WFC Management Corp. v. New Hanover County Airport Authority (Lawyers Weekly No. 002-005-17, 15 pp.) (Terrence Boyle, J.) 7:16-cv-00086; E.D.N.C.
Holding: Plaintiffs’ purchase of the assets of another company does not give plaintiffs standing to sue for defendants’ allegedly discriminatory acts against the other company.
Defendant’s motion to dismiss is granted.
Plaintiffs have made no showing that they are the assignees of any claim belonging to ISO Aero Service, Inc. (ISO) – which continues to operate – or its owner, Ken Vojta. Plaintiffs simply assert that, as purchasers of ISO’s assets and as a management company engaged in the business of running ISO’s operations, they have assumed the claims of the company whose assets they purchased. This is not sufficient for showing that they possess assigned or representational standing to bring suit based on conduct occurring to ISO.
Third parties can only assert the rights of others in the narrow circumstance when the third party itself has a sufficiently concrete interest in the outcome of the issue in dispute, when the litigant has a close relation to the third party, and when there exists some hindrance to the third party’s ability to protect his or her own interests.
The court cannot conclude that this was anything more than a business relationship completed at arms’ length, and the court cannot find any authority that separate entities engaging in business together are so inextricably bound as to allow one entity to assert the rights of the other in court, let alone pursue claims for alleged injuries that occurred before the business relationship first began. Additionally, the court sees no particular reason why ISO itself cannot bring suit for the alleged wrongs which occurred before the 2013 asset purchase.
Statute of Limitations
Plaintiffs’ April 26, 2016, complaint alleges conduct dating back to before 1990. Plaintiffs argue that the continuing wrong doctrine tolls the statute of limitations.
However, the wrongs of which plaintiffs complain were the subject of an informal complaint of discrimination before the Federal Aviation Administration in 2011. In February 2012, the FAA found no violation.
As a result, plaintiffs knew or had reason to know of the possibility of litigating these claims by February 2012, so the limitations period for these claims would have expired by February 2015. Consequently, even if plaintiffs could assert claims for alleged injuries to ISO, any such allegations based on conduct occurring before April 2013 would be time-barred.
The basis for plaintiffs’ equal protection claim is their allegation that defendants favored another fixed base operator (FBO) – Air Wilmington – over plaintiffs and over ISO before them. However, the complaint reveals that defendant replaced plaintiffs with yet another FBO after plaintiffs were evicted. This simple fact belies the very motivation claimed by plaintiffs to explain defendants’ allegedly discriminatory actions, and the fact that defendant gave plaintiffs several opportunities to remain at the airport additionally negates the inference that defendant was acting discriminatorily against plaintiffs in favor of Air Wilmington simply because they were a competitor of Air Wilmington.