No Taking Found in the Santa Monica Airport Lawsuit

We noted the other day that the City of Santa Monica has sued the feds trying to  get them to let go of the Santa Monica Airport created by the feds (or at least with federal money) during World War II when it served the Douglas aircraft manufacturing plant. Ever since, that airport has been a fruitful source of litigation over, . . . well, over everything that an airport can sue and get sued about. Michael Berger, the leading airport/inverse condemnation lawyer, was truly inspired when he entitled his landmark law review article on airport litigation, Nobody Loves an Airport, 43 So.Cal. L.Rev. 631 (1970).  Nobody does, except maybe pilots who have to take off and land somewhere. If you want to see the history of that airport, including its litigational history, go to http://www.smgov.net/Departments/Airport/About_the_Airport/Airport_History.aspx . That will take you back to the days before World War I, and on the way will inform you about all that litigation.

Word now comes that the local federal court has dismissed the city’s action, holding that as far as the taking claim is concerned, Santa Monica was too late (the limitation period ran out in 1960) and in the wrong court (since it claimed a taking by the feds, Santa Monica should have filed that claim in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington — the only court that can entertain taking claims against Uncle Sam). See Judge Tosses Santa Monica Airport Lawsuit, L.A. Times, Feb. 15, 2014. Click on http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-santa-monica-dismissal-20140215,0,6042053.story#axzz2tPIHVDiT

Leo Durocher, the baseball great, once asked rhetorically in a moment of exasperation with his players, “Can’t anybody around here play this game?” We claim no baseball mavenhood but that line comes to mind in this context. After the courts got done screwing up the field of inverse condemnation law, mostly running interference for the bad guys taking private property, and created byzantine procedural complexities, nobody, it seems, knows how, when and where to file an inverse condemnation lawsuit. Although, truth to tell, in this case we experience a distinct moment of Schadenfreude when for a change it’s the bad guys, the ones who for years have enjoyed the benefits of this mess, get tangled up in the substantive/jurisdictional/procedural aspect of this field of law.

Santa Monica vows that this isn’t the end of the matter, and threatens to appeal, so the litigational tradition of Santa Monica Airport bids fair to go on. Stay tuned.

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