- Airlines responded to a mask-mandate suit, saying the claim should be filed with the government.
- Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska, Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit responded in federal court.
- There is “no private right of action,” lawyers for Frontier and Allegiant wrote.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Seven airlines sought to dismiss a lawsuit over mask requirements for passengers, arguing the plaintiff should have filed an administrative complaint with the government.
Lucas Wall, of Washington DC, in June filed the lawsuit, alleging that the airlines had violated the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). He said he has a medical condition that means he can’t wear a mask and should be exempt from the federal mandates and airline requirements.
“The ACAA confers no private right to sue an air carrier,” lawyers for Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue Airways wrote in a joint motion to dismiss filed on Monday.
Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air also filed a joint motion in US District Court in Orlando. Spirit Airlines filed separately.
Although they arrived in three filings, the arguments from each of the seven airlines overlapped. They were in agreement that Wall didn’t have legal standing to sue them in federal court. As the lawyers for Frontier and Allegiant wrote: “Plaintiff’s claims fail as a matter of law because there is no private right of action”
They said Wall should have first filed a complaint with the Dept. of Transportation (DOT). If the DOT hadn’t acted on an administrative complaint, then he might have had grounds to sue the airlines, the motion said.
“Yet Plaintiff chose not to pursue that path to judicial review,” the airlines said.
In response, Wall claimed the airlines were sidestepping the issue at hand, relying instead on technical arguments to try to dismiss his lawsuit.
“My rebuttal to that is that the DOT is not enforcing the law as it’s required to do,” he said in a phone interview.
He pointed to an update published by the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, a unit within the DOT’s Office of the General Counsel, on February 5. That Notice of Enforcement Policy gave the airlines 45 days to bring their mask requirements into compliance with the ACAA.
That notice said the government would “exercise its prosecutorial discretion” in cases involving ACAA compliance. Wall claimed that showed the government wasn’t enforcing the law.
A Southwest spokesperson on Friday said the airline is enforcing the federal mask mandate. The airline said it’s telling passengers about the pandemic safety requirements several times before they head to the airport. They included notices during the booking process and in pre-trip emails.
“While we regret any customer inconvenience, federal law requires each person, 2 years of age and older, to wear a mask at all times throughout the air travel journey,” a spokesperson said via email.
The airline also said it has posted details on its website for applications for exemptions from mask requirements.
Wall said he plans in September to file an amended complaint against the airlines, which he said will include at least one new charge.
Frontier and Allegiant declined to comment. A lawyer for Delta referred questions to the airline, which also declined to comment. Insider has reached out to the remaining airlines for comment.
Wall said the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to strike down the administration’s eviction moratorium gave him hope for his lawsuit.
The decision “is really exciting for my case because the eviction ban is based on the same part of the public health service law that the mask mandate and testing requirement are based on,” he said.