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San Diego Unified Port Dist. v. Gianturco

Citation: 9 ELR 20041
No. No. 78-97-S, 457 F. Supp. 283/12 ERC 1046/(S.D. Cal., 08/30/1978)

The court issues a preliminary injunction prohibiting the California Department of Transportation from conditioning a municipal airport's retention of a variance from applicable noise standards upon its adoption of an extended curfew on commercial operations. After finding that plaintiff and intervenors have demonstrated that they will suffer irreparable harm from an extended curfew, the court determines that this suit is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment and that the municipal airport proprietor has the legal capacity to challenge the actions of the state agency as violative of the Supremacy Clause. Plaintiffs have demonstrated probable success on the merits because the state's imposition of an extended curfew on airport operations invades a field preempted by federal law and is therefore unconstitutional. This case does not fall within the "airport proprietor" exception to federal preemption of state and local regulation of aircraft noise acknowledged by the Supreme Court in City of Burbank v. Lockheed Air Terminal, 3 ELR 20393. Rather than adopting an extended curfew on its own initiative, the municipal port district is being forced to take such action by the state transportation department. The court rejects an argument that the state agency is the "constructive proprietor" of the airport because of its location on state land and rules that agency has not received statutory authorization to control airport operations. Noting that the balance of hardships is in plaintiff's favor, the court enjoins defendants from terminating the airport's noise variance because of its failure to impose an extended curfew and also denies defendants' motion for summary judgment.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Michael S. Gatzke
Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps
Bank of California Plaza, 110 West A St., San Diego CA 92101
(714) 236-1414

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Intervenors Air Transport Ass'n et al.
Ralph W. Dau
O'Melveny & Myers
Suite 3800, 611 W. Sixth St., Los Angeles CA 90017
(213) 620-1120

Counsel for Defendants
Edward J. Connor, Jr.
Califoria Dep't of Transportation
Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 445-4616


This is an action for declaratory and injunctive relief initially brought by the San Diego Unified Port District ("Port District") against the California Department of Transportation and two of its officers (collectively referred to as "Department"). The focus in the litigation is San Diego International Airport, Lindbergh Field, which is owned and operated by the Port District. The Department seeks to impose an extended curfew at Lindbergh Field which the Port District contends is unconstitutional.