Stallworth v. Bryant et al
ORDER granting in part 79 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Signed by District Judge Carlton W. Reeves on 7/25/2017. (AC)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
JACKSON MUNICIPAL AIRPORT
AUTHORITY, ET AL.
CAUSE NO. 3:16-CV-246-CWR-FKB
GOVERNOR PHIL BRYANT, ET AL.
In 2016, the State of Mississippi passed a law to transfer control of the Jackson-Medgar
Wiley Evers International Airport from local elected officials to regional and statewide elected
officials. See Miss. Code Ann. § 61-3-6. The City of Jackson and several of its citizens
intervened in this suit as plaintiffs to challenge the law’s constitutionality.
Now before the Court is Governor Phil Bryant and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves’
motion for judgment on the pleadings. They seek to dismiss Counts I-IV of the plaintiffs’ eightcount complaint. The motion is fully briefed and ready for adjudication.
Factual and Procedural History
In 1960, the City of Jackson created the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (JMAA) to
operate the airport on City-owned land. The City retains ultimate control over the airport because
the Mayor nominates, and the City Council confirms, JMAA’s board members.
The relationship between the City, JMAA, and the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) is roughly sketched out in the complaint and the briefing. Two facts are relevant today.
First, JMAA holds an “Airport Operating Certificate” issued by the FAA. Second, JMAA and
the City are “co-sponsors” on federal grants which support the airport. See Docket No. 146
(Statement of Interest of the FAA). The City says its contractual obligations under these grants
are memorialized in “Sponsor Assurances.”
The statute at issue in this case, § 61-3-6, announces the State’s plan to replace JMAA
with a new airport authority. The new authority’s board members will be appointed by elected
officials of the City of Jackson, Rankin County, and Madison County, along with the Governor
and Lieutenant Governor. The effect is to seize control of the airport from the City of Jackson.
No transfer of power has occurred. In part that is by design: the statute explicitly requires
the new airport authority to seek and receive an Airport Operating Certificate from the FAA
before it takes over. The FAA, in turn, requires litigation over the airport’s governance to be
resolved before it will consider an application to transfer an Airport Operating Certificate. The
result is that JMAA continues to operate the airport while this lawsuit is pending.
The Governor and Lieutenant Governor seek dismissal of Counts I-IV of the complaint.
In Count I, the plaintiffs claim that § 61-3-6 is preempted by federal law. Count II claims that the
statute violates the “paramount allegiance” clause of the Mississippi Constitution. Count III
consolidates several due process arguments. And Count IV contends that the statute violates the
contract clauses of the Mississippi and United States Constitutions.1
Motions for judgment on the pleadings are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
The standard for deciding a Rule 12(c) motion is the same as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion
to dismiss. The court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must plead enough facts to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Factual allegations must be enough to
While federal courts usually cannot adjudicate state-law claims brought against state officials, see Pennhurst State
Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 106 (1984), in this case the defendants have voluntarily waived that
raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).
Guidry v. Am. Pub. Life Ins. Co., 512 F.3d 177, 180 (5th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks and
citations omitted). “[A] defendant should ordinarily raise preemption in a Rule 12(c) motion for
judgment on the pleadings or a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment.” Fisher v. Halliburton,
667 F.3d 602, 609 (5th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted).
In Count I, the plaintiffs claim that § 61-3-6 conflicts with the federal government’s
comprehensive control of aviation, and therefore violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S.
Constitution. They specifically contend that the statute “contravenes federal law by improperly
transferring the Sponsor’s Assurances to the new authority . . . . This transfer would force the
City to breach the obligations imposed upon the City by its Sponsor’s Assurances, which
obligations are imposed by the force of federal law.” Docket No. 42, at 29.
“The federal government, when acting within the confines of its constitutional authority,
is empowered to preempt state law to the extent necessary to achieve a federal purpose.” City of
Morgan City v. S. La. Elec. Co-op. Ass’n, 31 F.3d 319, 321–22 (5th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).
Every pre-emption case requires the court to examine Congressional intent. See Wyeth v.
Levine, 555 U.S. 555, 565 (2009). Congressional intent to preempt “can take multiple forms.”
Castro v. Collecto, Inc., 634 F.3d 779, 785 (5th Cir. 2011).
Congress can expressly preempt state law in federal statutory language, or it can
impliedly preempt state law. Implied preemption can take the form of field
preemption, where federal law is sufficiently comprehensive to make reasonable
the inference that Congress left no room for supplementary state regulation, or the
federal interest in the field is so dominant that it precludes enforcement of state
laws on the same subject. Implied preemption can also take the form of conflict
preemption: (1) where complying with both federal law and state law is impossible;
or (2) where the state law creates an unacceptable obstacle to the accomplishment
and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.2
Id. (quotation marks, citations, and brackets omitted).
Conflict preemption has been explained in fairly broad terms. It exists where state law
“would disturb, interfere with, or seriously compromise the purposes of the federal statutory
scheme. In other words, an application of state law that would frustrate the purpose of a federal
statutory scheme is preempted.” Morgan City, 31 F.3d at 322 (citation omitted); see also Witty v.
Delta Air Lines, Inc., 366 F.3d 380, 384 (5th Cir. 2004).
At the same time, courts have traditionally applied a “presumption against preemption.”
See Levine, 555 U.S. at 575. “[T]he presumption against preemption applies with particular force
when federal law encroaches on a field which the States have traditionally occupied.” Greenwich
Ins. Co. v. Miss. Windstorm Underwriting Ass’n, 808 F.3d 652, 656 (5th Cir. 2015) (quotation
marks and citation omitted).
“The party asserting federal preemption has the burden of persuasion.” Elam v. Kansas
City S. Ry. Co., 635 F.3d 796, 802 (5th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted).
Federal laws and regulations certainly preempt inconsistent state laws in the field of
airline operations and safety. See Witty, 366 F.3d at 384 (“Pursuant to its congressional charge to
regulate air safety, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a broad array of safety-related
regulations codified in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations.”). In this case, however, the
Federal regulations can also preempt inconsistent state laws. “To find that a federal regulation preempts state law,
[the court] must be satisfied that such preemptive effect was both intended and within the scope of the agency’s
delegated authority.” Greenwich Ins. Co. v. Miss. Windstorm Underwriting Ass’n, 808 F.3d 652, 655 (5th Cir. 2015)
(quotation marks and citations omitted).
plaintiffs have not shown how § 61-3-6 conflicts with federal law or interferes with the
achievement of federal objectives.
Section 61-3-6 does not attempt to legislate airport safety, id., regulate aircraft noise, see
City of Burbank v. Lockheed Air Terminal Inc., 411 U.S. 624, 638 (1973), or assert itself into
another issue traditionally controlled by the FAA. The statute does not interfere with the FAA’s
decision to transfer (or decline to transfer) an Airport Operating Certificate. See 14 C.F.R. §
139.101 et seq. And the statute does not force the City to breach its Sponsor Assurances. As the
Court understands the FAA’s statement of interest, if the FAA approves a transfer of the Airport
Operating Certificate, “the proposed new sponsor assumes all existing grant applications.”
Docket No. 146, at 2. In other words, if a transfer is approved, the FAA will relieve the City of
its contractual burdens and place them upon the new airport authority.
Contrary to the plaintiffs’ position, § 61-3-6 generally dovetails with our system of
federalism. Local and state powers control land and governance, while federal regulators
determine whether an airport’s management is qualified to receive an Airport Operating
Certificate and remain in operation. Local and state governments cannot issue Airport Operating
Certificates—that authority is indeed preempted by federal law—and federal regulators cannot
meddle in land use decisions in the absence of a federal aviation interest. See Gustafson v. City of
Lake Angelus, 76 F.3d 778, 784 (6th Cir. 1996) (“The FAA has acknowledged that land use
matters within the federal aviation framework are intrinsically local.”); Skysign Int’l, Inc. v. City
and Cty. of Honolulu, 276 F.3d 1109, 1117 (9th Cir. 2002) (noting that the FAA does not
“preclude local regulation . . . that does not actually reach into the forbidden, exclusively federal
areas, such as flight paths, hours, or altitudes.”); Tanis v. Twp. of Hampton, 704 A.2d 62, 67
(N.J. App. Div. 1997) (“The federal government through the Federal Aviation Authority has the
power to regulate the use of air space; however, state and local governments control the
establishment of new airports or landing strips.”).
The plaintiffs claim support from City of Oceanside v. AELD, LLC, 740 F. Supp. 2d 1183
(S.D. Cal. 2010). In that case, a municipality attempted to sell airport land to a private party. The
FAA objected. It claimed that the acreage was needed for runway safety purposes, and pointed to
an “Airport Layout Plan” which gave the FAA authority to veto proposed modifications to the
airport’s layout. The district court, recognizing “the federal government’s pervasive regulation of
aircraft, airspace and aviation safety,” agreed with the FAA. Id. at 1190. The sale was preempted
by “the dominance of the federal interest in aviation safety and more specifically, land use for
airport facilities.” Id.
Our case is readily distinguishable. The FAA has not yet had the opportunity to
determine whether a transfer of the airport’s governance would violate federal aviation safety
standards, an existing Airport Layout Plan, or some other federal interest. City of Oceanside’s
relevance today might be its suggestion that this is just the start of litigation around § 61-3-6.
The plaintiffs then press that § 61-3-6 is flawed for not taking into account the City’s
status as an underlying landowner and co-sponsor on the grant agreements.3 That argument may
factor into the FAA’s reasoning on whether to transfer an Airport Operating Certificate, but it is
not evidence of Congressional intent to preempt local and state control of airport governance.
For these reasons, Count I is dismissed.
The contours of this argument are not clear. Section 61-3-6 could not have lawfully conditioned the FAA’s transfer
decision on the City’s consent—that is the definition of state interference with a federal regulatory decision. Perhaps
the plaintiffs mean that § 61-3-6 should have required the City’s consent before the new airport authority could
apply to transfer the Airport Operating Certificate. There is no preemption issue there, although it arguably defeats
the purpose of the legislation.
In Count II, the plaintiffs contend that § 61-3-6 violates the sections of the Mississippi
Constitution which announce the State’s commitment to the federal Supremacy Clause.
Section six of the Mississippi Constitution provides that Mississippians may control and
amend their government as long as “[s]uch change be not repugnant to the constitution of the
United States.” Section seven of the Mississippi Constitution, meanwhile, prohibits passing “any
law . . . in derogation of the paramount allegiance of the citizens of this state to the government
of the United States.”
The plaintiffs’ argument mirrors their earlier contentions about the federal Supremacy
Clause. With no explanation for how the analysis should differ, we are left with the same
outcome. Count II is dismissed.
The plaintiffs next contend that § 61-3-6 violates the Due Process guarantees of the U.S.
Constitution and the Mississippi Constitution. They specifically claim that the statute violates
Mississippi Code § 61-3-7, which governs how municipalities may band together to establish
regional airport authorities.
A review indicates that § 61-3-6 does not run afoul of § 61-3-7. The latter statute explains
how municipalities may create (or disband) a regional airport; it covers such topics as the
number of days’ notice a municipality must give its citizens before voting on whether to join a
regional airport. But it does not attempt to govern a municipality or individual’s due process
rights to object to the legislature’s consideration of a new airport authority. There is no conflict.
That brings us to the constitutional provisions. There are a bevy of actors and claims
here: two sets of plaintiffs (the City and a set of individual residents); two different constitutions
(the U.S. Constitution and the Mississippi Constitution); and two types of due process. As the
Fifth Circuit explains,
Due process has two major meanings: first, substantive due process may require
courts to void certain types of government action that infringe on individual rights
and individual freedom of action; second, procedural due process may require
government to assure that individuals are afforded certain procedures before they
are deprived of life, liberty, or property.
Frazier v. Garrison I.S.D., 980 F.2d 1514, 1528 (5th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted).
The analysis is simplified by the fact that “[t]he due process required by the Federal
Constitution is the same due process required by the Mississippi Constitution.” Sec’y of State v.
Wiesenberg, 633 So. 2d 983, 996 (Miss. 1994) (citation omitted). The remaining distinctions will
be discussed below.
The City’s Due Process Rights
This claim is dispensed with ease. Municipalities may not use the federal due process
clause to challenge state statutes. See City of Canton v. Nissan N. Am., Inc., 870 F. Supp. 2d 430,
438 (S.D. Miss. 2012); Rogers v. Brockette, 588 F.2d 1057, 1068, 1070 (5th Cir. 1979)
(clarifying that “correctly interpreted, these cases do not deal with ‘standing,’ in the sense in
which we use the term,” but rather “that, on the merits, the municipality had no rights under the
particular constitutional provisions it invoked.”). Because the federal and state constitutional
provisions are coextensive, the City’s state-law due process argument fails as well.
The Individual Plaintiffs’ Due Process Rights
After careful review, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s motion is insufficient to
resolve the individual plaintiffs’ due process claims. A footnote in the movants’ brief suggests
that the individual plaintiffs’ procedural due process theory is unavailing because “once an
action is characterized as legislative, procedural due process requirements do not apply.” Jackson
Court Condominiums, Inc. v. City of New Orleans, 874 F.2d 1070, 1074 (5th Cir. 1989)
(citations omitted). But the discussion is short and the individuals’ substantive due process
arguments are not addressed.4 The better course of action is to await further motion practice on
Count III is dismissed in part and deferred in part.
In Count IV, the plaintiffs contend that § 61-3-6 violates the contract clauses of the U.S.
and Mississippi Constitutions. See U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 1; Miss. Const. § 16. The clauses
are construed similarly. See City of Starkville v. 4-Cty. Elec. Power Ass’n, 909 So. 2d 1094, 1112
The plaintiffs’ theory runs into familiar difficulties. With respect to “grants of political or
governmental authority to cities, towns, counties, and the like[,] the legislative power of the
states is not restrained by the contract clause of the Constitution.” City of Pawhuska v. Pawhuska
Oil & Gas Co., 250 U.S. 394, 398 (1919). Additionally, on the merits, the FAA’s Statement of
Interest suggests that the City will be relieved of its contractual obligations if the Airport
Operating Certificate is transferred. The City will not have to violate any contract.
Although the briefing regarding any individual plaintiff’s contract clause claim is once
again thin, the issue can be resolved. The complaint does not describe any airport contract held
by any of the individual plaintiffs. They cannot sue for impairment of a contract where no
Count IV is dismissed.
This may be due to ambiguity in the complaint. It is not clear how these claims may overlap with Count VIII.
The motion is granted in part and deferred in part.
SO ORDERED, this the 25th day of July, 2017.
s/ Carlton W. Reeves
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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