Let's try something different
But the Ninth Circuit decided that since the assault was over by the time the plane flew into its jurisdiction, it was not the right place to seek legal redress. And then it gave a rundown for how you could figure out in which legal district – yes, district, because once you go down this road, a state isn't precise enough – they were in when the slapping happened.
From the judgment [PDF]: "At the time Flight 2321 made its Minneapolis-to-Los Angeles run in December 2018, it apparently traveled at an average speed 368 miles-per-hour, and its route map suggests that is crossed over at least eight different districts during its flight time."
"But Sullivan, Flight 2321’s lead flight attendant, testified that the flight lasted 'approximately three hours,' that he received word of 'an assault of some sort' 'at least an hour' after takeoff, that he spent '30 to 45 minutes at least' investigating the incident, and that the captain made the announcement that the aircraft would soon be landing - which usually occurs 'twenty-five minutes - before landing' - after Sullivan finished his investigation."
It goes on: "Accordingly, it seems wholly reasonable, using this and other testimony as well as flight data, for the government to determine where exactly the assault occurred by the preponderance of the evidence necessary to establish venue."
Now, you may have already noticed the glaring disparity in this reasoning – pinpointing the plane at the exact time of the slap is going to be nigh-on impossible. If so, you are not the only one.
In fact, even in the middle of its own decision the court "acknowledges a creeping absurdity in our holding" and asks itself: "Should it really be necessary for the government to pinpoint where precisely in the spacious skies an alleged assault occurred? Imagine an in-flight robbery or homicide that were to occur over the northeastern United States, home to three circuits, fifteen districts, and a half-dozen major airports, all in close proximity. How feasible would it be for the government to prove venue in such cluttered airspace?"
Uh, yes, Judges Milan Smith and Benjamin Settle, that's a good question you ask yourselves. But, just as with Monique Lozoya and Oded Wolff, there is something about this whole case that lends itself to determined stubbornness.
The judges also dismiss a First Circuit decision that decided there would be "no unfairness to defendants" in deciding a case in the legal district where a plane lands. (And, we would add, there is a high likelihood that anyone on a plane lives in either the departure or arrival city and a low likelihood that they live in the legal district they happen to be flying over.)
The court goes on: "However valid these questions and the practical concerns that underlie them might be, they are insufficient to overcome the combined force of the Constitution, Rodriguez-Moreno, and our own case law. These authorities compel our conclusion: that the proper venue for an assault on a commercial aircraft is the district in whose airspace the alleged offense occurred."
Noting that their judgment was going against previous Appeal Courts decisions in other parts of the United States, the judges then exclaim that if people don't like their decision, they can call their senator and get a new law passed: "Congress can - consistent with constitutional requirements, of course - enact a new statute to remedy any irrationality that might follow from our conclusion."
One of the three judges dissented. Judge John Owens argued that "limiting venue to a 'flyover state,' where the defendant and potential witnesses have no ties, makes no sense."
And in its absurdity, he even made time for some fun: "The friendly skies are not always so friendly. You do not need to watch Passenger 57, Flightplan, Turbulence, or even the vastly underrated Executive Decision to know that dangerous criminal activity occurs on airplanes."
Vastly underrated, huh? The 1996 action flick Executive Decision starring Kurt Russell, Halle Berry and Steven Seagal gets a surprisingly high 6.4 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database. But then at the same time the plot comprises of terrorists seizing control of a plane from Athens to Washington DC and claiming they want their leader released but actually intend to fly it into the ground and kill an estimated 40 million people thanks to the vast quantities of nerve gas they somehow smuggled on board.
It gets better
Rather than shoot the plane down, the US government decides to send a crack team of six men – one of who is intelligence analyst Kurt Russell and another is super-counter-terrorist soldier Steven Seagal – who board a special miniature version of the Nighthawk stealth fighter and managed to secretly dock with the plane in mid-air in order to sneak on board and wrestle back control. If all that wasn't scary enough, the terrorists have also smuggled on, attached and armed a bomb.
And in case you're wondering, yes, Halle Berry is the brave but sexy flight attendant.
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We mention all that because we can't be sure when Judge John Owens not only references the movie but calls Executive Decision "vastly underrated" in his dissent whether he is joking – in which case we're not sure whether we should take his seemingly commonsense opinion seriously – or whether he actually means it – in which case we definitely should not take his opinion seriously.
All of which makes for a very confusing legal judgment. But perhaps most confusing of all is why on earth the lawsuit happened in the first place. Number one: don't shake people's plane seats. We know it can be horrible and frustrating to be squeezed into an uncomfortable spot for hours but it's not the person in front of you's fault. Live with it.
Number two: don't smack someone in the face unless they smack you in the face. Number three: when you've calmed down, apologize. Just do it. Be an adult. Number four: don't sue someone just because you're upset. Take a breath and let it go. Number five: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Yes, Judges Smith and Settle, we have GPS and all kinds of clever technology these days. But deciding that whatever legal district a plane happens to be flying over at any given time is the correct legal jurisdiction for anything that happens is madness.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are currently flying over the International Fight Line where, for the next ten minutes, there is no domestic legal jurisdiction so if you wish to give the person behind you a smack in the face, now is the best time to do so. We hope you enjoy the rest of your flight and thanks again for travelling with Air Violence." ®