American Airlines can't call Delta president as witness in trial over JetBlue deal

An American Airlines aircraft flies past the U.S. Capitol before landing at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
  • American Airlines' lawyers can call another Delta exec
  • Airline fighting antitrust claims in Boston federal court

(Reuters) - A Boston federal judge on Monday ruled against American Airlines Group Inc's bid to force the president of rival Delta Air Lines Inc to testify at an antitrust trial starting this week, but said another executive could be compelled to appear and give testimony.

U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin said in his ruling that Joseph Esposito, senior vice president of Delta's network planning, could be compelled to testify as a witness for American Airlines as it mounts a defense against U.S. Justice Department antitrust claims over a partnership with JetBlue Airways Corp for routes between Boston and New York.

Lawyers for American Airlines have denied allegations from the DOJ and six states that the companies' alliance in the northeast violated federal antitrust law. The bench trial before Sorokin starts on Tuesday and is expected to last at least three weeks.

American Airlines' lawyers at Latham & Watkins sought testimony from Delta executives about their view of American's partnership with JetBlue. The attorneys have said the alliance was "designed to compete more effectively with Delta" and that "Delta has responded accordingly."

Sorokin ruled for Delta in blocking the appearance of Glen Hauenstein, the second-highest-ranking executive at the airline. Sorokin said "nothing before the court meaningfully explains or establishes that Hauenstein's testimony is necessary even with Esposito appearing as a witness."

Latham partner Daniel Wall in an email told Reuters that Esposito's testimony will provide an "opportunity to show how seriously Delta takes the Northeast Alliance."

A lawyer for Delta and the two executives on Monday did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Delta is not a party in the antitrust lawsuit.

A representatives from American Airlines declined to comment. A Delta spokesperson declined to comment.

The Justice Department took no position on American Airlines' effort seeking testimony from the two executives.

Lawyers for Delta and its executives at Boies Schiller Flexner argued in a court filing the trial subpoenas were an "undue burden."

Esposito was earlier deposed as part of the case, but Hauenstein was not. A Georgia U.S. magistrate judge blocked Hauenstein's deposition.

The case is United States v. American Airlines Group Inc, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, No. 1:21-cv-11558.

For plaintiffs: William Jones II of the Justice Department; representatives from plaintiff states including California and Pennsylvania

For American Airlines: Daniel Wall of Latham & Watkins

For JetBlue: Richard Schwed of Shearman & Sterling

For Delta Air Lines: Michael Mitchell of Boies Schiller Flexner

(NOTE: This article was updated with comment from a lawyer for American Airlines.)

Read more:

delta execs fight american airlines' bid to testify at antitrust trial

u.s. antitrust lawsuit against american, jetblue to go forward, judge says

u.s. sues to stop american airlines, jetblue partnership

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.