and the case was remanded with directions that the complaint be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The decision is Dominguez v. UAL Corp., 2012-1 Trade Cases ¶77,773.

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