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Diefenthal v. Civil Aeronautics Bd. - 681 F.2d 1039 (5th Cir. 1982)


49 U.S.C.S. § 1374(b), a provision of the Federal Aviation Act, has been recognized to prohibit the granting of preferential and discriminatory rates, the denial of access to flights and terminals on the basis of race and the practice of "bumping" passengers in violation of established policies. However, every difference in treatment by an airline does not constitute discrimination. Section 1374(b) was only intended to protect the right of access to air facilities from discriminatory interference by the air carrier. It is this denial of access to air facilities, whether caused directly, by outright refusal of permission to board, or indirectly, by burdening the potential user with special requirements not applied to the general public, which is critical. 


Plaintiffs-appellants Stanley and Elka Diefenthal purchased first class tickets aboard a flight from New Orleans to Philadelphia on Eastern Airlines. They requested seats in the smoking section and confirmed that their request was granted prior to departure. After they boarded the flight, the Diefenthals were told that the smoking section in first class was filled and that they would have to sit in a no-smoking area if they wished to fly first class. The Diefenthals alleged that in informing them that they could not smoke, the flight attendant treated them "brusquely," causing them extreme embarrassment, humiliation, and emotional distress. The district court dismissed the Diefenthals' claims for injunctive relief against Eastern on the ground that they did not have an implied private right of action under the Federal Aviation Act. The Diefenthals appealed the order of dismissal. They also petitioned for review of a CAB order finding that regulating smoking was within the scope of its statutory authorization. 


Did the denial of the plaintiff airline passengers' right to smoke constitute discrimination within the meaning of the Federal Aviation Act, 49 U.S.C.S. § 1374(b), which requires each carrier to provide "adequate service?"




The United States Court of Appeals concluded that the CAB had the power under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 to require carriers to provide nonsmoking areas. The Court affirmed the dismissal of the Diefenthals’ claims for injunctive relief because they did not have an implied private right of action under the Federal Aviation Act. The court additionally found that the regulation at issue was enacted to control smokers, not to benefit them. The court concluded that even if an implied right of action existed under 49 U.S.C.S. § 1374(b), denying plaintiffs the right to smoke did not constitute discrimination within the meaning of that section. The Diefenthals were simply unable to smoke while seated in the first class section. The Diefenthals’ contract and tort claims against Eastern Airlines were properly dismissed for failure to satisfy the requisite $10,000 minimal amount required for diversity jurisdiction in the federal court.

As for the standard of review, the Court explained that when a party challenges an agency's determination that a regulation is necessary to carry out the provisions of its enabling statute, the scope of the court's review is limited. The validity of a regulation promulgated thereunder will be sustained so long as it is reasonably related to the purposes of the enabling legislation. Even the absence of an express delegation of power to regulate a particular area is not fatal to the validity of a regulation so long as the regulation reasonably advances the purposes of the enabling statute. 

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