CHATHAM — In an assertion of the town's “sovereign immunity” to legal nuisance claims, the board of selectmen has voted to appeal a recent Barnstable Superior Court ruling to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, over the issue of skydiving.
Following Judge Robert Rufo's Sept. 13 ruling that skydiving opponents can proceed with their legal effort to block skydiving at the Chatham airport, Town Counsel Patrick Costello indicated that the town might consider filing a petition for interlocutory review to the state appeals court. In a closed-door session Tuesday, the board voted to do so.
The plaintiffs, organized as the Citizens for a Safe Chatham Airport (CSCA), were given the go-ahead to pursue a tort claim against the town, arguing that the airport commission would be allowing a public nuisance by letting skydiving resume. They argue that the noise and the safety risks represent a nuisance to area property owners.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, the board of selectmen said it intends to fight that assertion, setting the stage for a ruling that could set an important precedent for other municipalities in the state.
“The Town strongly believes that express immunity defenses set forth in the [Tort Claims] Act should preclude the need for it to incur the significant cost, inconvenience and diversion of Town employee time and effort in extensive discovery and litigation proceedings in this case,” the statement reads.
“The legal issues raised in this appeal relative to the scope and application of the Act’s immunity defenses are significant not only for the town of Chatham, but also for all other municipalities and governmental entities in Massachusetts which are subject to the Act. The selectmen believe that pursuing this course of action is not only fiscally sensible but also necessary to preserve the authority and autonomy of elected and appointed town officials to operate municipal facilities in the manner they deem to be most appropriate in accordance with town interests and the law.”
The town is under a Federal Aviation Administration directive to enter into a contract for skydiving. Skydive Cape Cod's contract was not renewed in late 2013 after concerns were raised regarding the safety of tandem parachute jumping. The FAA found that the town violated its federal obligations by disallowing skydiving and ordered the town to solicit proposals to bring the activity back to Chatham Airport.