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UNITED STATES v. PROFESSIONAL AIR TRAFFIC

December 19, 1980

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PROFESSIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ORGANIZATION (PATCO) ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Defendants Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization and its O'Hare Local 316 (though they are separate entities, for convenience this opinion will refer to them collectively by use of the singular term "PATCO"), Richard Scholz ("Scholz") and Thomas Brockett ("Brockett") have filed a Second Amended Counterclaim ("Counterclaim") for declaratory, injunctive and mandamus relief against plaintiff United States of America. On the motion of the United States, the Counterclaim is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.*fn1

"Case or Controversy" and Standing

Article III of the Constitution limits the power of federal courts to decision of "cases or controversies." That concept overlaps, though it does not coincide with, the doctrine of standing developed by the case law.*fn2 Defendants' counterclaim is wanting under either concept.

Essentially defendants assert in Counterclaim ¶ 7 that the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") has promulgated "written procedures governing the safety and control of air traffic throughout the United States. . . . [that] have been adopted and collected in an Air Traffic Control Handbook, FAA Order 7110.65 B (1980) (Handbook)." Those procedures relate "primarily to the separation of aircraft in and above all airport facilities in the United States." But, defendants complain in Counterclaim ¶ 9:

  For a number of years, air traffic controllers at
  O'Hare terminal have been encouraged, ordered
  and/or forced by their FAA supervisors to
  disregard mandatory separation Handbook
  provisions. O'Hare terminal FAA supervisors
  routinely condone, instruct and/or affirmatively
  sanction numerous violations of the Handbook.
  As their claimed means of entry into this Court, defendants assert in Counterclaim ¶¶ 12, 14 and 16 the following consequences of what they term "FAA's disregard of its Handbook":
    (1) possible reprimand, suspension or removal
  of air controllers for failing to "observe the
  various laws, rules, regulations, and other
  authoritative instructions brought to his
  attention by competent FAA authority" (quoting
  from the Conduct and Discipline Section of a 1969
  FAA Order);
    (2) possible "severe financial sanctions
  resulting from civil negligence in wrongful death
  actions brought by crash victims" against air
  traffic controllers "who work below the minimum
  Handbook standards";
    (3) "discipline and harassment potentials"
  faced by controllers who are also "faced with
  orders and encouragement to violate the
  separation requirements";
    (4) "reprimands, suspensions, removals and
  criminal penalties [that] await controllers who
  engage in an improper slowdown or strike";*fn3
    (5) "severe physical, emotional and
  psychological stress of air controllers"
  resulting from "uncertainty in terms of job
  security and personal financial well-being
  created by such dilemmas"; and
    (6) PATCO's potential "decertification as the
  exclusive bargaining representatives of air
  traffic controllers in negotiations with the FAA
  if they condone an illegal slowdown" in the form
  of "compliance with the Handbook separation
  requirements."*fn4

There is no question that defendants and the United States have some difference in their views of the responsibilities of air traffic controllers — a "controversy" in the colloquial sense of the word. And were the disagreement on the opposite side of the coin — were FAA requiring the controllers to comply with Handbook procedures on threat of discipline, while the controllers were challenging such ...


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