Airport Noise Lawsuits
One of the most extensive noise mitigation programs in the country resulted from the settlement of a lawsuit in 2007 to which Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Airports Commission were parties. The $127.6 million settlement led to noise mitigation for more than 9,560 homes near the airport. This section provides historical information about that settlement. The noise mitigation program described here is now completed and closed. However, there is a different mitigation program in effect today, as a result of a 2013 Amendment to this agreement.
This lawsuit was filed against the MAC by the Cities of Minneapolis, Richfield and Eagan, as well as the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (plaintiffs). Northwest Airlines intervened in the case in support of the MAC. The suit was heard by Judge Stephen Aldrich in Hennepin County District Court.
The Cities claimed that the MAC is in violation of the terms of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act by –
- Impairing the natural resource of "quietude"
- Failing to meet an environmental standard that was created when the MAC expanded its existing noise relief program to the 60 DNL (day/night noise level) contour. The environmental standard was created through the 1996 noise mitigation program adopted by the MAC, the mitigation requirements of the 1998 Final Environmental Impact Statement, the 2002 Metropolitan Council’s approval for the airport’s 2010 capital program, a statutory obligation to minimize noise from the airport, and other actions by the MAC and governmental entities.
- The MAC (defendant) must provide noise mitigation to homes within the airport’s 60 through 64 DNL (day/night noise level) contour.
- The MAC must provide relief in the form of a 5 decibel interior noise reduction package. (To reduce jet noise by 5 decibels inside a home, noise mitigation may involve air conditioning, wall insulation, new windows and doors, roof baffles, furnace, ductwork, etc.)
- The MAC’s 2005 noise contour should be used to enforce the environmental standard. Boundaries for eligible properties should be set by block — not parcel — within the noise contour. The plaintiffs contend that eligible properties are in blocks within or touched by the 60 DNL. (The contour encompasses some homes within Minneapolis, Richfield, Eagan and Bloomington.)
- The Cities file suit in April, 2005.
- The MAC’s motion for dismissal of the Cities’ complaint is denied in November, 2005.
- In January, 2007, Judge Aldrich issued a summary judgment order allowing the lawsuit to move forward and rejected motions by the MAC and Northwest Airlines to dismiss the communities’ claims. The judge’s order found that the MAC had violated an environmental standard by not providing noise mitigation and granted the Cities summary judgment on this issue. The issue of whether or not the MAC had violated the natural resource of "quietude" was left to be proven at trial.
- The lawsuit went to trial in February, 2007. The trial focused on whether the MAC’s airport operation — without providing available sound mitigation to homes in the 60 through 64 DNL — impairs the natural resource of quietude and what kind of relief is appropriate to remedy the MAC’s violations of the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.
- Final arguments were heard on March 21, 2007.
- Pursuant to a Court Order, the cities submitted a settlement proposal to the MAC on July 23, 2007.
- After weeks of negotiation, the MAC voted unanimously on October 15, 2007 to approve a proposed settlement agreement negotiated by legal counsel of the respective parties.
- The Minneapolis Mayor and Minneapolis City Council as well as the Eagan and Richfield City Councils voted unanimously to approve the proposed settlement agreement on October 16, 2007.
- The proposed settlement agreement contained three conditions that had to be met before the settlement agreement could be finalized. The first condition was met on October 19, 2007 when Judge Aldrich approved the consent decree. The second condition was met on November 30, 2007 when the Federal Aviation Authority sent an opinion letter to the MAC stating that the MAC could legally spend up to $127.6 million to provide noise relief to affected homes as part of noise mitigation lawsuit. The final condition was met on January 15, 2008 when Judge Aldrich signed off on the class action settlement agreement. The class action settlement is structured to match the terms in the cities’ settlement agreement.
- Complaint in State of Minnesota by the City of Minneapolis, et al vs. MAC, April 2005 (pdf)
- Petitioner’s Discretionary Review Appendix, July 2005 (pdf)
- Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Law in Response to Defendant MAC’s Motion to Dismiss (pdf)
- Order Denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, Nov. 2005 (pdf)
- MAC’s Petition for Discretionary Review, Dec. 2005 (pdf)
- NWA’s Petition for Discretionary Review, Dec. 2005 (pdf)
- Plaintiff’s Memorandum of Law in Support of their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Nov. 2006 (pdf)
- Reply Memorandum in Support of MAC Motion for Summary Judgment, Dec. 2006 (pdf)
- Defendant NWA Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, Nov. 2006 (pdf)
- Defendant NWA Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, Dec. 2006 (pdf)
- Defendant MAC’s Proposed Findings of Fact, Conclusion of Law and Order, Jan. 2007 (pdf)
- Defendant MAC Letter to Judge Aldrich regarding Motion for Summary Judgment, Jan. 2007 (pdf)
- Partial Summary Judgment Cities vs. MAC, Jan. 2007 (pdf)
- Consent decree summary Oct. 2007 (pdf)
- FAA Legal Opinion on MAC settlement agreemen, Nov. 2007 (pdf)
Wiencke et al vs. MAC
This class action lawsuit was filed by seven homeowners on behalf of Minneapolis and Richfield homeowners living near the airport. The class action suit was also heard by Judge Stephen Aldrich in Hennepin County District Court.
Legal Basis –
- class action suit was based on contract law and related concepts. It claimed that the MAC made an enforceable promise during the airport expansion process to provide 5 decibel interior noise mitigation within the airport’s 60 through 64 DNL (day/night noise level) contour.
According to the suit, nearby residents relied upon the MAC’s promised noise mitigation plan. That noise mitigation plan enabled the MAC to obtain approval for expanding — rather than moving — the airport.
Class Action (plaintiffs’) Position –
- MAC (defendant) must provide noise mitigation in the airport’s 60 through 64 DNL (day/night noise level).
Class Action Timeframe –
- The suit was filed in September, 2005.
- In August, 2006, the Court granted class certification to homeowners in portions of Minneapolis and Richfield.
- In March, 2007, Judge Aldrich denied the MAC’s motion to dismiss the case and ruled that the case could move forward.
- The class action lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial on June 18, 2007; however, the trial was postponed because the MAC proposed a settlement. Because not all the terms had been worked out, MAC and counsel for the homeowners asked for and received a continuance to continue discussions.
- When the cities and MAC approved a separate settlement proposal in October 2007, one of the conditions called for the class action plaintiffs to structure the terms of their settlement in a manner consistent with the cities’ lawsuit. On January 15, 2008, Judge Aldrich signed off on the class action settlement agreement which is structured to match the terms in the cities’ settlement agreement. The judge’s action meant that all conditions for the cities’ settlement had been met.
More Information about the Class Action –
$127.6 million settlement reached
The Cities’ $127.6 million settlement will mean some form of noise mitigation for more than 9,560 homes in Minneapolis, Richfield, Eagan and Bloomington. (One block in Inver Grove Heights is also covered by the settlement.)
Noise mitigation will occur between late 2008 and 2014. The MAC will contact groups of eligible homeowners by letter over the course of the coming five years. Generally, homeowners in the highest noise contours will be contacted sooner than homeowners in the lower noise contours.
Full settlement (Consent Decree)
Jan. 25, 2007
Last updated Oct 6, 2016