City, Airport Tenant Settle Lease Dispute

OCEAN CITY – A federal lawsuit claiming free speech violations over less than flattering remarks about the management of the Ocean City Municipal Airport, which led to the withholding of a hangar lease at the facility, was formally closed this week when both parties agreed to a settlement.

On Jan. 29, Berlin resident and airport regular John “Jay” Masino, Jr. filed suit in U.S. District Court claiming the town of Ocean City had violated his First Amendment rights, specifically his right to free speech, along with the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Masino claimed in the suit because he created a website lampooning the management of the airport and later created a small batch of T-shirts for airport regulars emblazoned with “Ocean City Bastards” and “OXBastards,” the town withheld the renewal of his lease for hangar D-5.

Masino claimed a series of seemingly tongue-in-cheek barbs directed at the management of the airport caused the town to not renew his lease at the West Ocean City facility. For the last six years, Masino has been the tenant of hangar D-5 at the airport, but when he created an Internet site devoted to the happenings at the facility that included disparaging remarks about airport manager George Goodrow and his alleged treatment of airport regulars, he claimed the town singled him out by not renewing his lease while other tenants had their leases renewed.

Masino, through his attorney Robin Cockey, challenged the town’s action with the filing of a civil suit in federal court, but the case never got any real traction. In a formal answer to the complaint, town officials asserted the suit was unfounded because Masino’s existing lease had never been officially cancelled, although it wasn’t included among the renewed leases sent to other airport hangar tenants.

In either case, the two parties settled when the town agreed to renew Masino’s hangar lease and to absorb the legal fees associated with filing the suit. An order handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Beth P. Gesner on Monday formalized the settlement.

“This court has been advised by the parties that the above action has been settled, including all counterclaims, cross-claims and third party claims if any,” the order reads.

Masino said this week he was happy the issue had been resolved without a lengthy court case and was ready to put the disagreement behind him and return to some degree of normalcy at the airport.

“We finally settled,” he said. “They had actually sent me my lease right away, but we were negotiating for legal fees. It wasn’t a large amount of money, so they went ahead and agreed to pay them. Teresa and I are glad the situation has been resolved.”