Air France v. Saks

LOCATION: Cleburne City Hall

DOCKET NO.: 83-1785
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 470 US 392 (1985)
ARGUED: Jan 15, 1985
DECIDED: Mar 04, 1985

Bennett M. Cohen - on behalf of the respondent
Carroll E. Dubuc - on behalf of Republic of France as amicus curiae supporting petitioner
Stephen C. Johnson - on behalf of the petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Air France v. Saks

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 15, 1985 in Air France v. Saks

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Air France against Saks.

If you will give us a moment or two here.

Mr. Johnson, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Stephen C. Johnson:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this case turns on the proper construction of a treaty.

It also involves important considerations of judicial restraint under our constitutional system in the treatymaking process.

The treaty is the Warsaw Convention, the agreement governing it a national aviation.

This Court considered and enforce the liability ceilings under that treaty last term in its Franklin Mint decision.

We are asking the Court now to consider and enforce prerequisites for that liability under the Convention.

As the Court has noted this treaty has been in effect now for over 50 years, and has provided stable and internationally uniform rules governing international air transportation.

There is, however, now pending a balanced package of amendments to the Warsaw Convention which have not yet been ratified by the U.S. Senate.

As the Court noted last term, those amendments remain on a... calendar.

The majority below has nevertheless upon judicial fiat enacted only one of those amendments by removing a prerequisite for carrier liability for personal injuries under the treaty as it now stands.

In so doing, the majority has misinterpreted the treaty and has inappropriately interfered with the treatymaking powers of the political branches.

In this case we ask the Court to enforce the provisions of Article 17 of the treaty.

That article establishes as a prerequisite for carrier liability for passenger injury and death claims the requirement that such injuries or death be caused by an accident.

That prerequisite for liability has been universally recognized by the courts.

The Third Circuit has properly, in our view, applied that prerequisite in its DeMarines decision by stating its two basic elements, first, that there be an accident, and second, that that accident proximately caused the injury.

The majority below has acknowledged the requirement.

However, in the guise of treaty construction, their decision would effectively abolish that requirement by allowing recovery where a flight has been normal in all respects and no accident has occurred to cause the injury.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Johnson, the language in Article 18 dealing with property damage uses the word 18.

In Article 17, dealing with personal injury, it uses "accident".

Do you think that the recovery standards are different for property damage or baggage than they are for personal injury?

Stephen C. Johnson:

Yes, I do, Your Honor.

I think that the--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

The drafters of the Convention then, did they have greater concern for property damage than for personal injury recovery?

Stephen C. Johnson:

--I think you have to look back into 1929, in fact, and still today, I think that under concepts like bailment rules there are generally stricter standards of liability than apply to the handling of baggage than there are to persons.

I think when you do look back to the drafters' comments in 1929, it becomes very clear that they intentionally chose those words, 18 and--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is there something in the minutes of the drafting of the Convention to which we might refer that would point to this difference?

Stephen C. Johnson:

--Yes, Justice O'Connor, there is.

In fact, the president of the drafting committee, Mr. Gianinni, spoke to the Convention just before the vote was taken adopting Articles 17, 18, and 19.