By Jonathan Stempel and Basil Katz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - United Airlines bears no responsibility for suspected security lapses at a Maine airport, which allowed hijackers to board the American Airlines plane that crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein granted a request by United and its parent United Continental Holdings Inc on Wednesday to dismiss negligence claims brought by Larry Silverstein, the leaseholder of the World Trade Center property.
Lawyers for United and Silverstein weren't immediately available for comment.
The decision concerned the destruction of 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed hours after being pierced by debris from the crash of AMR Corp's American Airlines Flight 11 into 1 World Trade Center.
Two of the hijackers on Flight 11, Mohammed Atta and Abdul Aziz al Omari, had begun their trip to New York at the Portland International Jetport. There, they boarded a flight by US Airways carrier Colgan Air to Boston's Logan Airport, from where they connected onto the American plane.
Silverstein argued that because United was among the carriers that operated Portland's only security checkpoint, it was legally responsible for the screening of all passengers, and had missed a "clear chance" to prevent the hijacking.
The judge, however, found that Chicago-based United owed no duty of care to Silverstein's 7 World Trade Co LP, which had leased Tower 7.
"It was not within United's range of apprehension that terrorists would slip through the (Portland) security screening checkpoint, fly to Logan, proceed through another air carrier's security screening and board that air carrier's flight, hijack the flight and crash it into 1 World Trade Center, let alone that 1 World Trade Center would therefore collapse and cause Tower 7 to collapse," he wrote.
Hellerstein has presided over almost all U.S. litigation over the September 11 attacks.
The case is World Trade Center Properties LLC et al v. American Airlines Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-03722.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)
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