United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
CARLTON W. REEVES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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' eight-count complaint. The motion is fully
briefed and ready for adjudication.
Factual and Procedural History
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.
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
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.
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.
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
for judgment on the pleadings are governed by Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(c).
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 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
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.
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.