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Diefenthal v. Civil Aeronautics Board

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
681 F.2d 1039 (5th Cir. 1982)

Diefenthal v. Civil Aeronautics Board


Stanley and Elka Diefenthal (plaintiffs) bought first class tickets on a Philadelphia-bound flight from New Orleans operated by Eastern Airlines (Eastern) (defendant). Despite the fact that the Diefenthals specifically requested seating in the smoking section of the plane and confirmed the request before boarding, once onboard, the flight attendant turned them away. The Diefenthals claim that the flight attendant “brusquely” told them that the first class smoking section was at capacity, and that only non-smoking first class seating was available. The Diefenthals filed suit in federal district court against Eastern Airlines for breach of contract and tortious embarrassment and humiliation (as well as the Civil Aeronautics Board (defendant) on various claims). Eastern sought dismissal on the ground that the Diefenthals had failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The district court concluded that it did not have diversity jurisdiction over the case. Although the parties did have diverse citizenship, the court stated that not even “by the wildest stretch of the imagination” could an award of more than $10,000 (the amount in controversy then required by 28 U.S.C. § 1332 for federal diversity jurisdiction) be granted on the basis of the complaint. The court gave the Diefenthals leave to amend their tort claim, with the warning that the amount in controversy would still be an issue. The amended complaint accused the flight attendant of “maliciously and intentionally [treating] plaintiffs in a manner calculated to cause plaintiffs serious embarrassment and humiliation” and claimed $50,000 in damages. The complaint made no mention of physical or emotional harm or loss of reputation. Eastern again moved to dismiss, and the court again concluded that based upon the facts alleged in the complaint, a $10,000 award was inconceivable. The Diefenthals appealed the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Clark, C.J.)

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