Olive Farm Drops Overflight Suit Against California Balloonists
September 8, 2011 – JCM Farming Inc., a reclusive olive farming enterprise and executive retreat in California’s Coachella Valley, has dropped its lawsuits against Palm Springs area balloonists who flew over its property. The farm had sued 15 balloonists/balloon companies that operate in the area, alleging they created a nuisance and safety hazard by flying too low over the company’s 80-acre olive farm. However, the damage may have been done as many balloon operators have stopped flying, gone out of business, or settled with JCM, signing “no-fly” agreements regarding the property.
According to the Desert Sun website, a dozen entities sued by JCM have either gone out of business, had default judgments entered against them, or agreed to the company’s demands to stop flying in the area. One company, Magical Adventure, and Palm Desert balloonists Cynthia and Steven Wilkinson and their Fantasy Balloon Flights avoided large legal bills by defending themselves.
“It was a staggering amount of paperwork; they're trying to bury you in paperwork,” Steve Wilkinson told the Desert Sun.
In February Attorney Robert Gilliland Jr. of Palm Desert agreed to assist the balloonists pro-bono, telling the paper he was “affronted” by the lawsuits when he read about them in the newspaper. He said he would “put the muscle” of his law firm, Guralnick and Gilliland LLP, of Palm Desert, behind the balloonists for free. At least one balloon operator had amassed $177,000 in legal fees before Gilliland joined the effort.
“They are trying to bully these balloon companies simply because they don't have the means to defend themselves,” Gilliland told the Desert Sun. “They seem to think if they have money they can just grind somebody into the ground in a lawsuit, drain them emotionally, take up all of their time, and get their way.”
The JCM property has been described in court documents as “a fortress-like structure complete with 24-foot-high, 4-foot-thick security walls with what appear to be guard turrets and an encrypted security gate that warns that trespassers will be met with ‘armed response, guard dogs and no exit.’”
The FAA investigated JCM’s claims of low overflights in 2009 but found no supporting evidence. That didn’t stop JCM, which just added the FAA to its suit.
In an earlier lawsuit, JCM said the ranch “is intended to provide a secure meeting place and retreat for VIPs, dignitary (sic), and other notable individuals and/or the companies they represent,” as well as unspecified “research and development of a highly confidential nature.”
While calling balloons a nuisance, the company has also applied for a permit to build a helipad.