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Hugh Manke | Tweed New Haven Airport wins lawsuit on runway expansion

On July 9, 2019, Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C. (“UKS”) scored a major victory for the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority (“Tweed”) in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  In a unanimous decision, the Court invalidated a Connecticut state law limiting the length of the primary runway at Tweed-New Haven Airport (the “Airport”), holding that the statute was preempted by the Federal Aviation Act. See Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority v. Tong, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 2932588 (2d Cir. 2019). The UKS team was led by Hugh Manke, John King and Chris Klepps.     

This action stems from a 2009 law, General Statutes § 15-120j(c), which limits the Airport’s main runway to the current length of 5,600 feet. In 2015, UKS filed suit on behalf of Tweed against then Attorney General George Jepsen, contending that the statute was unconstitutional and preempted by several federal statutes, including the Federal Aviation Act.

Trial was held in March 2017.  In September 2017, the District Court issued a decision in favor of the State, concluding that Tweed lacked standing to bring suit because the court did not find that Tweed suffered an injury as a result of the statute.  The court also held that the statute was not preempted.

Tweed appealed and the Second Circuit reversed, holding that Tweed had standing and that the statute was preempted. On the jurisdictional issue, the Court stated that it had “little difficulty concluding that Tweed” had standing because the statute directly targeted and regulated Tweed. As for preemption, the Court stated: “We straightforwardly conclude that the runway statute falls well within the scope of the FA Act’s preemption because of its direct impact on air safety.”

The State also argued that Tweed could not bring the suit because political subdivisions like Tweed cannot sue the State. This issue was one of first impression for the Second Circuit.  The Court held in Tweed’s favor. 

This ruling opens the door for Tweed to extend the length of the primary runway at the Airport. A longer runway would permit larger aircraft to fly into and out of Tweed, thus allowing passengers to fly to additional destinations. This case is a good example of lawyers finding a legal solution to an intractable political problem. UKS has served as general counsel to the Authority since 1999.