January 13, 2014
By Elizabeth A Tennyson
In court documents filed late Jan. 10, the FAA has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the city of Santa Monica over use of the site of Santa Monica Municipal Airport. The lawsuit is the latest in a long line of legal challenges aimed at closing the venerable field.
In its lawsuit, filed Oct. 31, 2013, the Santa Monica City Council asks the court to give the city clear title to airport property and challenges the current effectiveness and constitutionality of agreements that require the city to operate the airport in perpetuity.
But in the motion to dismiss filed Jan. 10, attorneys for the federal government argue that the city is disputing the terms of the land agreement decades too late. According to the court filing, the city had 12 years under the Quiet Title Act to bring suit against the federal government once the city learned of the government’s interest in the property. But the city signed the property over to the federal government in 1948, more than 65 years ago, and has repeatedly acknowledged the government’s interest in the land over the intervening years.
The motion also argues that the constitutional claims are “unripe” because they can only be triggered by the government’s action to take control of the airport, events that have not taken place. The property continues to be used as an airport, and the options that would allow the federal government to decide whether to take title to the property have not been triggered. Other claims in the city’s lawsuit are not under the court’s jurisdiction, but rather need to be brought, if at all, in another court.
While the city has argued that its claim to the property must be resolved before July 2015 when it says its contractual and legal obligations to operate the airport expire, government attorneys dispute that position, saying the obligations remain in effect through August 2023 regardless of other factors raised in the lawsuit.
The city of Santa Monica has repeatedly attempted to close the popular airport, which serves as an important reliever for nearby Los Angeles International Airport. AOPA has spent hundreds of hours engaging the pilot community, talking to community leaders, working with the FAA, and at times participating in legal actions in support of the field.
“The government’s brief is compelling, and we agree that the case is without merit and should be dismissed,” said AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead. “These issues have been exhaustively researched, and like it or not, the city is obligated to keep the airport open under the terms of its original agreement in taking the airport back after the war and those terms accord with the multiple agreements the city has made through the years. At the same time, we hope the city will come to recognize that Santa Monica Municipal is a valuable economic asset as well as an important part of the regional and national transportation network.”
The city has the chance to respond to the motion, and then it will be heard by the judge who will decide whether to dismiss the city’s case or allow it to proceed.
AOPA Senior Director of Communications Elizabeth Tennyson is an instrument-rated private pilot who first joined AOPA in 1998.
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