SAN FRANCISO (CN) - A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit accusing the San Francisco Airport Commission of creating unfair rules to run a shuttle company out of business.
A.J. California Mini Bus, doing business as Airport Express, sued the commission and Airport Director John L. Martin in July, claiming the airport's three-zone system creates an unconstitutional, "uneven playing field" that favors one shuttle service over others.
The shuttle company says the rules violate its 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law.
In a Dec. 3 ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler found the shuttle company failed to show the airport's rules lacked a rational basis or legitimate government purpose.
The rules, first enacted in 1993, force Airport Express to share one space at each terminal with five other shuttle companies. At the same time its competitor, SuperShuttle, retains exclusive rights to use two spaces at each terminal. The airport also allows SuperShuttle to offer rides to one in every three walkup customers while Airport Express gets one of every 18 walkup customers.
Airport Express's competitor may also coordinate directly with airport employees and loop around terminals at will, unlike other shuttle services.
The judge accepted Airport Express' argument that although the rules took effect more than 20 years ago, the claims survive a two-year statute of limitations challenge based on a continuing violation theory.
While the airport's own consultants have recognized the system as unfair to Airport Express, the judge said the service failed to show the three-zone system and other rules were not based on a discernable government purpose.
"A legislative act 'does not violate substantive due process as long as it advances any legitimate public purpose, and if it is at least fairly debatable that the decision to adopt it was rationally related to legitimate government interests, the action must be upheld,'" Beeler wrote, quoting from the 1994 Ninth Circuit ruling Kawaoka v. City of Arroyo Grande.
During a motion to dismiss hearing in September, a San Francisco city attorney said the rules were created to control traffic congestion and zone assignments were based on the fleet size of each shuttle service.
"As alleged in the complaint, the zone system has an obvious legitimate government purpose, and Airport Express has not plausibly alleged facts that overcome the presumption of rationality that applies to the system," Beeler wrote in her 22-page ruling.
Beeler dismissed the complaint without prejudice, noting she is not sure if the plaintiff can allege new facts that would cure the complaint. Airport Express has 35 days to file an amended complaint.
Airport Express attorney Jonathan Levine wouldn't say whether the shuttle company plans to file a new complaint.
"We're evaluating the ruling and conferring with our clients," said Levine, of Pritzker Levine in Oakland.
San Francisco City Attorney's office spokesman Matt Dorsey did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday afternoon.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.