AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association have jointly filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as part of the ongoing legal battle over the future of California's Santa Monica Municipal Airport.
The city of Santa Monica is appealing the U.S. District Court’s Feb. 13, 2014, decision to dismiss the city’s lawsuit against the FAA as untimely because the lawsuit was brought long after the 12-year statute of limitations for challenging the federal government’s interest in the airport land. In that lawsuit, originally filed in October 2013, the city claimed that it owned the airport before leasing it to the federal government and that any government interest had expired when the lease expired. The city claimed that it had not been put on notice that the United States continued to claim an interest in this airport property, despite specific language that it agreed to when the transfer of the land from the federal government occurred in 1948. However, that transfer agreement makes clear that the federal government could reclaim the land if it ceases to be used as an airport.
The city also raised various constitutional issues in its lawsuit, which were dismissed as not “ripe” for judicial review and were not raised by the city in its appeal.
In its appeal, the city continues to argue that it had no notice of the federal government’s claim over control of the airport land until a few years ago also contends that a 1984 settlement agreement extinguished any rights the federal government had to the airport land under the Surplus Property Act of 1944 and the resulting 1948 Instrument of Transfer that gave the city control of the airport.
“The city’s claims have already been reviewed by the lower court and found wanting,” said Ken Mead, AOPA chief counsel. “When it accepted the land from the federal government, the city agreed to keep the airport open and operating, and nothing that has transpired since changes that fact or the city’s obligations.”
The amicus brief, filed Jan. 22, asks the appeals court to affirm the lower court’s decision to dismiss the case. The brief argues that the city’s claims have no merit to overcome the requirement to keep Santa Monica Airport as a functioning airport and that the issues in the case have potentially far-reaching consequences that warrant the court’s consideration in deciding the city’s appeal.
According to the brief, Santa Monica Municipal Airport, and others like it, were transferred by the federal government to local control with the assurance that they would continue to operate as airports and thus be used to provide a safe, efficient, and effective national transportation system. The brief also argues that the city has been fully aware of the terms of the transfer for many years and is attempting to undermine the public’s interest in the national transportation system with its efforts to restrict operations or close the airport. The adverse consequences of allowing the city to avoid its contractual obligations would be felt in the already crowded Los Angeles basin, as well as nationwide, it warns.
“The city should not be permitted to misconstrue agreements into which it knowingly entered, with a full understanding of the implications, at a later time when it no longer likes the consequences,” the brief states.
The federal government relies on such agreements in fulfilling its statutory duty to maintain a safe and efficient national transportation infrastructure, and to permit the city to avoid long-standing obligations undermines the intent of the law, the FAA’s statutory mission, and the public’s interest, the brief argues.