Judge hears arguments in airport noise class action case

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A group of homeowners near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) are suing the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) over inadequate, less-than-promised, noise mitigation. On Wednesday, District Court Judge Stephen C. Aldrich heard arguments on the plaintiffs’ motion for their case to be certified as a “class action.” If the court grants class certification, it will mean that the case will go forward on behalf of thousands of individuals owning approximately 5,000 residences in Minneapolis and other cities neighboring MSP.

The certification is vigorously opposed by the MAC because it increases the Commission’s liability many times over if the case is eventually settled or lost. In a class action, the Court may award plaintiff’s costs, set a schedule for completion of the remedial work, and assess liquidated damages for delays.

Judge Aldrich questioned the Attorneys for over an hour before requesting both sides to supplement their briefs. He expects to rule on the class certification by July 27.

MAC introduced the idea that noise exposure maps change along with airport operations. Judge Aldrich asked if it were possible that the proposed class definition was too restrictive. Plaintiff’s attorneys originally argued that the homeowners’ claim was vested in MAC contracts with several cities. These agreements included extended residential sound-insulation in return for various zoning changes and land transfers needed for MSP expansion. In those cities, at least, homeowners were legally entitled to sound insulation if within the 60 DNL contour (a closed line around MSP on a noise exposure map)..

During discovery, numerous statements by the airport commission or staff were produced that could be official policy committing the MAC to an even more comprehensive residential sound insulation program. The court conceivably could construe these written or oral statements as intended to mislead the public, other municipalities, the state, or the federal government as to the necessity of a formal agreement. Enlarging the class could be a way to explore claims to the same treatment by any resident within the 60 DNL.

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