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Taylor v. Federal Aviation Administration

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 26, 2018

ROBERT C. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Robert Taylor is a model aircraft enthusiast who owns multiple model planes and flies them as a hobby and for recreational purposes. He brings this action on behalf of himself and a putative class of all model aircraft owners who paid $5 to register their aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under a rule later struck down by the D.C. Circuit. Plaintiff claims that the registration requirement violated the Privacy Act and the Little Tucker Act. He also advances against the FAA a violation of his constitutional right of privacy, as well as the common law tort of unjust enrichment. Plaintiff demands that the agency return the more than $4 million it collected in registration fees and pay over $836 million in statutory penalties.

         Defendant FAA now moves to dismiss, arguing that (1) Plaintiff lacks standing to sue, (2) the D.C. Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over this matter, and (3) the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated herein, the court holds that, as presently pleaded, Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this action. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is therefore granted.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is tasked with “promot[ing] safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce[.]” 49 U.S.C. § 44701. Invoking this authority, on December 16, 2015, the FAA issued an interim final rule (the “Registration Rule”), requiring owners of small unmanned aircraft, including model aircraft, to register their aircraft with the FAA “to facilitate compliance with the statutory requirement that all aircraft register prior to operation.” 80 Fed. Reg. at 78, 594 (Registration Rule); see also Pl.'s Compl. and Demand for Jury Trial, ECF No. 1 [hereinafter Compl.], ¶ 7; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 23 [hereinafter Def.'s Mot.], at 4. The Registration Rule required a registrant to supply her name, address, and email address. See 14 C.F.R. § 48.100(b). The registration was good for three years, id. §48.11(c), and the fee to register was $5, id. § 48.30(b).

         On May 19, 2017, the D.C. Circuit struck down the Registration Rule insofar as it mandated registration of model aircraft. Taylor v. Huerta, 856 F.3d 1089 (D.C. Cir. 2017). The Circuit's decision rested on Section 336(c) of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 112-95, 126 Stat. 11 (2012), which provides that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft” flown for recreational use and meeting certain additional criteria, see Taylor, 856 F.3d at 1092-93. The Circuit succinctly explained why the Registration Rule as applied to model aircraft could not stand:

In short, the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act provides that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, ” yet the FAA's 2015 Registration Rule is a “rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.” Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler. The Registration Rule is unlawful as applied to model aircraft.

Id. at 1092. The Circuit rejected the FAA's various arguments attempting to justify its exercise of regulatory authority over model aircraft. See Id. at 1092-93.

         Following the D.C. Circuit's decision, the FAA ceased enforcing the Registration Rule and took steps to enable model aircraft owners to undo their registrations. Compl. ¶ 16; Def.'s Mot. at 5-6. The FAA made available on its website a form, titled “Section 336 Aircraft Owner Request to Delete Registration/Receive Refund, ” which allowed registrants to seek a refund and ask that their personal information be deleted. Compl. ¶ 16; Def.'s Mot. at 5-6; Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1, ECF No. 23-2, Section 336 Aircraft Owner Request to Delete Registration/Receive Refund [hereinafter “Refund Form”]. The Refund Form required owners to certify that they operated their model aircraft in compliance with various statutory requirements and, if they sought a refund, to supply bank account information. Compl. ¶ 16. Plaintiff did not submit a Refund Form.

         The relief afforded model aircraft owners under Taylor was short lived. On December 12, 2017, the President signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, (“NDAA”), which revived the Registration Rule. Section 1092(d) of the NDAA provides:

The rules adopted by the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration in the matter of registration and marking requirements for small unmanned aircraft (FAA-2015-7396; published on December 16, 2015) that were vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Taylor v. Huerta (No. 15-1495; decided on May 19, 2017) shall be restored to effect on the date of enactment of this Act.

Pub. L. No. 115-91, 131 Stat. 1283 (2017). Thus, the NDAA granted the FAA the statutory authority to require registration of model aircraft that the D.C. Circuit in Taylor held the FAA did not possess.

         With the Registration Rule reinstated, the FAA provided guidance to model aircraft owners. As to owners who had registered their aircraft prior to Taylor, the FAA did not require them to re-register, unless the owner had completed the refund/deletion process offered by the agency. Def's Mot. at 6-7.[1] Additionally, the FAA made all pre-Taylor registrations effective until December 12, ...


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