In a recent unpublished opinion, the 11th Circuit has rejected an airman’s claim that the FAA’s revocation of his airline transport pilot certificate was time barred by 28 U.S.C. 2462. The case, Coghlan v. NTSB, arose when the FAA revoked the airman’s ATP certificate based upon its belief that the airman had intentionally falsified an application seeking the addition of two type ratings to his ATP certificate. One of the arguments raised by the airman in opposition to the revocation was that the five-year statute of limitations contained in Section 2462 barred the revocation of his certificate. (This defense is different from the NTSB’s 6 month stale complaint rule which would not have applied in this case because revocation based upon an intentional falsification charge alleges lack of qualification). However, both the administrative law judge and the NTSB rejected the airman’s defense, as well as his other arguments, and affirmed the revocation. The airman then appealed to the 11th Circuit solely on the issue of whether the NTSB properly rejected his statute of limitations defense under Section 2462.
On appeal, the 11th Circuit rejected the airman’s argument holding that Section 2462 did not apply to revocation proceedings. The Court noted that Section 2462 applies to “enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture” and thus, since a revocation is a “remedial” action, as opposed to a “penalty”, Section 2462 did not apply. In response to the airman’s argument that the revocation was, at least partially, a penalty, the Court reiterated the findings and rationale of the ALJ and NTSB “that the FAA revoked Coghlan’s ATP certificate not to punish him for his falsifications, but because his falsifications called into question his fitness to hold an ATP certificate and implicated matters of public air safety.”
Based upon the cases cited by the 11th Circuit, the airman’s defense was not new or novel. That also explains the fact that the unpublished status of the opinion. Finally, this case highlights the fact that a statute of limitations defense, whether under the stale compaint rule or otherwise, is typically not available against an intentional falsification charge.