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Ogden City wins airport legal fight, but hangar owners try new approaches

By Mark Shenefelt - | Sep 28, 2022

Photo supplied, Adobe Stock

OGDEN — Ogden City has prevailed against a civil suit that alleged officials are illegally taking long-held Ogden-Hinckley Airport hangars from ground lessees, but aggrieved airport users are pursuing continued litigation in two new directions.

The Ogden Regional Airport Association and dozens of people who own hangars on municipal ground leased to them by the city sued the city in 2021 after officials updated leasing policies to end routine lease renewals. The new policies gave the city room to pursue new developments and to demolish decades-old hangars after leases end. But hangar owners argue it amounts to unconstitutional government taking, some of the hangars valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

U.S. District Judge David Barlow in Salt Lake City ruled on July 11 that the claims of unconstitutionality did not pass muster under federal law. He dismissed the suit, saying the lease disputes were “garden variety” contractual matters better addressed in the local state district court.

A dozen of the initially more than 70 hangar owners this month appealed Barlow’s ruling to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. But most other hangar owners and the Ogden Regional Airport Association decided not to join the appeal and instead will pursue state contract litigation, Ed McKenney, association president, said Wednesday.

“We have been advised by multiple high-level attorneys that we will very likely prevail on the contract violations by Ogden City caused by the passage of the Title 8 ordinance,” McKenney said by email, referring to the airport business plan ordinance at issue.

The federal suit alleged the city violated the Fifth and 14th amendments’ protection against physical and regulatory takings by the city government without just compensation. The plaintiffs also accused the city of First Amendment retaliation because the city quit offering lease renewals to any hangar owners who were parties to the civil suit.

The lessees cited the case of one of the plaintiffs who dropped out of the suit after the city gave him the choice of a 13-year lease renewal or continuing with the litigation. That offer “was essentially a settlement offer, not an act of deterrence or intimidation,” the judge said.

The city has begun to demolish some of the oldest hangars and has said hangars older than 40 years will fall under demolition orders when leases expire. City officials say the moves are necessary to make room for more profitable operations.

Meanwhile, the city has filed a motion in federal court to recover more than $77,000 in legal fees from the hangar owners. The very leases at issue contain clauses allowing the prevailing party in a lease suit to recover legal costs.

“The plaintiffs relied upon the lease agreements to advance their complaints, and should not be allowed to use the lease agreements to advance their interests against the defendants and then back away from the lease agreements when it comes to the enforcement of the attorney fee provisions,” the city’s motion said.

But the airport users have filed an objection, arguing, among other things, that the leases do not allow a blanket attorney’s fees award for all types of disputes. The users’ lawyers have asked for a court hearing to debate the fees request.

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