By Barbara Lichman, PhD

The decision of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Idaho in SilverWing at Sandpoint, LLC v. Bonner County, a case that has been “hanging fire” for almost two years, was worth the wait. On Friday, November 21, 2014, the Court granted Defendant Bonner County (“Bonner County”) summary judgment on all Plaintiff SilverWing at Sandpoint, LLC’s (“SilverWing”) federal claims for inverse condemnation, or “taking,” of private property by a public entity without just compensation, in violation of the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or violation of a plaintiff’s constitutional or other federal rights by a person acting under color of state law. See, e.g., Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). In addition, the Court granted summary judgment on SilverWing’s state law contract claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

In this case, SilverWing claimed that Bonner County had taken its property by implementing a plan for the airport, an Airport Layout Plan (“ALP”) approved in accordance with the regulations promulgated by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), that showed the single runway at Sandpoint Airport moving 60 feet to the west, toward SilverWing’s property. SilverWing argued that forcing the movement of a taxiway that already been constructed to service the “hangar homes” in the development, and thus causing it to incur upon the five lots closest to the runway, making them unbuildable, caused a loss to SilverWing of $26 million. The Court ruled that implementation of the requirements of the ALP was a federal requirement arising out of federal responsibility for aviation safety and not within the discretion of Bonner County.

The Court’s ruling was substantially based on the concept of federal preemption. Preemption of state or local law occurs under one of three scenarios: (1) where the federal government affirmatively expresses an intent to preempt (express preemption); (2) where it has enacted laws which so substantially occupy the specified field that they leave no room for state or local law (field preemption); or (3) state or local law directly conflicts with federal law, or state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the full purposes and objectives of Congress (conflict preemption). See, e.g., Montalvo v. Spirit Airlines, 508 F.3d 464, 470 (9th Cir. 2007). In this case, therefore, the Court held that Bonner County was acting properly and in accordance with federal law that it had no power to contradict, and, therefore, could not be held responsible for the impacts.

The Court’s ruling left intact SilverWing’s single claim for promissory estoppel, based on the argument that it had been misled by promises made by Bonner County’s former Airport Commission and former Airport Director. The Court has given the parties the option of conferring as to whether to take this single claim to mediation, arbitration, judicially sponsored settlement, or trial. No decision has as yet been made.

From Aviation and Airport Law News Blog