Where do I sue if the case arose in an airplane?

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Question:

I have a dispute with a United Airlines and wish to pursue the matter in small claims court. The dispute is regarding an upgrade charge to my credit card from the airline. The imprint of my card was taken in the air somewhere over the Pacific Ocean; the dollar amount was later placed in there and transacted in Chicago. (Yes, I signed a blank credit card slip and they lied to me about the amount.) My question to you is which state or county has jurisdiction? I live in Kentucky, but originally I thought I would have to travel to Chicago. Also, because my claim is for more than Kentucky's small claims court maximum, can I file in Tennessee, which is also very close?

Answer:

Your question involves one of those conundrums of civil procedure. A few fundamental rules: You cannot simply pick a court that would be good for you. You must have some connection to the state -- such as living in the state or entering a contract there. The defendant, in this case the airline, must have some connection to the state, such as doing business there. And finally, you must also have some connection to the county.

You mention three states: Kentucky (where you live), Tennessee (with a high small claims limit), and Illinois (where you bought the ticket).

  • Kentucky would work. You live there and United does business there. If you filed in Kentucky, you would file in the county in which you live.
  • Tennessee would not work. You have no connections there, although United does business there.
  • Illinois would work. The transaction took place there and United has its principal place of business there. You cannot just choose any county in Illinois, however. You have to file in the county in which the transaction took place or where United has its principal place of business. This is probably Cook County, home of Chicago, which in turn is home to mosquitoes the size of your head in summer and snowpiles the size of Maine in winter.

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