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City Wins Suit Challenging Landing, Fuel Fees at Santa Monica Airport


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November 29, 2018 -- A Superior Court judge this month rejected a lawsuit claiming the City was inflating landing and fuel fees at Santa Monica Airport to limit flight activity.

Filed in December 2015, the class action lawsuit claimed the landing fees were illegally adopted when the City Council doubled them in 2013 as part of a plan to drive aviation-related businesses from the century-old airport.

After discovery and preliminary court proceedings, the court on November 19 granted the City's motion for summary judgment and summary adjudication, City officials announced Thursday.

“We are very pleased with the Court’s ruling, which properly rejects the plaintiffs’ challenges," said City Attorney Lane Dilg.

The ruling, Dilg said, "ends this needless litigation.”

The lawsuit was filed by six airport users in the midst of the City's battle with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to shutter the century old airport ("Santa Monica Sued Over Airport Landing Fees," December 10, 2015).

It argued that the City failed to property publicize the adoption of a law setting landing fees for the airport in 1985, and failed to do so again in 2003, when the City Council amended the ordinance.

The suit asked the City to pay back approximately $6 million in landing fees collected from pilots over the previous four years, which covered the statute of limitations under the California Business and Professions code.

The Council had voted in 2013 to hike the landing fees at the airport from $2.07 to $5.48 per thousand pounds and to include aircraft based out of the airport, which had been exempt.

At the time, City officials said the higher fees would offset the airport’s debt to the City, which totaled $13.3 million.

In its ruling this month, the Court "found no questions of fact requiring a trial and ruled for the City on each and every one of the claims at issue in the litigation," City officials said.

The decision is the latest in a string of legal victories for the City after entering into a landmark agreement with the FAA to close the airport by the end of 2028 ("City, FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028," January 28, 2017).

In June, a U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed a case by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) challenging the City's right to shutter the airport in ten years and in the meantime shorten its runway ("Appeals Court Dismisses Challenge to Santa Monica Airport Decree But Case Continues," June 13, 2018).

The following month, a U.S. District Court dismissed in its entirety a case challenging the pact with the FAA ("U.S. District Court Dismisses Suit to Halt Santa Monica Airport Closure," July 12, 2018).

The shortened runway -- which was completed last December -- has led to an 80 percent decrease in jet traffic ("Air Traffic Reaches Holding Pattern at Santa Monica Airport," August 21, 2018).


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