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Supreme Court to hear case of disgruntled frequent flyer

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to weigh whether federal law prevented a customer from suing an airline for kicking him out of its frequent flyer program for allegedly complaining too frequently about the service.

Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg sued Northwest Airlines Corp, which ceased operations in 2010 after merging with Delta Air Lines Inc, for breach of contract after the airline said he had abused the program.

Ginsberg, who is from Minnesota, said he and his wife were thrown out in 2008 for filing too many service complaints.

He said the airline told him it took action in part because he allegedly sought compensation after booking reservations on full flights, knowing he would be bumped to another flight.

Ginsberg said his complaints involved only a small proportion of the flights he took on Northwest and were limited to such issues as long waits for luggage and not being notified about flight cancellations. Northwest said he filed 24 complaints.

A federal judge in California dismissed Ginsberg's lawsuit, which he filed as a possible class action on behalf of others who might have been treated the same way. The judge said Ginsberg's claims were foreclosed because of a federal aviation law, the Airline Deregulation Act. The law says states cannot pass laws that address price, route or service of an air carrier.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the judge, reviving the lawsuit on the basis that Ginsberg's contractual claim based on Minnesota state law was not related to the price, route or service.

At least four of the nine justices must agree to hear a case before the Supreme Court will accept it. Oral arguments and a ruling are due in the court's next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2014.

The case is Northwest v. Ginsberg, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-462.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Bill Trott)

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