‘CPA-Star Marianas row over user fees should be with FAA’



The Commonwealth Ports Authority maintains that its dispute with Star Marianas Air Inc. over user fees is already before the Federal Aviation Administration, which has jurisdiction over this issue.

CPA, through legal counsel Robert T. Torres, said that Star Marianas’ claim should remain with FAA and not before the U.S. District Court for the NMI.

Torres submitted CPA’s reply to Star Marianas’ complaint, saying it must be dismissed. The lawyer said there is no question that FAA has primary jurisdiction over this issue.

Star Marianas claims that resolution of its breach of contract claim against CPA raises a federal issue because CPA has allegedly violated its federal obligation to impose reasonable rates and charges.

But Torres said Star Marianas cites just a single case in support of its assertion that a state cause of action may also require resolution of a federal question.

Torres said while the case referred by Star Marianas does cite the legal proposition that a well-pleaded complaint alleging a state cause of action may also arise under federal law if the resolution of the claim requires resolution of a federal question, Star Marianas has not cited any authority for its proposition that an alleged violation of the rates and charges policy is a violation of a federal law.

He said whether or not CPA has violated the rates and charges policy or its grant assurances are issues for resolution by the FAA as they relate to the reasonableness of rates.

Torres said the FAA has primary jurisdiction over alleged violations and that Star Marianas has failed to exhaust its administrative remedies.

The lawyer said fees in written agreements are also under FAA purview.

He also stated that there is no jurisdiction under the federal preemption provision of the Airline Deregulation Act.

Torres said Star Marianas is cloaking its plain breach-of-contract claim by citing the Anti Head Tax Act, the Rates and Charges Policy, grant assurances, and the Airline Deregulation Act.

“A closer look at each federal cloak reveals that SMA’s claims of jurisdiction fail,” Torres said.

In its lawsuit originally filed last year, Star Marianas sued CPA and five unnamed co-defendants for breach of contract, violation of the Anti-Head Tax, and unreasonable user fees.

Star Marianas, through counsel Timothy H. Bellas, asked the court to hold CPA liable to pay the company damages in an amount to be proven at trial, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

Star Marianas entered in 2009 an agreement with CPA, which controls and operates the airports in the CNMI, to lease and use areas of the commuter terminals on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

Under the agreement, Star Marianas agreed to adhere to the CPA Airport Rules and Regulations, and to pay a departure facility charge, international arrival facility charge, and in-transit passenger service charge.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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