On February 26, 2019, the Idaho Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in favor of Buchalter’s client, Bonner County, owner and operator of Sandpoint Airport in Idaho.
In an action originally seeking tens of millions of dollars against the County, the state’s high court held that the County had fully performed the promises that SilverWing at Sandpoint, LLC (the plaintiff) alleged the County had made, and on that basis reversed the trial court’s order denying the County’s Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict on SilverWing’s claim of promissory estoppel. The Supreme Court explained: “By the time of trial, the County fully performed the promises that SilverWing alleges were made; those promises were never broken.”
The County was sued in 2012 by real estate developer SilverWing for actions the County took in order to achieve compliance with federal aviation regulations and specific safety directives from the Federal Aviation Administration. SilverWing sought tens of millions of dollars in damages, arguing the County frustrated SilverWing’s plans of building a “hangar-home” development adjacent to the airport. The County responded that as the operator of a federally-regulated airport, the County had no power to deviate from FAA mandates.
After the County obtained summary judgment on 3 out of 4 claims in the federal district court (and successfully defended that judgment in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals), the case was remanded back to the state court for trial on the fourth cause of action, promissory estoppel. After a five-day jury trial in Sandpoint, the jury returned a verdict awarding SilverWing only $250k (which was less than 1% of SilverWing’s claimed damages).
The County filed a Motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), arguing that “breach” is a required element of promissory estoppel and that the evidence at trial demonstrated that the County had fulfilled all of the alleged promises. The trial court denied the County’s motion for JNOV, and the County appealed that decision to the Idaho Supreme Court. The Idaho Supreme Court agreed that Bonner County had fulfilled all of its promises to SilverWing, reversed the trial court’s order denying JNOV and vacated the judgment. This was the final chapter in a complete victory for the County, which has already collected $741,730.06 from SilverWing in fees and costs arising from the County’s successful defense of the federal court litigation.
Buchalter Shareholder Paul Fraidenburgh, the aviation attorney who successfully argued the case in the Idaho Supreme Court on behalf of the airport, commented on the decision: “Five out of five justices of the Idaho Supreme Court agree that the County fulfilled all of its alleged promises and that the County is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We are thrilled to have won yet another significant victory for this public airport.”