Ventress III Provides Another Tool for Airlines: Ninth Circuit States Federal Aviation Act Preempts Pilot’s Condition Law Employment Claims


On March 28, 2014, the Ninth Circuit strengthened its Federal Aviation Act (the “Act”) preemption jurisprudence, holding that condition law claims for retaliation and constructive termination are preempted underneath the Act once they require “the fact finder to intrude upon the federally occupied field of aviation safety[.]” Ventress v. Japan Airlines, No. 12-15066 (ninth Cir. 2014). Ventress thus provides another helpful tool for airlines protecting condition-law tort claims that touch upon aviation safety.


Pro se complaintant Martin Ventress, an old flight engineer, introduced statutory and customary law retaliation and constructive discharge claims against defendant Japan Airlines (JAL) after Japanese psychiatrists considered him “medically disqualified” to fly. Ventress alleged that JAL retaliated against him for reporting safety concerns, and constructively ended him for reasons associated with his medical and mental fitness. Particularly, he alleged that JAL exposed him to unnecessary psychological evaluations and avoided him from working after he elevated safety concerns regarding a particular pilot’s medical fitness to function a plane throughout a June 2001 flight. Certainly one of JAL’s defenses to Ventress’s claims was that JAL were built with a legitimate business reason behind suspending Ventress’s capability to fly: Ventress was medically disqualified under relevant rules.

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