John A. Watson, V, Plaintiff- Appellant,
Air Methods Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.
Submitted: January 14, 2016
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - St. Louis
WOLLMAN, MELLOY, and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.
Watson sued his former employer, Air Methods Corporation, in
Missouri state court for wrongful discharge in violation of
public policy. Air Methods removed the case to federal court
and then moved to dismiss based on the preemption provision
of the Airline Deregulation Act ("ADA"), 49 U.S.C.
§ 41713(b)(1). The district court,  relying on our
decision in Botz v. Omni Air International, 286 F.3d
488 (8th Cir. 2002), dismissed the complaint, and Watson
appeals. Although three circuits have disagreed with
Botz in relevant part, we agree with the district
court that circuit precedent requires the dismissal of
Methods operates flights and provides in-flight medical care
for patients who require emergency air transportation to
hospitals. The company maintains a fleet of 450 aircraft and
qualifies as an "air carrier" for purposes of
federal aviation regulations. 49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(2).
July 2013 until May 2014, Watson worked as a flight paramedic
for Air Methods. Watson claims that during his employment
with Air Methods, he observed numerous violations of federal
airline safety regulations. These included a pilot making a
cell-phone videos during flight, members of a medical crew
text messaging during critical phases of flight, a pilot
attempting to take off in unsafe conditions, and another
pilot making unnecessary "run-on landings." Watson
reported these alleged violations to Air Methods'
corporate office. He asserts that the company responded by
suspending him and later terminating his employment.
August 2014, Watson sued Air Methods in Missouri state court
for the common-law tort of wrongful discharge in violation of
public policy. Under Missouri common law, an employer may not
terminate an employee "(1) for refusing to violate the
law or any well-established and clear mandate of public
policy . . . or (2) for reporting wrongdoing or violations of
law to superiors or public authorities." Fleshner v.
Pepose Vision Inst., P.C., 304 S.W.3d 81, 92 (Mo. 2010).
Air Methods removed the case to federal court, invoking
diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and then
moved to dismiss the complaint based on Botz. The
district court granted the motion, concluding that the ADA,
as interpreted in Botz, pre-empts Watson's
wrongful discharge claim. Whether Watson's claim is
pre-empted by the ADA is a question of law that we review
de novo. Kutten v. Bank of Am., N.A., 530
F.3d 669, 670 (8th Cir. 2008).
1978, Congress passed the ADA "to encourage, develop,
and attain an air transportation system which relies on
competitive market forces to determine the quality, variety,
and price of air services." Pub. L. No. 95-504, 92 Stat.
1705, 1705 (1978). Prior to the ADA, the Civil Aeronautics
Board possessed broad power to regulate the interstate
airline industry, including the authority to prescribe routes
and fares. Federal Aviation Act of 1958, Pub. L. No. 85-726,
tit. IV, 72 Stat. 731, 754-71 (1958). The ADA largely
deregulated domestic air transportation and provided for the
eventual termination of the Civil Aeronautics Board. 92 Stat.
ensure that the States would not undo federal deregulation
with regulation of their own, " Morales v. Trans
World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374, 378-79 (1992), the
ADA contains an express pre-emption clause, providing in
[A] State, political subdivision of a State, or political
authority of at least 2 States may not enact or enforce a
law, regulation, or other provision having the force and
effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an
air carrier that may provide air transportation under
49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1) (emphasis added). This section
has a "broad pre-emptive purpose, " precluding
state laws "having a connection with or reference to
airline 'rates, routes, or services.'"
Morales, 504 U.S. at 383-84. The ADA pre-empts both
state laws "specifically addressed to the airline
industry" and generally applicable laws that indirectly
relate to air carriers' rates, routes, or services.
Id. at 386.
Botz, we construed the effect of the ADA pre-emption
clause on state whistleblower-protection laws. There, a
flight attendant refused to work both legs of an
Alaska-to-Japan round trip because she believed the
assignment violated a federal regulation concerning cabin
crewmembers' working hours. Botz, 286 F.3d at
490 (citing 14 C.F.R. § 121.467 (2001)). She also
reported to the airline her belief that the refused
assignment, and a comparable assignment six months earlier,
violated the regulation. Id. The airline fired the
flight attendant for insubordination and refusing to accept
an assignment, and she sued under the Minnesota
whistleblower-protection statute. Id. at 490-91. The
Minnesota statute prohibited an employer from firing an
employee who reports in good faith a suspected violation of
federal or state law or "refuses an employer's order
to perform an action that the employee has an objective basis
in fact to believe violates any state or federal law."
Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subds. 1(1), (3).
concluding that the Minnesota statute "related to . . .
service of an air carrier" within the meaning of §
41713(b)(1), this court focused first on the potentially
disruptive effect of even a single crewmember refusing a work
assignment. Botz, 286 F.3d at 494-95. Federal
airline regulations set minimum staffing requirements for all
commercial flights, so a crewmember's refusal to fly
usually will force an airline either to find a last-minute
replacement or to cancel the flight. Id. at 494. We
[r]eplacing a flight attendant even with a few days notice
might prove problematic or even impossible . . . for a small
air carrier with relatively few flight attendants. For any
size carrier, a significant likelihood exists that the
carrier will have to cancel the flight in order ...