Star Marianas suit against CPA dismissed


Robert T. Torres

The federal court dismissed without prejudice yesterday the second amended complaint filed by Star Marianas Air Inc against the Commonwealth Ports Authority in connection with their dispute over user fees.

Star Marianas may file a third amended complaint.

In granting the CPA’s motion to dismiss, U.S. District Court for the NMI designated Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood ruled that because the Deregulation Act does not completely preempt state law, Star Marianas cannot assert preemption as the basis for federal jurisdiction in its complaint.

Furthermore, Tydingco-Gatewood said, because the court has an independent duty to determine whether it has jurisdiction, the court finds that it lacks jurisdiction over the breach of contract claim against CPA and co-defendants for the same reasons as discussed with regard to CPA.

The judge said federal preemption is a defense that may provide for removal of cases involving state law to federal court, but it does not create federal question jurisdiction for a plaintiff attempting to file suit in federal court.

Star Marianas asserted that the court has federal preemption jurisdiction under the Airline Deregulation Act.

CPA responded that the preemption provision does not apply to the imposition of fees because the statute does not limit it “from carrying out its proprietary powers and rights.”

Tydingco-Gatewood found that there is no private right of action under the Federal Aviation Authorization Act and therefore, there cannot be a private right of action under the policy statement promulgated pursuant to this statute.

Thus, the judge pointed out, the Federal Aviation Administration policy regarding airport rates and charges does not confer jurisdiction on the court.

CPA, through counsel Robert T. Torres, has insisted that its dispute with Star Marianas is already before the FAA, which has primary jurisdiction over this issue.

Torres said Star Marianas’ claim should remain with FAA and not before the District Court.

The lawyer said there is no federal question and the FAA has primary jurisdiction.

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 pursuant to FAA policy regarding airport rates and charges.

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

Star Marianas, through counsel Timothy H. Bellas, is suing CPA for unspecified damages.

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

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