A Las Vegas family who had its casino dreams grounded by an expansion at McCarran International Airport inched closer to being compensated this week.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Clark County’s appeal of a $10 million judgment in favor of the Heers family, a decision the family’s lawyer says puts the Heerses closer to being paid for runway-related airspace restrictions that hindered plans in 1988 to expand the former Vacation Village resort on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Heers family attorney Paul Ray said the decision means the parties will return to the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Robert Clive Jones in Las Vegas to discuss payment of damages.
“They can ask for their money now,” Ray said.
Deputy District Attorney Lee Thomson, who represents the airport, had a different interpretation of the Supreme Court’s rebuff.
“They sent it back to the (district) court to basically start all over again,” said Thomson, who wouldn’t elaborate further.
The dispute between Clark County and the Heers family dates back 20 years. Ray says it could have been resolved long ago at less expense to taxpayers had Clark County been willing to negotiate with the family.
Instead, he said the public agencies involved took a hard line that resulted not only in the $10 million judgment but also possible liability for the family’s legal fees.
“The county never, ever along the way was interested in any settlement,” Ray said. “It just seems real wasteful.”
During the course of the battle, not only has the cost to the public increased, the Heers lost their property to foreclosure, Vacation Village shut down and former owners Carol and Evelyn Heers died.
If the county eventually pays damages, proceeds would go to the Heerses’ children, Ray said.
According to court documents and news accounts of the case, the dispute goes back to 1988 when the family conceived a notion to expand the Vacation Village to include three seven-story towers.
The property, about two miles south of Mandalay Bay on Las Vegas Boulevard, had been in the family’s hands since the 1960s when Carol Heers and his brother, Chuck, bought 25 acres with a plan to build a casino.
The expansion plans were grounded in 1990, by a decision to expand the north runway at McCarran. The airfield upgrade was meant to accommodate larger jets that land on a flatter trajectory than small planes, creating a need for airspace restrictions in the vicinity.
The restrictions hindered development on the Vacation Village site, disrupted refinancing plans and creditors foreclosed on the property in 2001. It closed in 2002 during a dispute between the new owner, Shawn Scott, and the Heerses, who utilized a gaming license Scott lacked to manage the casino.
The Heers lawsuit, filed in 1993, asserted the airspace restrictions amounted to a taking of their property, which would require the county to pay compensation.
In 2005, Judge Jones agreed, awarding the family $10.1 million.
Clark County appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which in July upheld Jones’ decision that the restrictions equated to a taking, but made room to recalculate the amount of damages, Ray said.
He said the court could reduce the award or increase it to cover the family’s fees. Had the county settled, Ray said it wouldn’t have risked being on the hook for fees.
Although Ray said the family is eager for the case to conclude, he said on Friday that it appears the county will continue to fight.
“We have received word that McCarran does not want to negotiate with us,” Ray wrote in an e-mail. “It looks like the Heers will be seeking substantially more in damages.”
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.