Owner of Michael Jackson’s former Central Coast ranch sues helicopter company over photos

Tom Bolton/Noozhawk.com

The billionaire owner of a Santa Ynez Valley ranch once owned by pop star Michael Jackson has sued a Camarillo helicopter company for invasion of privacy and more stemming from “paparazzi” pictures published of the property.

The lawsuit filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court names Remember LLC and Ronald W. Burkle as plaintiffs, and Orbic Helicopters Inc., Orbit Helicopters Sales and Service at Camarillo LLC as defendants, along with 10 unnamed individuals.

The complaint, filed April 19 by attorney Christopher Dacus from Glaser, Weil, Fink Howard Jordan and Shapiro LLP in Los Angeles, centers on pictures allegedly captured by a photographer in a helicopter flying over Sycamore Ranch at 5225 Figueroa Road near Los Olivos.

Jackson, who died in 2009, had not lived at the site — formerly known as Neverland Ranch — since 2005, and the property sold in 2009.

Burkle bought the nearly 3,000-acre property “in approximately 2020,” renovating Sycamore Valley as a secluded getaway for entertaining family and friends, according to the lawsuit.

“Morbid curiosity about the changes to Sycamore Valley Ranch and Mr. Burkle’s private activities there, however, have led to dangerous, intrusive, and noisy flyovers by helicopters, including one or more helicopters owned and operated by defendants…” the civil complaint says.

A civil complaint represents one side of a case, and the defendants are expected to file a response in the coming weeks. Orbic was served the lawsuit on April 20, according to documents filed with the court.

Orbic did not respond Monday to a request for comment about the lawsuit.

Ranch improvements include restoring children’s amusement features such as a small railroad, according to the lawsuit.

“At least one flight by Orbic Helicopters descended below federally mandated flight level minimums, and was so close to the property that Mr. Burkle’s son was easily able to write down its tail number,” the civil complaint said.

“This type of unsafe flight behavior violates Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) requirements, is a nuisance to Mr. Burkle and his family, violates their right to privacy, and constitutes a trespass under California law.

“Mr. Burkle and his family are entitled to the safe and private enjoyment of the property without being buzzed by circling helicopters motivated by the desire to take and sell photographs to tabloid newspapers.”

The unnamed defendants “include any ‘paparazzi’ photographers who may have chartered flights and then directed the unsafe flight activity over the property, according to the lawsuit.

Burkle’s son was at the ranch “when a helicopter descended to a low altitude and began ‘buzzing’ certain structures,” on or around March 17, 2023.

Using the FAA’s registration website, the complaint contends the tail number pinpoints Orbic’s helicopter tour operation in Camarillo.

Photos of structures at the time of the flight were subsequently published in several newspapers, including The Sun newspapers in the United States and United Kingdom.

The complaint includes a link to the online version of a March 29 Sun article titled “Ranch Revival: Inside transformation of Michael Jackson’s crumbling Neverland Ranch with eerie new pics of resurrected rides.”

Images accompanying the article were credited to Splash News, a global content agency.

Burkle “is a self-made billionaire investor and philanthropist who began his career stocking grocery store shelves in Pomona, California, and left college before graduating to pursue work at an early age,” according to the document.

He has given back through various philanthropic endeavors, the lawsuit noted.

“One of the reasons Mr. Burkle purchased the property via Remember, LLC, is the highly private nature of its physical location, which is not visible to the public,” the lawsuit says, adding the low-flying helicopter violated an expectation of privacy.

“A reasonable person would be offended by both the noisy and frightening nature of defendants’ helicopter intrusion into the property while their children are in possession of or using the property.”

The lawsuit names four causes of action including nuisance, invasion of privacy, constructive trespass and injunctive relief.

The Burkles want a judge to order the defendant to comply with minimum flight height requirements and other restrictions.

They also want the court to ban the “defendants from photographing the property while it is being used for private purposes and requiring them to seek permission for any such photographic overflight to confirm that no member of Mr. Burkle’s family or his friends are using the property during such a flight.”

Additionally, the lawsuit seeks more than $25,000 in general, actual, incidental, compensatory and/or consequential damages along with costs and attorneys fees.

The complaint appears to have an error with the signature of the plaintiff’s attorney above the words “Plaintiffs. Orbic Helicopters Inc.and Orbic Helicopters Sales and Service at Camarillo LLC.” The actual plaintiffs are Remember LLC and Burkle.

A case management conference is scheduled for Aug. 23 before Santa Maria Judge Jed Beebe.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com .