No Oral Arguments for Next Airport Suit Decision
February 7, 2014
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  • SMO — The papers are in and now we wait.

    A motion to dismiss City Hall’s lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration over the future of Santa Monica Airport will not require a hearing.

    Judge John F. Walter is opting to make a decision based on the written arguments filed by City Hall’s attorneys and the FAA, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie told the Daily Press.

    In October, City Hall announced it would sue the federal government to retain full control of the airport’s future.

    Neighboring residents have long complained about the noise and pollution created by the propellor planes and jets. Others fear for their safety, pointing out that the runway is only a few hundred feet from homes. In September, a jet veered off the runway into a hangar. The hangar caught fire causing the roof to collapse and all four aboard were killed.

    City Hall owns the land but the FAA says that various agreements obligate the space to continue to operate as an airport.

    Last month, the FAA asked the judge to toss the lawsuit, claiming that City Hall knew of the federal government’s intentions for the airport half a century ago. If City Hall wanted to sue, the FAA said, it should have been within 12 years of when they realized those intentions.

    City Hall responded to the motion, pointing out that while they knew the federal government intended to operate SMO as an airport for decades, it was only a few years ago, in 2008, that they learned its intentions for the land to operate as such in perpetuity.

    The second major argument put forward by the FAA is that a lawsuit is “unripe” — that the matter can’t be settled in court until conflict arises. City Hall maintains that, according to contracts, if they stop operating the land as an airport, the only penalty would be for the rights to revert back to City Hall. In the lawsuit, they are seeking “declaratory relief” to determine their rights prior to litigation. Until City Hall refuses to operate the space as an airport, the FAA says, the matter should not be heard in court.

    The FAA and City Hall went back and forth several times. City Hall responded to the FAA’s motion to dismiss. Last week, the FAA responded to that response. The FAA’s recent response is the last of the filings, Moutrie said. Walter will use the documents, not oral arguments, and decide whether or not to toss the suit.

    But will the lack of oral arguments help City Hall’s case?

    “I can’t comment on the implications of the cancellation of the hearing except to say that it’s not unusual for a federal judge to conclude that he or she does not need oral argument to decide a matter,” Moutrie said.

    Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice, which is representing the FAA, declined to comment given the ongoing litigation.

    The canceled hearing for the motion to dismiss was scheduled for Monday. A trial, should Walter decide not to dismiss the case, is scheduled for November.