The Pennsylvania Superior Court has issued a preliminary injunction that could restore Fraport Pittsburgh’s rights to be the master concessionaire tenant at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), operated by the Alleghany Airport Authority.
The Superior Court order reverses an earlier lower court decision that supported the Alleghany Airport Authority’s decision to terminate Fraport’s contract at the airport. In its ruling the Superior Court noted authority’s grounds for termination were “dubious,” that its “conduct was tantamount to harassment.”
The Airport Authority has indicated it will appeal the ruling. If the authority does appeal, it could trigger a stay of Tuesday’s ruling.
Michael Mullaney, CEO of Fraport USA, Fraport Pittsburgh’s parent company, said the company is “delighted that the Superior Court has recognized the nature of Fraport Pittsburgh’s interest in the airport and further determined that the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s eviction by force and without a court process was improper.”
“We look forward to further vindicating our rights as the case progresses, while expeditiously returning to our world-class management of the Pittsburgh Airport concession program and continuing to serve the Pittsburgh community in conjunction with our subtenant partners, as we have done for the past 30 plus years,” Mullaney added.
Fraport employees at PIT were evicted last June after the airport claimed the developer had defaulted on its lease, in part due to security breaches. Fraport, which has served as developer of the concessions program at PIT since 1992 and was operating under a lease signed in 2012 filed a lawsuit claiming the airport authority claiming the contract was terminated illegally.
The Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas concluded that the master lease that governed the relationship between the parties was more of a service contract than an actual lease. But the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed that ruling. It concluded that after Fraport declined a $5 million offer from the airport authority to terminate the lease, which was set to end in 2029, the airport authority interfered with Fraport’s property rights and effectively forced the result it wanted. The Superior Court also rules that the authority “employed self-help by using Allegheny County Police, who are at the airport to protect the public safety, to advance instead its commercial interests to forcibly remove Fraport personnel from the property.”
The court decided that the agreement between the authority and Fraport Pittsburgh was in fact a lease, adding “There is nothing in the Master Lease to even give a whiff that the ACAA and Fraport intended to do anything other than enter a lease.”