On March 9, 2023, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the “Motion to Enforce Judgment” filed by co-Petitioners Cities of Los Angeles and Culver City (“Cities”) in City of Los Angeles, et.al. v. Stephen Dickson, et.al. The Order found the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) in blatant violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321, et seq. (“NEPA”), as well as the Court’s prior Order of July 2021, requiring FAA to compensate for its original violation by performing environmental review of the newly established North Downwind Arrivals to Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”), over heavily populated areas of the Cities.
Normally finding FAA immune from judicial intervention on the ground of FAA’s responsibility for “safety and efficiency” of aircraft operations, this time, the Court found FAA’s “recalcitrance” in failing to initiate environmental review for more than five years after implementation of the procedures, and 19 months after the Court’s original Order in July 2021, totally “unreasonable” on the ground that “human health and welfare are at stake.” The Court’s recognition of FAA’s flagrant violations led to the highly unusual step of mandating that FAA: (1) immediately submit to Court a timeline for completion of environmental review; and (2) file a status report on FAA’s progress every 90 days until it has fully complied with the Court’s order.
This ruling may give impacted communities some hope that FAA is not immune from judicial oversight, and cannot get away with thumbing its nose at the law and court orders. It should be remembered, however, that, in this case, FAA displayed more than its usual hubris by failing and refusing to do ANY environmental review. The question remains open as to whether the courts will act similarly where FAA performs “inadequate” review rather than none at all. Stay tuned.