United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
SUSAN SCHNEBERGER; LACY STIDMAN; and JOHNNY TRENT, Individually and as Class Representatives, Plaintiffs,
AIR EVAC EMS, INC. d/b/a AIR EVAC LIFETEAM; and EAGLEMED, LLC, Defendants.
L. RUSSELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and, in the
alternative, to Strike Class Allegations. [Doc. 19]. For the
reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion
case began with the question of whether the rates that
Defendants charged Plaintiffs for air ambulance services are
excessive as a matter of Oklahoma law. It ends at the
pleading stage with a determination that federal law preempts
Air Evac EMS, Inc. (“Air Evac”) and EagleMed, LLC
(“EagleMed”) are air ambulance carriers who
provided emergency transport to Plaintiffs or their relatives
in 2014 and 2015. Plaintiffs seek relief on the ground that
these charges were unreasonable. Plaintiff Susan Schneberger,
for example, was originally billed $63, 564.71 after EagleMed
transported her now-deceased husband 416 miles from one
hospital in Norman, Oklahoma, to another one in Houston,
Texas. She alleges that she did not receive the choice of
transporting her husband in any other manner. When Ms.
Schneberger's insurer refused to pay any of her balance
with EagleMed on the grounds that the charges were not
medically necessary, EagleMed offered her a
“significant discount on [her] past due account”
of 16%, resulting in a charge of $53, 133.83. [Doc. 1, Ex. 2,
Lacy Stidman's trip with EagleMed was shorter though her
experience was similar. EagleMed flew her 67 miles from a
location in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, to a hospital in
Tulsa, Oklahoma, bringing her bill to $34, 696.79.
Stidman's insurer paid a portion, leaving her with the
remaining balance of $19, 516.26. [Id. at 12].
Plaintiff Johnny Trent faces an account balance of $45,
101.94 after Defendant Air Evac rushed him 106 miles from Elk
City, Oklahoma, to Oklahoma City. [Id. at 13].
three Plaintiffs, along with several others, originally filed
a putative class action in state court in Oklahoma against
Air Evac, EagleMed, and two other Defendants- Air Methods
Corp. and Rocky Mountain Holdings, LLC (“Air Methods
Defendants”). Plaintiffs alleged breach of implied
contract, money had and received, and violations of the
Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act. They also sought
declaratory and injunctive relief. [Doc. 1, Ex. 2].
Defendants removed [Doc. 1] and survived a Motion to Remand.
[Doc.47]. The Court temporarily stayed this case pending
Defendants' Motion b efo re the Ju d icial Panel on
Multidistrict Litigation seeking to centralize the class
actions against the Air Methods Defendants that were
percolating around the country. [Doc. 53].
the MDL Panel denied the request, it noted that transfer of
claims against the Air Methods Defendants would be eminently
feasible and would minimize any potential for duplicative
discovery or inconsistent pretrial rulings. [Doc. 64, Ex. 1].
To that end, this Court severed the claims against the Air
Methods Defendants pursuant to the Parties' Joint Motion.
[Doc. 65]. The Court then transferred the claims against the
Air Methods Defendants to the United States District Court
for the District of Colorado. [Id.]. Following this
severance and transfer, only the claims against Air Evac and
EagleMed remained before the Court, thus leaving three
Plaintiffs-Schneberger, Stidman, and Trent.
Plaintiffs dismissed their Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act
claim, all that remain are their claims for breach of implied
contract, for money had and received, and their request for
declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs argue that
Defendants' rates, which allegedly exceed the customary
and reasonable rates allowable under Oklahoma law, do not
rationally relate to the value of Defendants' services.
[Doc. 1, Ex. 2, at 16]. Worse, Plaintiffs argue, they did not
legally consent because they were unconscious or lacked legal
capacity when transported; and if any relative signed a form
authorizing transport for Plaintiff, it was only after
learning that the Plaintiff would die without the transport.
[Id. at 17]. Defendants move to dismiss these claims
as federally preempted, or in the alternative, to strike
Plaintiffs' class allegations as facially defective.
Because the Court finds that the Airline Deregulation Act of
1978 does in fact preempt Plaintiffs' claims, the Court
need not reach the question of whether Plaintiffs can
maintain a class action.
STANDARD ON A MOTION TO DISMISS
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must
contain a ‘short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). To
survive a motion to dismiss, a pleading must offer more than
“labels and conclusions” and “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action.”
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007). There must be “sufficient factual matter,
[which if] accepted as true . . . state[s] a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The
Court “must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of
the complaint . . . and must construe them in the light most
favorable to the [non-moving party].” Thomas v.
Kaven, 765 F.3d 1183, 1190 (10th Cir. 2014). That said,
“[a] district court may grant judgment as a matter of
law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the
basis of an affirmative defense like preemption when the law
compels that result.” Caplinger v. Medtronic,
Inc., 784 F.3d 1335, 1341 (10th Cir. 2015), cert.
denied, 136 S.Ct. 796 (2016).