The Howard County Circuit Court ordered that the dispute over the Symphony of Lights be handled via arbitration according to a court order that was issued yesterday, October 20, 2020.
Arbitration is a process where disputes are heard by an independent arbitrator who would then make a decision about the dispute after receiving evidence and hearing arguments from each side.
In June, the Columbia Association (CA) and the Inner Arbor Trust filed suit against the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission (DCACC), owner of Merriweather Post Pavilion, and It's my Amphitheater (IMA), the operator of Merriweather Post Pavilion, seeking an injunction to prevent the 2020 Symphony of Lights event from moving forward due to concerns about safety, the development of downtown Columbia, and environmental impacts.
The Inner Arbor Trust and It's My Amphitheater are parties to an agreement that contains a clause requiring arbitration of any disputes, claims, or controversies. Accordingly, the judge ruled that these parties handle this matter by arbitration. While CA is not subject to this agreement and therefore will not be compelled to participate in arbitration, the judge issued a stay, or temporary pause, against CA's claims against IMA and the DCACC pending the results of arbitration between IMA and the Inner Arbor Trust since arbitration is likely to settle the claim.
CA and the Inner Arbor Trust had argued that they did not have to arbitrate their claims.
CA's legal team has already appealed the decision. When reached for comment, CA's Manager of Media Relations and Communications Dannika Rynes told The Merriweather Post that "this ruling does not expressly or implicitly authorize the defendants to trespass on or use CA property for this year's Symphony of Lights. Doing so would violate CA's property rights, as well as the recorded deeds and easements governing that land. Even before litigation, CA has simply sought respectful use of Symphony Woods. Past Symphony of Lights events have increasingly blocked or impeded CA's ability to fully access the land it owns. The parade of cars has outgrown the space it is now limited to. In the meantime, CA remains open to discussions regarding a more sustainable holiday event that does not infringe upon the organization's property rights."
Earlier this month, the operators of Symphony of Lights put plans in place to move forward with the event later this year with a note on merriweatherlights.com that the 2020-2021 season is coming soon with a link to sign up via e-mail to be notified when tickets become available for purchase.
Stay tuned as this saga appears to be far from over and there will likely be more twists and turns as winter quickly approaches. it is still unknown what impact, if any, the decision will have on this year's event, but the decision can certainly be considered a win for the DCACC and IMA; and a loss for CA and the Inner Arbor Trust.
Update (10/22): Deleted "instead of through the courts" from first sentence since it's possible the case can still go back to the courts after arbitration. Added "these parties" to second sentence of fourth paragraph to make it 100% clear that only IMA and the Inner Arbor Trust are parties to the agreement that requires disputes to be handled via arbitration.