Crime & Justice

Hot air balloonists seek reimbursement for years of legal fees

Hot air balloon in flight.
Hot air balloon in flight.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

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Hot air balloonists will soon float over the Coachella Valley for the first time in more than two years. They were grounded after the owners of an olive ranch sued them for allegedly flying too close to their property. The olive farm dropped its lawsuit earlier this week, but the balloonists are saying not so fast.

JCM Farming has sued more than a dozen hot air balloon operators, of which all but two went out of business or stopped flying in the Coachella Valley.

JCM claims they flew so close to its 80-acre ranch and fortified compound that passengers could gawk at the people below. They also complained about the noise of occasional blasts from balloon gas burners.

Robert Gilliland represents the balloonists and says, “It’s our intention that we will be filing with the court a memorandum of cost to seek reimbursement of costs and fees against the plaintiff for their litigating this case for over two–and-a-half years and then deciding to dismiss it right before we began a court ordered site inspection.”

Those costs and fees have soared into the tens of thousands of dollars. That’s led one balloonist to file for bankruptcy protection.

Gilliland took on the case pro-bono earlier this year. He says his clients have a few options in how to proceed, but have not decided on their next course of action. “My clients will also have option of filing a separate lawsuit against JCM farming for their lost business and all the other damages they have incurred as a result of this frivolous lawsuit," he said.

JCM Farming also went after a pesticide company that flew over its property, a real estate firm that advertised on one of the hot air balloons and some freelance balloon pilots. Lawyer Robert Gilliland says he plans to release the findings of a study his firm commissioned. The study details the economic impact of the three-year litigation on Coachella Valley business and tourism. JCM has declined numerous interview requests.

The balloonists say they’ll resume flying in November.