Appeals court tosses judgment in airport case

A federal appeals court tossed out a jury verdict in favor of Corey Airport Services in the company's longrunning dispute with the Atlanta airport and one of its contractors.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday that Corey’s “conspiracy claims” involving an advertising contract it failed to win were too vague.

Corey, which lost the contract in 2002, claimed the city of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International broke the law by steering the contract to a competitor with political connections, Clear Channel Outdoor Inc. One of its principals, Barbara Fouch, was a longtime friend of the late former Mayor Maynard Jackson.

After a federal jury agreed and awarded $17.5 million in damages to Corey, the city last year settled its share with Corey for $3.9 million and admitted no wrongdoing. The appeals court ruling effectively vacates the portion of the damages that were to be paid by Clear Channel and Fouch.

Because of the prior settlement, the city and the airport were not parties to the appeals court case and are not affected by the latest ruling.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said last year the city’s liability including legal costs could have risen significantly if it had continued its appeal and lost.

In settling, “we made the best decision that we could with the facts that were in front of us,” Reed spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs said. “We believe in doing so, at the price we did, we managed to save on the cost of the appellate process.”

She said the ruling supports the city’s argument about the fairness of its contracting process.

Attorneys for Corey argued the company was deprived of equal protection rights as a member of a group that was not politically connected. But the appeals court ruling said the categories of “insiders” and “outsiders” were “too loose.”

“No objective criteria plainly fix whether a person or entity is an ‘insider’ or an ‘outsider,” the ruling said.

Clear Channel -- which still holds the ad contract under a month-to-month contract -- said the ruling allows it to “turn the page on these legal proceedings.”