Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Don't make flippant comments about bombs at the airport

If I told you the facts of this case, could you predict the outcome? The plaintiff was late for her flight, and when the airport people told her her luggage was already on board, she got upset. "By Baez’s own account, Baez then made cryptic reference to the possibility of a bomb in her luggage: 'Isn’t it a security risk to let a bag go on a plane without a passenger, what if there was a bomb in the bag?'" When someone mentioned that “TSA agents would know if there was a bomb in the bag,” Baez retorted “TSA‐‐my ass” and walked away. Baez was charged with making a false bomb threat and sued for false arrest.

The case is Baez v. JetBlue Airways Corp., decided on July 16. Baez loses the case. The law allows air carriers to provide the TSA with information necessary to respond to potential bomb threats. This immunity is pierced if employees make false, inaccurate or misleading statements or with reckless disregard to the truth. She invokes that exception, but the Second Circuit (Jacobs, Raggi and Lynch) is not buying it. The Court reasons:

Baez claims she raised only a hypothetical question about the security risk posed by a checked bag unaccompanied by its owner, which might contain a bomb. But since Baez’s luggage was indisputably a checked bag unaccompanied by its owner, “a reasonable [law enforcement] officer . . . would have wanted to investigate." ... At an airport, a bare reference to a bomb may be enough to set off the chain of events that resulted in Baez’s detention, interrogation, and arrest by the FBI. ... A gate agent or airline manager may not confidently distinguish between a veiled threat and a comment expressing genuine concerns about security. That is why, once a report is made, it is for the TSA and other law enforcement officers “to determine and
execute a response.”
Baez offers some creative arguments to get around all of this, i.e., that someone at the airport did not regard her as a real security threat, but this is the post-9/11 world. Her comments grounded the plane and FBI detained and questioned Baez for several hours.You cannot joke or make flippant comments about a bomb in your bag. Talk about something else, like baseball. 

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