Stallworth's Airport Suit May Not Have Standing, Harkins Says 'A Reach' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Stallworth's Airport Suit May Not Have Standing, Harkins Says 'A Reach'

Former JMAA Commissioner Jeffery Stallworth filed the first lawsuit over the State's airport "takeover" law. He is pictured here in 2013. Chokwe Lumumba, who appointed him to the commission is also pictured, second to his left. File Photo

Former JMAA Commissioner Jeffery Stallworth filed the first lawsuit over the State's airport "takeover" law. He is pictured here in 2013. Chokwe Lumumba, who appointed him to the commission is also pictured, second to his left. File Photo

— Former Jackson Municipal Airport Authority Commissioner Jeffery Stallworth's lawsuit challenging the impending "takeover" may not have legal standing or support from the other interested parties involved, including the current JMAA board.

"He's a former commissioner?" Mississippi College of Law professor Matt Steffey said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I'm not sure how he has standing. What gives him the right to bring the lawsuit?"

"I would expect this case to be dismissed long before it reaches any claims on its merits," Steffey said after reviewing the text of the suit.

Stallworth, in his suit filed with the Southern District of the U.S. Federal District Court on April 6, outlines his complaints against the defendants: Gov. Dewey Phillip "Phil" Bryant, the State of Mississippi, the Mississippi Legislature, East Metro Parkway and the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

"Usually just being a citizen, adversely affected or you claim that you are adversely affected, that affects you like anybody else, is not enough to give you standing, which is the term for the legal right to bring a suit," Steffey said. "You have to show alleged injury that can be remedied by a court decision. And I am not sure how a former commissioner could be more injured than you and I are."

Stallworth's lawsuit alleges three separate violations of his constitutional rights. He states that the defendants "violated (his) Fifth Amendment rights by taking his property interest without just compensation," referring to the airport "which sets on land paid for by the City of Jackson and owned by it."

He asserts that the governor, Legislature and State as a whole violated his 14th Amendment right to due process when they "gave no hearing to the Plaintiff or the citizens of Jackson prior to taking the property."

Unfriendly Skies: Can Jackson Save Its Airport?

Republican lawmakers from outside the capital city announced in January a plan to take control of the Jackson airport.

The third constitutional assertion Stallworth makes is that his 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law was violated when "Plaintiff and other residents of the City of Jackson, is treated less favorably than these similarly situated residents of Madison, Rankin, and other counties and even less favorably than white residents of Jackson, Mississippi, as it relates to obtaining resources or favorable development or treatment."

The text of the lawsuit states that "as a direct and proximate cause of the acts of the Defendants, (Stallworth) has suffered damages of emotional distress, will be irreparably harmed, and will suffer a loss of his city's tax base caused by this takeover."

Steffey said a current commissioner would have the legal standing to file, in his opinion.

Stallworth was placed on the JMAA board in November 2013 and replaced during a September meeting the next year. The minutes for the last meeting at which he was present as a commissioner, Sept. 9, 2014, begin with Stallworth listed as a commissioner on the board. The JMAA board then went into executive session to discuss "personnel matters relating to job performance and professional competence of various incumbent employees but had taken no action."

At the end of the minutes, Stallworth's name was replaced on the list of commissioners with Dr. Rosie L.T. Pridgen, the current chairman of the board.

Jacqueline Berry from Par'Excelon Marketing Group, a firm the board recently hired, responded to calls and emails to the current JMAA Board. "In response to your email, please if possible direct to Rev. Stallworth," she wrote.

The JMAA also hired lawyer Fred Banks Jr. from Phelps Dunbar in December for "certain legal matters regarding which Justice Banks has expertise." Banks declined to comment on the Stallworth suit.

Steffey, an expert on criminal law, evidence and constitutional law, listed several ways that legal battles over airport could transpire. "It just depends on exactly what you got," Steffey said. "My guess is that there will be a number of parties that sue to enjoin the bill. They may all seek to join a particular lawsuit."

What's Behind the Airport 'Takeover'?

Sen. Josh Harkins owns and lists land near the Jackson Airport. He says it's not a conflict of interest, though.

"I would expect that when we sit here, and the dust settles, there will be one main proceeding. And either everything is going to get consolidated for that, or that main proceeding will go forward, and the others will be put on hold."

Sen. Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, author of the airport 'takeover' bill, did not have much to say about the lawsuit over the phone April 26.

"I don't think a whole lot about it," Harkins said. "I think it's a reach."

"I don't see how he has emotional distress," Harkins said. "Or how the city will suffer a loss of revenue. It's evident in the bill ... anyone that can read the bill can see how they don't lose revenue."

Repeated calls and messages to Stallworth's church, Word and Worship Church in Jackson, were not returned by press time. The Mississippi Attorney General's office said today that they will respond to the lawsuit through its court filings, which were not filed by press time.

Read more about the airport "takeover" bill at jfp.ms/airport. Email city reporter Tim Summers Jr. at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @tims_alive for breaking city news.

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