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Town of New Windsor v. Ronan

decided: June 28, 1973.


Moore, Friendly and Feinberg, Circuit Judges.

Author: Moore

MOORE, Circuit Judge:


Defendant-appellant New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the individual members thereof,*fn1 both as members and individually (hereinafter, "MTA"), appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Sylvester J. Ryan, Judge, entered on February 14, 1973, as subsequently amended on March 8, 1973. This judgment, inter alia, granted summary judgment to defendants-appellees, John A. Volpe, United States Secretary of Transportation, and John H. Shaffer, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (hereinafter, "Federal defendants") and dismissed MTA's cross-claim against the Federal Aviation Administrator.

By its cross-claim the MTA sought a declaration that Paragraph 7L of a deed, by which the United States transferred ownership of most of the former Stewart Air Force Base (Stewart AFB) to the MTA, does not require that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must make any determination before the MTA can lawfully proceed with the proposed extension of Stewart Airport runway 9-27. The cross-claim further sought a determination that in case of a dispute between the FAA and the MTA as to whether a proposed alteration in the airport which, in the language of Paragraph 7L, "might adversely affect the safety, utility, or efficiency of the Airport," the dispute should be decided in court, not unilaterally by the FAA. Finally, the cross-claim requested a ruling that any determination concerning the proposed runway extension would not constitute major federal action within the meaning of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The cross-claim further sought a determination that the proposed extension of Stewart Airport runway 9-27 did not require the prior approval of the FAA.

Defendants-appellants Theodore W. Parker, individually and as Commissioner of the Department of Transportation of the State of New York, Richard Dunham, individually and as Director of the Budget of the State of New York, and Arthur Levitt, individually and as Comptroller of the State of New York (the "State defendants"), also appeal from the amended judgment.

In July, 1971, four individuals who own land in the vicinity of Stewart Airport,*fn2 several environmental groups,*fn3 and certain towns also in the vicinity of the airport*fn4 commenced this action seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief enjoining the appropriation in the name of the People of the State of New York of approximately 9,000 acres of land adjacent to Stewart Airport for use in the proposed expansion and development of that facility.*fn5

In an opinion dated August 12, 1971, the district court, per Judge Marvin E. Frankel, denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. 329 F. Supp. 1286 (S.D.N.Y. 1971). On August 13, 1971, appellants caused title to this land to vest in the People of the State of New York.*fn6

In September, 1971, the MTA moved for an order dismissing all seven claims contained in plaintiffs' complaint on the ground that none of them states a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Federal defendants made a similar motion in December, 1971.

In January, 1972, before any decision had been reached on these motions,*fn7 plaintiffs moved for leave to add an additional claim to their complaint (the "Eighth Claim"). This Eighth Claim sought injunctive relief to block the allegedly unlawful extension of Stewart Airport runway 9-27 by the MTA.*fn8 MTA and the State defendants opposed this motion, which was referred to Judge Ryan, before whom the motions to dismiss the first seven claims were pending.

In February, 1972, the FAA formally announced that under its interpretation of Paragraph 7L of the deed dated October 16, 1970, which transferred Stewart Airport to the MTA, the MTA was required to seek FAA approval for all proposed changes to the airport which might adversely affect the facility's safety, utility, or efficiency. The FAA specifically noted that the proposed extension of runway 9-27 was an airport alteration which would require such approval. The FAA further declared that such determinations generally, and the determination with respect to the runway extension in particular, would be actions subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, and that the determination must therefore be accompanied by an environmental impact statement.*fn9 Representations have been made (Appellee's Brief, p. 30) that such a statement is being or has been prepared for presentation shortly.

By order entered April 12, 1972, Judge Ryan granted plaintiffs leave to file their Eighth Claim and stayed all proceedings on the first seven claims until a determination had been made on the Eighth Claim.*fn10 MTA then answered the Eighth Claim and cross-claimed against the FAA seeking a judicial construction of the disputed language contained in Paragraph 7L of the deed.

In August, 1972, the MTA moved for summary judgment on so much of plaintiffs' Eighth Claim and its cross-claim as present the question of whether Paragraph 7L requires that the FAA make "certain determinations before the MTA can proceed with planned changes or alterations to Stewart Airport, including its plans to extend runway 9-27 at that airport." After answering the Eighth Claim and the MTA's cross-claim, the Federal defendants also moved for summary judgment, as did plaintiffs; oral argument was heard in October, 1972. Judge Ryan's decision granted summary judgment for the Federal defendants and plaintiffs; Judge Ryan also certified this judgment for immediate appeal under F.R. Civ. P. 54(b).


The facts with which we are concerned are uncomplicated. Stewart Airport is located in Orange County, New York, fifty-five miles north of New York City. From 1930 to 1942 it was operated as a municipal airport by the city of Newburgh, New York. From 1942 to March, 1970, it was operated as a military airfield; prior to its transfer to the MTA, this facility was known as Stewart AFB.

In the fall of 1969 the Department of Defense (DOD) announced that Stewart AFB would be closed and the military units stationed there would be relocated or deactivated. Shortly thereafter, the MTA requested that DOD transfer Stewart AFB to it so that the facility might be developed as a public airport. On February 12, 1970, DOD executed a revocable license permitting MTA to operate Stewart AFB as a public airport pending formal transfer of the property.

On June 4, 1970, the MTA submitted its formal application to the General Services Administration (GSA) requesting the transfer of Stewart AFB. Pursuant to the Surplus Property Act of 1944,*fn11 the application was referred to the FAA. The FAA subsequently issued a report recommending that Stewart AFB be transferred for no monetary consideration to the MTA for public airport use.

The actual transfer took place on October 16, 1970, when GSA conveyed the property to the MTA by quitclaim deed.

The dispute among the parties involves the interpretation of the following language from ...

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