Judge Dismisses the City of Santa Monica’s Action Regarding the Santa Monica Municipal Airport.

Judge John F. Walter of the Central District of California granted the Federal Aviation Administration’s Motion to Dismiss the City of Santa Monica’s lawsuit regarding whether the City had to continue to operate the airport as an airport.  (Download a copy of the decision here).  As is typical of rulings granting Motions to Dismiss, although the Court ruled in the FAA’s favor, it did so without addressing the fundamental issue raised by the Complaint: when the 1984 Settlement Agreement expires may the City close the Airport?

Instead, the Court dismissed the lawsuit on three separate grounds.  First, and most importantly, the Court stated that the City’s action to quiet title was barred by the statute of limitations. The Court said that the City knew or should have known that the United States claimed an interest in the Airport Property in 1948 and that even if the City did know about the U.S.’s interest, the U.S. did not abandon its interest in the Airport. This count was dismissed with prejudice, meaning that the City could not bring this argument again. This is a serious blow to the City’s suit since the Quiet Title action was probably its strongest argument.

Second, the Court granted the FAA’s Motion to Dismiss with respect to the City’s “takings” claim on the basis that they were premature.  The Court states in its Order that the City must first ask the U.S. for compensation before a takings lawsuit will lie. The Court relied on Williamson County v. Regional Planning Comm’n, 473 U.S. 172, 195 (1985) which states that “takings claims against the Federal Government are premature until the property owner has availed itself of the process provided by the Tucker Act.”  Therefore, the Court granted the Motion to Dismiss, but this time without prejudice.

Finally, the Court found the City’s claims of violation of the 10th Amendment and the Due Process clause of the 5th Amendment by requiring the City to operate the Airport in perpetuity not to be ripe for review.  In essence, the Court concludes that because the City has not yet decided or even declared its intention to cease operations at the Airport, the Court cannot decide whether the 10th and 5th Amendments have been violated. As the Court explains, it “recognizes that a decision would be helpful to the City in evaluating the future of SMO, and as much as the Court would like to address the merits of the City’s claims, the Court reluctantly concludes that it would be constitutionally impermissible to do so.”  As such, the Court dismissed the City’s Fourth and Fifth Claims for Relief, also without prejudice.

While the Quiet Title action was put to rest, (unless the City decides to appeal) all other actions remain open to the City to pursue – just not right now.  For now, Round One goes to the FAA.

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