In a three-judge panel decision issued on September 6, 2011 in Overka v. American Airlines, No. 10-8004, the First Circuit Court of Appeals let stand the expansive February 4, 2010 decision issued by U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young certifying a nationwide class of skycaps who claim that a $2 per bag service fee imposed by American Airlines unlawfully deprived them of tips. Judge Young’s 2010 class certification decision clears the way for skycaps at airports across the county to challenge American Airlines’ service fee practice on a class-wide basis on theories of unjust enrichment and tortious interference with contractual or advantageous relationship under the common law of 34 different jurisdictions from coast to coast.
In his 2010 class certification decision, Judge Young announced a novel plan to overcome the problems with managing the trial of a single class involving common law claims from 34 jurisdictions. Under Judge Young’s announced plan, the liability phase of the case would be tried by presenting the jury with a distilled version of the “base” claims of unjust enrichment and tortious interference, and then asking the jury special questions to accommodate the significant differences in the law in these jurisdictions. The class certification did not apply to damages, which were to be addressed after a jury verdict on the liability portion of the case.
In their petition seeking interlocutory review of Judge Young’s class certification decision, American Airlines argued that the decision was contrary to the First Circuit’s recent decision in DiFiore v. American Airlines, Inc., holding that the skycaps’ statutory wage and hour claims under the Massachusetts tips law are preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act. While the airline cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dukes v. Wal-Mart in a footnote in its reply brief addressing the issue of damages, it did not make any arguments seeking review of Judge Young’s expansive class certification decision based on any aspect of the Supreme Court’s recent decision. In its short decision in Overka v. American Airlines, the First Circuit denied the airline’s petition for interlocutory review, noting that the implications of its recent decision in DiFiore “might be best addressed by the district court in the first instance.”