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Supreme Court hears case of Minnesota 'frequent complainer'

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U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday heard arguments in the case of a Minneapolis man who lost his "platinum elite" status with Northwest Airlines because he complained too much.

A ruling is expected by June in the case that had been billed as one that tests consumer rights versus corporate prerogatives.

But by their comments and questions, the justices on the nation's high court seemed to indicate that they weren't leaning toward helping frequent fliers who aim to sue airlines for revoking miles or memberships, the Associated Press reports.

Lawyers for Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg have argued that Northwest acted in bad faith when it revoked his top status as part of the airline's WorldPerks program. Ginsberg says he and his wife were loyal customers, flying up to 75 times a year on Northwest, and he argued that the airline cut him off as part of cost-cutting to save money. He said the airline stripped him of hundreds of thousands of miles accumulated in his account.

Northwest says Ginsberg complained 24 times in a seven-month period, including nine times when he griped that luggage had turned up late on airport carousels. Northwest argued that it took good care of Ginsberg, giving him $1,925 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 bonus miles, a voucher for his son and $491 in cash reimbursements, the AP notes.

Northwest has since has been folded into Delta Air Lines Inc., and the airline further argued that federal deregulation of the industry in 1978 effectively bars lawsuits like Ginsberg's.

NPR notes that a central question in the case was: Do airline frequent fliers have any legal rights when they get into disputes over their club memberships?

The justices on Tuesday seem to signal that ruling for Ginsberg could prompt state-by-state rules that the deregulation law aimed to prevent, the AP reports.

Here's more background on the case from the Supreme Court's blog, including links to briefs filed by both parties in the case.

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