Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Airlines sues New Mexico over alcohol regulation (DWI news)

California DUI attorney news

Airline Suing N.M. Over Booze: US Airways challenges state's regulation of alcohol on flights

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Los Angeles California DUI lawyer news

US Airways is suing New Mexico, maintaining that the state's attempts to regulate the airline's alcohol service violates federal law.

A lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court states that New Mexico does not have the authority to regulate US Airways' on-board alcohol service, require US Airways to adopt certain alcohol training procedures or issue citations and enforce alcohol-related sanctions.

"Fundamentally, we're saying the regulation of alcohol on board airlines is the purview of the federal government," said US Airways spokeswoman Andrea Rader.

Last month the state Regulation and Licensing Department denied the airline a license to serve alcohol on New Mexico flights.

US Airways is seeking a declaration that New Mexico's administration of its Liquor Control Act against the airline is "preempted, invalid and unlawful." It also wants an injunction against the state from further enforcement.

The state has cited US Airways twice this year for overserving alcohol to passengers on New Mexico flights -- including Dana Papst, who killed himself and five members of a Las Vegas, N.M., family while driving drunk and the wrong way on Interstate 25 near Santa Fe.

Papst had two drinks on his US Airways flight, and other passengers told state investigators he appeared intoxicated before he was served.

Named as defendants in the suit are Edward Lopez, former superintendent of Regulation and Licensing, and Gary Tomada, head of the department's Alcohol and Gaming Division.

The two men signed off on the decision to deny US Airways a license on Nov. 15. Lopez said at the time his department could not reasonably conclude that approval of a liquor license for US Airways "would protect the public health and safety of New Mexico."

Regulation and Licensing spokesman Bob Hagan declined to comment Tuesday: "We were served with the lawsuit today and have not yet had a chance to review it."

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman also declined comment. "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on a lawsuit we haven't seen and to which we're not a party," said communications manager Ian Gregor.

Alcoholic beverages served by US Airways on New Mexico flights are intended for use "in the course of interstate air transportation that has or will occur within the exclusive federal jurisdiction of United States airspace," the suit argues.

The suit says that the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 gives the federal government, through the Department of Transportation, exclusive authority to regulate all aspects of airline safety and service by barring states from enacting or enforcing any law related to the price, routes or services of an airline. This includes food and beverage service, the airline maintains.

The suit says: "These (state) laws, if allowed to stand, threaten to enmesh the Nation's airlines in a crazyquilt of regulation in which each state is allowed to preside over a unique jurisdictional patch of its own making."

US Airlines' Rader said, "It is, in our view, a very legal issue, as opposed to any kind of message to the state of New Mexico."

In its ruling denying US Airways a license, the state noted its two 2007 citations to the airline for overserving passengers, including Papst. A store that sold beer to Papst after he got off the flight also has been cited.

The state also took into consideration eyewitness accounts from two Regulation and Licensing employees who say they saw US Airways serve alcohol to an intoxicated passenger during a November flight from Phoenix to San Diego.

After the Papst incident, the state kicked off an investigation into the liquor license status of all airlines serving New Mexico. It ultimately issued orders to U.S. Airways, Northwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines to stop serving alcohol on New Mexico flights until they received licenses.

US Airways received a 90-day temporary license in March, which was not renewed. Northwest received a license in May, while Frontier has chosen not to serve alcohol on New Mexico flights.

US Airways has cooperated with the state over the past year in its application for a liquor license, including implementing parts of the state's alcohol server training materials in US Airways' flight attendant training, because "we do business in New Mexico and understand how serious the drunk driving problem is in New Mexico," Rader said.

But, she added, "I don't think this (the arguments in the lawsuit) is anything new. From the very beginning this has been our position."

An investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration into the Papst incident cleared US Airways of wrongdoing. California DUI lawyers realize they may have to help passengers who become motorists.