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Case Law Updates on the Environment (CLUE)

Case Law Update Details

Case Title

Kaufmann v. FAA

Case No.

2017 WL 489422


U.S. District Court - Kentucky






Bowman Field Safety Program

Project Type


Project Description

The Louisville Regional Airport Authority (LRAA) undertook a project to remove or trim trees near Bowman Field, a general aviation airport, as part of its update to the Airport Layout Plan. FAA conditionally approved the updated Airport Layout Plan, subject to compliance with NEPA, NHPA, and Section 4(f). The draft EA found that the Airport Layout Plan would have no adverse effect on historic properties surrounding the airport. Following the public comment period on the draft EA, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) notified FAA that it concluded that the tree removal and trimming would have adverse effects on historic properties, and that FAA should negotiate a Memorandum of Agreement to resolve those adverse effects under Section 106 of the NHPA. FAA then issued a letter stating that it disagreed with the ACHP and reaffirming its previous determination of no adverse effect. Five days later, FAA issued its final EA and a FONSI approving the updated Airport Layout Plan.

Case Summary

The plaintiffs alleged that FAA and the LRAA violated NHPA and Section 4(f) by failing to evaluate prudent and feasible alternatives to harming public parkland and historic properties and failing to undertake all possible planning to minimize harm. The FAA and LRAA filed motions to dismiss the case. The court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because all challenges to FAA orders must be heard by federal courts of appeal in the first instance, rather than federal district courts. Accordingly, the court granted FAA’s motion to dismiss. The court also granted LRAA’s motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs could not assert claims against LRAA in the absence of claims against FAA.

Key Holdings

Litigation Procedure

Jurisdiction - Claims Against FAA. FAA asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction over the case because a federal statute (49 U.S.C. § 46110) gives the federal courts of appeals exclusive jurisdiction to hear challenges to all FAA orders. In response, the plaintiffs argued that their challenges under Section 106 and Section 4(f) were separate from their challenge to FAA’s “order” (i.e., the FONSI approving the Airport Layout Plan). The court held that the plaintiffs’ Section 106 and Section 4(f) claims were “inescapably intertwined” with their challenge to the FONSI, and thus could only be brought in the court of appeals as part of a challenge to the FONSI. Therefore, the court dismissed the claims against FAA.

Jurisdiction - Claims Against the LRAA. Having found that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claims against FAA, the court also dismissed the claims against the LRAA. The plaintiffs did not allege that the LRAA itself had violated Section 106 or Section 4(f). Rather, the plaintiffs argued that the LRAA was a necessary party that must be joined in the action to accord complete relief to the parties. The court explained that even if the plaintiffs were correct, “the LRAA is necessary to claims that the Court cannot adjudicate,” because the court lacked jurisdiction over the claims against FAA. Accordingly, the court dismissed the claims against the LRAA.

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