Wednesday, August 5, 2009, 4:05 PM

Massachusetts Court Overrules Federal Judge

It isn't often that you see a state appellate court telling a federal judge he's wrong, but that's the bottom line in DiFiore v. American Airlines Inc. (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, SJC-10303, Aug. 4, 2009). The story begins with a suit by eight skycaps who worked for an American Airlines independent contractor; they claimed they had been stiffed by American, which collected a fee of $2.00 apiece for checked luggage but didn't turn the money over to the skycaps. Slightly more than a year ago, a federal jury in the District of Massachusetts awarded the plaintiffs $283,000, but then Judge William G. Young set aside the verdict because the jury instructions regarding the Massachusetts "service charge" law were misleading. Now the highest state court in the Commonwealth has concluded that the federal judge was wrong and the jury's instructions were correct. This outcome stems from a procedure in which a federal judge can ask a state court to interpret state law. Plaintiffs' counsel understandably calls this "a great decision." It remains to be seen what will happen next.

(See our prior post, "Checking Out at Curbside" (May 14, 2008) for more background.)

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