Consent Decree to Close Santa Monica Airport Affirmed in Recent Decisions

October 20, 2020 2:53 PM

In a series of recent decisions, courts in Washington, D.C., have rejected challenges to the validity of the Consent Decree that grants the City of Santa Monica authority to close the Santa Monica Airport after December 31, 2028.  

Most recently, on October 9, 2020, in National Business Aviation Association, Inc., et al. v. Federal Aviation Administration, et al., Case No. 18-1719 (RBW), the federal district court in Washington D.C. granted the FAA’s motion and dismissed for lack of jurisdiction an effort by the National Business Aviation, Inc., the Santa Monica Airport Association, Inc., and several aviation businesses based at the airport to challenge the validity of the Consent Decree.  The district court held that because the plaintiffs had the opportunity to intervene to challenge the Consent Decree in the action in federal court in Los Angeles in which that Consent Decree was issued (though they failed to do so), the D.C. court had no jurisdiction to entertain the Plaintiffs’ challenge.   

The D.C. district court’s holding is consistent with the 2018 holding in National Business Aviation Association v. Huerta, 737 F. App’x 1, 2 (D.C. Cir. 2018), in which the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed for lack of jurisdiction another action brought by the same plaintiffs in which they acknowledged that the Consent Decree was reviewable only in the Ninth Circuit, but sought to characterize their action as a challenge to the underlying Settlement Agreement.  The D.C. Circuit rejected this argument, holding that the Settlement Agreement was not a final order subject to challenge because it had no force or effect independent of the Consent Decree.  

The D.C. district court’s decision follows an August 24, 2020 order by the United States Supreme Court denying a petition for review filed by Barry Rosen, a pilot and aircraft owner who used the Santa Monica airport.  In fall 2017, Rosen filed in federal court in Los Angeles an action against the FAA and the City seeking to invalidate the Consent Decree.  On July 5, 2018, the district court dismissed the complaint for lack of standing because Rosen had failed to allege any concrete injury he had suffered flowing from the actions of the FAA and City.  On January 3, 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.  Rosen filed a petition seeking review by the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court denied that petition on August 24, 2020, bringing the litigation to an end.  

“These decisions reaffirm the continuing validity of the Consent Decree, which provides clear legal authority for Santa Monica to close the airport after December 31, 2028,” said Interim City Attorney George S. Cardona.  “We are pleased with the courts’ rejections of these challenges to the Consent Decree, and we will continue to defend against any similar challenges.”

The Consent Decree was entered by a federal district court in Los Angeles on February 1, 2017 to implement a settlement between the City and the FAA in litigation brought by the City.  The Consent Decree requires the City to continue to operate the airport through December 31, 2028, but authorized the immediate shortening of the runway (which has been completed) and permits the City to close the airport permanently after December 31, 2028. 



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