Santa Monica Airport (File photo)

City Hall’s dogged attempts to restrict or outright close the Santa Monica airport will continue in March with a hearing to determine the City’s fundamental obligation to operate an airport.

City Hall filed a lawsuit in 2013 alleging that the federal government had no claim to the land occupied by the airport and therefore, the FAA could not require Santa Monica to continue to operate the airport. A judge dismissed the City’s case, but City Hall has appealed and opening arguments in the appeal will be heard on March 11, at 9 a.m. at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena.

The suit was filed under the, Quiet Title Act and is a class of lawsuit utilized by a property owner to negate any future claims to the land by other individuals. In this case, the City of Santa Monica is asking the courts to verify the City has sole possession of the land thereby preventing the federal government from ever taking control should airport operations cease.

In filing the lawsuit, the City alleged the federal government had no claim to the land, had not expressed a desire to make a claim to the land, that any claim that might have been made had been abandoned and that any attempt to mandate operation of the land was a violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Judge John F. Walter sided with the federal government in a 2014 ruling that said the statute of limitations had expired on the City’s ability to file a quiet title claim while also overruling all of Santa Monica’s arguments in favor of the suit.

Under the law, plaintiffs have up to 12 years to file a claim once notified of a competing claim by the government.

“The Court concludes that the record unquestionably demonstrates that the City knew, or should have known, that the United States claimed an interest in the Airport Property as early as 1948,” he said in his ruling.

The 1948 date is based on a contract known as the Instrument of Transfer that gave Santa Monica control over airport operations. Walter said subsequent interactions between the FAA and the city showed an ongoing claim by the federal authorities.

Accordingly, the Court concludes that the United States has not abandoned its claimed interest in the Airport Property. Thus, because the City knew or should have known that the United States claimed a reversionary interest in the title to the Airport Property as early as 1948 and certainly more than twelve years ago, the statute of limitations has expired, and the City’s claim under the Quiet Title Act is time-barred,” he wrote.

He also dismissed the city’s constitutional concerns, saying the city had failed to take action to remedy those concerns or that the foundation for those concerns was invalid.

Santa Monica’s appeal essentially restates its initial assertions: The federal government has no claim, any claim they might have had was abandoned, the City’s case was filed within 12 years of the Federal Government making a claim in 2008 and that the court is unable to make a ruling on the statute of limitations without also addressing the merits of the case.

The March 11 date will feature opening arguments by each side, but a ruling is not expected at that time.

Santa Monica recently lost a separate legal fight with the FAA over mandated operations at the airport. In that case, the City had claimed it had the authority to close SMO in 2015, however the FAA ruled that acceptance of grant money extended that date to at least 2023. The city is considering appealing that ruling.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...