Federal Court Tosses SMO Lawsuit

By Kerry Lynch kerry.lynch@aviationweek.com
Source: AWIN First
February 14, 2014

A federal judge sided with FAA and dismissed the city of Santa Monica’s lawsuit to secure control over the fate of Santa Monica Airport in California.

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California agreed with FAA’s argument that the city brought its case past the 12-year statute of limitations for cases involving U.S. interests in property. The ruling came only about a month after FAA filed a motion for dismissal, and just days after the court had informed the parties that it did not need to hear oral arguments, and that it could decide on the basis of the filed briefs.

General aviation advocates are pleased with the decision, but also remain cautious about the future of the airports. National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen warned that “we must remain vigilant and focused in our work to preserve access to this airport and all airfields in our nation’s aviation system.”

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association President Mark Baker notes that while the city “was stopped in its tracks yesterday in its most recent effort to strangle Santa Monica Airport” the association “fully expect[s] the city to make another run at closing Santa Monica Airport.”

The city says it is evaluating the ruling and its options.

“Of course, we are disappointed,” says City Attorney Marsha Moutrie. “But there is likely much work to come, and the attorneys representing the city are already looking forward and focusing our energies on the city’s options.”

The city filed the lawsuit on Oct. 31, arguing it has “unencumbered title to the airport property and its availability ... to use the airport property as it chooses.” The city had been pushing to have the option of closing the airport if it chooses after July 2015.

FAA argued that the city must continue operating the airport under a 1948 agreement – an Instrument of Transfer. That post-World War II agreement would give the government the option of taking control of the airport property if the city ceases operating an airport there.

FAA moved for dismissal of the city’s case, arguing that it was filed past the 12-year statute of limitations. Santa Monica, however, argued that the case was well within the statute of limitations because FAA ostensibly did not lay claim to the airport until 2008 under a separate lawsuit.

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