SAN BERNARDINO A judge is allowing a lawsuit — brought by tenants at Chino Airport seeking to force Planes of Fame to either improve access to businesses during its annual air show or stop the shows entirely — to continue making its way through the legal system.
The Wednesday ruling by San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge David S. Cohn set the next hearing for May 31.
The lawsuit alleges that the Planes of Fame Airshow physically obstructs businesses at the airport from operating by erecting fences and other barriers that blocks would-be customers and creating traffic jams that keep customers away. It further alleges that the show hurts their businesses by shutting down the air space, which grounds flight schools and other businesses not affiliated with the show.
The attorneys for Planes of Fame, Riverside-based Reid Hellyer, had filed what’s known as an anti-SLAPP motion. Such motions are filed in response to what defendants consider frivolous lawsuits that chill free speech.
“Planes of Fame moves for a special motion to strike … on the ground that the complaint seeks to enjoin Planes of Fame’s constitutionally protected free speech right to put on an aerial parade that celebrates our nation’s military and aviation history,” the motion reads. “Second, plaintiffs’ pleadings clearly indicate a desire to stop the air show and related speech activities rather than a few alleged effects.”
Michael G. Kerbs, an attorney at Reid Hellyer, said in an interview Friday that the businesses responded to the motion by saying that the air show was a commercial enterprise not protected by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
Kerbs said the judge ruled that the air show was protected free speech much like a parade would be, but that Cohn also ruled that some of the plaintiffs’ claims “were viable” and therefore the lawsuit should continue.
Christen Wright, director of Yanks Air Museum, said in a news release that the plaintiffs welcomed the decision.
“We are quite heartened that the judge saw the merits of our case,” Wright wrote. “Our goal is to find a fair resolution prior to the 2018 air show. We are all supportive of our military’s service and sacrifice for our country and want the air show to continue in a way that does not harm our businesses.”
Kerbs said he was not aware of any negotiations between the sides through the attorneys.
“Unfortunately, Planes of Fame has refused to address the issues in a fair manner, which is why the tenants had to file the lawsuit,” Michael Thayer, president of plaintiff Flying Tigers, said in the news release.