Clay Lacy Aviation v. City of Los Angeles
Unpublished order


CLAY LACY AVIATION et. al., Plaintiffs
CITY OF LOS ANGELES et. al., Defendants

CV-00-09255-SVW (CTx)


June 14, 2001


Pursuant to this Court's order of April 30, 2001, Plaintiffs (hereinafter, collectively, "Clay Lacy") have filed motion for summary judgment on their equal protection claim against the Defendants (hereinafter, collectively, the "City"), challenging an airport noise abatement ordinance recently enacted by the City. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Clay Lacy's motion and enters judgment in favor of the City on the equal protection claims only.


This, case involves an ordinance passed by the City on April 18, 2000, which amended the Van Nuys Noise Abatement and Curfew Regulation. The amendment includes a so-called "Non- Addition Rule," which restricts the amount of time certain aircraft can be present at the Van Nuys Airport (the "Airport") each year. The purpose of the amendment is to limit noise at the Airport.

The amendment applies only to Stage 2 aircrafts with noise levels that equal or exceed 77 dBA. Under the Non-Addition Rule, Stage 2 aircrafts with noise levels of 77 dBA or greater can only be "parked, tied down, or hangared" at the Airport for no more than 30 days each year. Thus, the net effect of the Non-Addition Rule is that such Stage 2 aircrafts are banned from the Airport for 335 days out of each year.

Certain Stage 2 aircrafts, however, are exempt from the Non-Addition Rule. Specifically, Stage 2 aircrafts that were parked, tied down, or hangared at the Airport for 90 days or more during the 12 months immediately preceding December 31, 1999, are exempt from the Non-Addition Rule. In addition, the owner of an exempt Stage 2 aircraft (a so-called "grandfathered" aircraft) may replace that aircraft once before December 31, 2005, with a Stage 2 aircraft that has a noise level of 85 dBA or less.

Clay Lacy challenges the Non-Addition Rule on three grounds, arguing that it violates (1) the Equal Protection Clause, and (2) the Commerce Clause, and (3) the Supremacy Clause. In accordance with the Court's instructions, Clay Lacy filed the instant motion for summary judgment on its equal protection claims only. Having carefully considered the parties' briefs, and arguments, the Court rejects Clay Lacy's equal protection challenge.


The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment commands that no state shall deny any person the equal protection of the laws. See City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). This constitutional directive requires that all persons similarly circumstanced be treated alike. See Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 216 (1982). In this case, both parties agree - as they must - that Clay Lacy's equal protection claim is governed by the rational basic standard of review, since no suspect classification or fundamental rights are at stake. Under the rational basis standard, the Court must engage in a two-tiered inquiry.

First, it must determine whether the challenged law has a legitimate purpose. See Jackson Water Works, Inc. v. Public Util. Comm'n of Cal., 793 F.2d 1090, 1094 (9th Cir. 1986). Here, both parties have stipulated that airport noise abatement is a legitimate governmental purpose. Second, the Court must decide whether the challenged law promotes that purpose, See id. In this regard, the challenged law will be upheld so long as there is a rational relationship between the ends of the law and the means used to achieve those ends. See Aleman v. Glickman, 217 F.3d 1191, 1200 (9th Cir. 2000). "There need not be a 'tight fitting relationship' between the legislative goal and the result." Jackson Water Works, 793 F.2d at 1094. Instead, the challenged law "must be upheld if there in any reasonably conceivable set of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification." Taylor v. Rancho Santa Barbara, 206 F.3d 932, 935 (9th Cir. 2000).


A. The Non-Addition Rule

Clay Lacy argues that the Non-Addition Rule is irrational for equal protection purposes because whether and an aircraft is "parked, tied down, or hangared" has no connection to the amount of noise it may generate upon takeoff and landing.

To demonstrate this alleged irrationality, Clay Lacy presents several hypothetical scenarios. For instance, Clay Lacy observes that an aircraft that lands on a Monday but does not depart until Friday will use up 5 days of its 30-day allotment, even though only two noise events (one landing and one takeoff) are created. On the other hand, an aircraft that lands and takes off on Monday and then returns on Friday will generate four noise events while only exhausting 2 days of the 30-day allotment. The other hypotheticals similarly focus on the amount of noise that may or may not be created during a given 30-day period by the varying flight schedules and habits of different aircrafts.

The fundamental flaw in these hypothetical scenarios that they overlook one inescapable fact: Stage 2 aircrafts with noise levels of 77 dBA or greater are effectively banned from the Airport for 335 days out of each year, regardless of how much (or how little) noise they may generate during the 30 day period of permissible presence at the Airport. Clay Lacy's hypothetical arguments place great significance on the face, that varying levels of noise might result during any given 30-day period from the Non-Addition Rule, depending on the landing and takeoff schedules of different aircrafts during that month. However, no matter what effect the Non-Addition Rule may have during the 30-day period of permissible presence at the Airport, the Rule ultimately achieves the goal of noise abatement because loud aircrafts cannot, under any circumstances use the Airport any more than those 30 days out of each year. If the City could outright ban the presence of all Stage 2 aircrafts consistent with the demands of equal protection -- a contention Clay Lacy does not dispute -- then, a fortiori, the City can ban their presence for 335 days out of each year without running afoul of the Equal Protection Clause.

It is possible, of course, that a more narrowly tailored ordinance might have regulated takeoffs and landings instead of when an aircraft is parked, tied down, or hangared at the Airport. However, under rational basis review, such a narrowly tailored ordinance is not required. "A classification does not fail rational-basis review because 'it is not made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in some inequality.'" Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 322 (1993) (citation omitted). "All that is needed to uphold the state's classification scheme in to find that there are 'plausible,' 'arguable,' or conceivable reasons which may have been a basis for the distinction." Jackson Water Works, 793 F.2d at 1094. In this case, the Non-Addition Rule is supported by such "plausible, arguable, or conceivable reasons" because prohibiting loud Stage 2 aircrafts from being present at the Airport for more than 30 days out of each year plausibly, arguably, and conceivably advances the City's overarching goal of airport noise abatement.

Clay Lacy also argues, again in the form of a hypothetical situation, that some aircraft could undermine the objective of the Non-Addition Rule by never "parking" at the Airport at all while nevertheless creating an unlimited number of noise events. In particular, they contend that some regional aircrafts, for example, might "shuttle" in and out of the Airport without ever "parking" within the meaning of the Rule. The Court, however, rejects such a cramped interpretation of the, word "park" because it defies common sense and the ordinary understanding of that word. As the City rightly points out, all aircraft - even ones that might "shuttle" in and out of the Airport - must come to a stationary position of rest at some point before cargo can be loaded or unloaded, before passengers can embark or disembark. When that happens, the aircraft has clearly "parked", within the ordinary everyday meaning of that word and would, thus, exhaust one of its allotted 30 days. [FN 1]

[FN 1] Moreover, even assuming such "shuttling" activities would not fall within the scope of the Non-Addition Rule, it bears emphasizing that the City's ordinance -- even without the Non-Addition Rule -- already prohibits such repetitive "touch-and-go" aircraft operations. See Ordinance No. 155727, Van Nuys Noise Abatement and Curfew Regulation, Section 3.
Finally, the authorities cited by Clay Lacy in support its equal protection claim are unavailing. In Santa Monica Airport Ass'n v. City of Santa Monica, 659 F.2d 100 (9th Cir. 1981) aff'g, 481 F. Supp. 927 (C.D. Cal. 1979), the court struck down on equal projection grounds a municipal ban on jet aircrafts because propeller aircraft were not included it the ban. The court held such disparate treatment ran afoul of the Equal Protection Clause because propeller aircrafts created as much, if not more, noise than jet aircrafts. Here, there is no such disparate treatment because all Stage 2 aircrafts with noise levels equal to or exceeding 77 dBA -- regardless of the type of aircraft -- are banned from the Airport for 335 days out of the year.

In City and County of San Francisco v. Federal Aviation Admin., 942 F.2d 1391 (9th Cir. 1991), the court struck down on Supremacy Clause grounds a municipal measure that excluded aircrafts based on the date that Stage 1 aircrafts were retrofitted to meet Stage 2 standards. This case is distinguishable because (i) it rested expressly on the Supremacy Clause, not the Equal Protection Clause; and (ii) the Non-Addition Rule, unlike the measure at issue in City and County of San Francisco, makes no such arbitrary distinction based on the date of retrofitting.

As for Alaska Airlines, Inc. v. City of Long Beach, 951 F.2d 977 (9th Cir, 1992), it supports the City's position, not Clay Lacy. In that case, the Long Beach Airport restricted the actual number of air carrier flights allowed at the airport but essentially left unregulated general aviation flights. The court held that singling out air carriers -- an opposed to general aviation flights -- for numerical flight restrictions was rational for equal protection purposes because only air carriers have predictable, published schedules. See id. at 986. While the ordinance at issue in Alaska Airlines restricted actual takeoffs and lending, the net result of the ordinance was the same as that of the Non-Addition Rule; a reduction in the total number of aircrafts using the airports, thereby helping reduce airport noise. Thus, like the ordinance in Alaska Airlines, the City's Non-Addition Rule here does not offend the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

B. The Grandfathering Provision

Last, Clay Lacy argues that the "grandfathering" exemption for Stage 2 aircraft that used the Airport for more than, 90 days prior to the end of 1999 is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. This argument is foreclosed, however, by New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297, 303-05 (1976), which rejected a similar equal protection challenge to a local regulation that banned pushcart vendors but exempted certain vendors who had operated eight years or more.


In sum, the Court concluded that the City's Non-Addition Rule and its corresponding "grandfather" provision do not violate the Equal Protection Clause because the Rule rationally furthers the City's legitimate goal of airport noise abatement. Therefore, Clay Lacy' s motion for summary judgment is hereby DENIED, and judgment is entered in favor of the City on Clay Lacy's equal protection claim.


DATED: 6/14/2001