Global Freedom of Expression

Baez v. JetBlue Airways Corp.

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Non-verbal Expression
  • Date of Decision
    July 16, 2015
  • Outcome
  • Case Number
    793 F.3d 269
  • Region & Country
    United States, North America
  • Judicial Body
    Appellate Court
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law
  • Themes
    National Security
  • Tags
    Civil Defamation

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

After missing her flight and mentioning the possibility of a bomb in her bag, Baez was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who had investigated the threat along with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Baez sued both the airlines, JetBlue, and its employee who had reported Baez. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the district court was corrected in its grant of summary judgment.


When flying out of John F. Kennedy Airport, Rosalinda Baez arrived at her gate after the boarding door had already closed. Baez, who was concerned about her luggage already on board, raised questions about the possibility of a bomb in her luggage. Tiffany Malabet, who was then an employee of JetBlue Airways Corporation (JetBlue), was working at the gate and reported Baez’s alleged bomb threat to her supervisor.

The FBI interviewed and arrested Baez. JetBlue rerouted the plane with Baez’s luggage on it, removed the passengers, and search Baez’s luggage as a security measure. Law enforcement officials did not find a bomb, but did find marijuana residue. The government charged Baez with making a false bomb threat, which was later dropped. The government later charged Baez with misdemeanor drug charges for the marijuana in her bag. Baez pled guilty, and she was given three years of probation and had to pay for JetBlue’s costs for redirecting the plane.

Baez later sued both JetBlue and Malabet. She sued JetBlue for defamation and negligence, and she sued Malabet for defamation, false arrest, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment because the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) protect the defendants from liability.

Decision Overview

In her appeal of the district’s court ruling, Baez argues that “whether Malabet’s statements relaying what Baez had said were materially false and therefore outside the protection of the ATSA” is a question for the jury [pg. 3]. She also argues that the district court erred in finding that the statements by Malabet were materially true and that ATSA’s protection does not cover Malabet, because her report was made to her supervisor rather than to enforcement officers or TSA.

In reviewing the grant of summary judgment, the court considers the versions of facts set forth by Baez and Malabet in evidence. The court considered the Supreme Court’s holding in Hoeper, which dictates that airline employees and carriers were granted immunity under ATSA unless a report is materially false. Despite accepting Baez’s account of the facts, the court concluded, “that ‘the facts and the law will reasonably support only one conclusion’ on which ‘reasonable persons’ could not differ [pg. 11].”

In reviewing Baez’s statements, the court considered if the mere mention of a bomb was sufficient to set in motion the following chain of events. The court notes that once a threat has been reported, it is left to the TSA to decide how to proceed, even if the reporter does not actually perceive the party to be a true threat to security. The adopted view should be that of a reasonable security officer, and the court found that a reasonable person would have looked into Baez’s statements. The court also noted that if JetBlue had disregarded its obligation to report possible threats, it could be liable for civil penalties.

In evaluating the threat from the view of a reasonable security officer, the court pointed to Cothran, in which the court held, “ ‘the use of ambiguous language does not preclude a statement from being a threat,’ and a ‘bad joke can fall within the scope of [§ 46507(1)][pg. 15].’” Thus, the court held, “Because it is undisputed that Malabet and JetBlue were aware of ominous (even if ambiguous) references to a bomb on a flight, no reasonable jury could find that differences in wording between Baez’s account and Malabet’s constituted materially false statements made to law enforcement[pg. 17].”  Accordingly, the court found that JetBlue and Malabet are protected under ATSA immunity, and it affirms the district court’s judgment.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Mixed Outcome

In this case, the defendant was punished for her speech.  However, her speech included a potential security threat.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.S., 49 U.S.C. § 44941
  • U.S., Air Wis. Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper, 134 S. Ct. 852 (2014)
  • U.S., United States v. Cothran, 286 F.3d 173 (3d Cir. 2002)

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

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