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Commonwealth v. Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority

March 21, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, through the Office of Attorney General, initiated this action as parens patriae, to enjoin the defendant, Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority ("SARAA"), from acquiring, by eminent domain, a tract of land adjacent to the Harrisburg International Airport ("HIA"). This land is the site of a private parking enterprise servicing HIA. In its complaint, the Commonwealth invokes federal antitrust laws, seeking to enjoin SARAA's "conduct in unlawfully obtaining and maintaining a monopoly for airport parking services." (Doc. 1 ¶ 52.)

Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss (Doc. 6) filed by SARAA. Based upon clear application of Parker*fn1 immunity, the court is constrained to grant defendant's motion.

I. Statement of Facts*fn2

In 1967, the Cramer family purchased a tract of land located on West Harrisburg Pike in Lower Swatara Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 8-9.) Although the Cramer tract is adjacent to property owned by SARAA, it is pro tanto separated from SARAA property by a road and railroad tracks. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 10, 22.)*fn3

For over twenty-five years, the Cramer family has used their land for airport parking. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 8, 11.) Cramer Airport Parking currently offers 1,000 parking spaces, which are approximately 0.8 miles from HIA, with the capacity to expand to 2,000 parking spaces. (Doc. 1 ¶ 12.) Parking rates are $5 per day or $28 per week and discount coupons are available. (Doc. 1 ¶ 12.) Customers are shuttled between Cramer Airport Parking and HIA. (Doc. 1 ¶ 12.)

SARAA is a joint municipal authority created in 1997 pursuant to the Pennsylvania Municipality Authorities Act ("MAA"), as amended, 53 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. §§ 5601-5623. (Doc. 1 ¶ 4.) SARAA offers 2,474 garage parking spaces at the terminal in Lot A and 3,100 parking spaces approximately 0.5 miles from HIA in Lot B (Economy Long-Term Parking, "SmartPark").*fn4 (Doc. 1 ¶ 13-14.) SARAA purportedly has the capacity to expand to 9,000 parking spaces. (Doc. 1 ¶ 15.) The parking rates for Lot A are $1 per hour for the first two hours and $2 for each additional hour, up to a daily maximum rate of $14. (Doc. 1 ¶ 13.) The rates for SmartPark are $5 per day and $30 per week. (Doc. 1 ¶ 14.) A shuttle takes customers from SmartPark to HIA. (Doc. 1 ¶ 14.)

On March 30, 2005, SARAA filed a Declaration of Taking in the Court of Common Pleas for Dauphin County to acquire the Cramer property through eminent domain. (Doc. 1 ¶ 18.) SARAA claims that it intends to use this property to "construct appropriate facilities thereon and/or utilize such property in a manner which will service, improve, promote and maintain the continued practices conducted by the Airport." (Doc. 1 ¶ 19.)

On September 8, 2005, the Commonwealth commenced the instant action (Doc. 1) against SARAA pursuant to 71 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 732-204(c) ("The Attorney General shall represent the Commonwealth and its citizens in any action brought for violation of the antitrust laws of the United States and the Commonwealth."). The complaint alleges antitrust violations under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C. § 18, and Section 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2, and seeks: (1) a permanent injunction to prevent SARAA from acquiring the assets of Cramer through eminent domain proceedings or any other means; (2) a permanent injunction to prevent SARAA from interfering with Cramer's operation of an airport parking business serving HIA; (3) a declaratory judgment that SARAA's proposed acquisition of Cramer's assets violates Section 7 of the Clayton Act; (4) a declaratory judgment that SARAA's proposed acquisition of Cramer's assets violates Section 2 of the Sherman Act; (5) costs and reasonable attorneys' fees; and (6) "other just and proper relief."

In its complaint, the Commonwealth asserts that SARAA has no actual plans for the Cramer property and that, absent agreements from Amtrak and Norfolk Southern to move the railroad tracks and provide a means of access between the property and the airport, acquisition of the property provides no benefit to SARAA for aviation-related development. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 20, 22.) The Commonwealth contends that SARAA's true motives for taking the property are to aid SARAA in a tax dispute pending with the Middletown Area School District and to eliminate Cramer Airport Parking as a competitor. (Doc. 1 ¶ 24.)

SARAA filed the instant motion to dismiss (Doc. 6) on September 28, 2005. SARAA argues that dismissal is appropriate because: (1) the state action doctrine (i.e., Parker immunity) shields SARAA, a municipal authority, from antitrust claims; (2) the Anti-Injunction Act*fn5 bars the relief requested; (3) the NoerrPennington doctrine*fn6 protects SARAA from antitrust challenge; (4) this case lacks the requisite nexus with interstate commerce, thereby depriving the court of subject matter jurisdiction; and (5) eminent domain proceedings cannot be restrained by another governmental actor under federal antitrust laws. The parties have fully briefed these issues and the motion is now ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of claims that fail to assert a basis upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6).

In the context of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. Langford v. City of Atlantic City, 235 F.3d 845, 847 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the face of the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice pleading rules do not require plaintiffs to allege affirmatively every aspect of their claims, but only to present sufficient facts to allow the opposing party to conduct discovery and prepare a defense. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a) (stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief"); see also Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim unless "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Id.; see Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002). Under this liberal pleading policy, courts should generally grant plaintiffs leave to amend their claims before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

A. The State Action Doctrine and ...

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