Key Biscayne

Rapture’s suit against Ultra is back in court after judge accepts revised complaint

Ultra Music Festival 2018 - Day 1

The 2018 Ultra Music Festival marked the 20th iteration of the event in Miami since it was born from a small side party at the Winter Music Conference in 1999.
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The 2018 Ultra Music Festival marked the 20th iteration of the event in Miami since it was born from a small side party at the Winter Music Conference in 1999.

The legal battle over which electronic music festival gets to play Virginia Key will resume after Rapture Electronic Music Festival submitted an amended lawsuit against Ultra Music Festival outlining specific allegations that Ultra and Miami’s government broke anti-trust laws.

After throwing out Rapture’s initial lawsuit and granting one chance to amend the document, U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro accepted the revised suit Tuesday and set a court date on March 22 for attorneys to discuss how the lawsuit will proceed in federal court.

Rapture is asking the court for an injunction to stop Ultra from staging its event, scheduled for March 29-31 at two venues on the island: Virginia Key Beach Park and the lot outside Miami Marine Stadium. The city of Miami and one of its semi-autonomous agencies, the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, are also named as defendants.

The March 22 hearing, scheduled just seven days before the first day of Ultra, is a planning and scheduling meeting. By March 8, attorneys from all sides are expected to confer and write a detailed report with an anticipated timeline and schedule for a trial.

The judge has not granted the injunction, meaning Ultra and the city can continue planning and permitting the festival. Representatives from Ultra declined to comment for this story.

“The city of Miami will continue to ensure Ultra meets all requirements set forth by the license agreement including compliance with all respective permits needed,” said city spokeswoman Stephanie Severino.

Thursday’s filing shows Rapture attorneys have included more details to support allegations that Ultra conspired with the city of Miami to violate anti-trust laws when the city approved Ultra’s move to Virginia Key in November. Rapture’s organizers contend that:

City officials and Ultra representatives held an “unofficial meeting” at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel to discuss moving Ultra to Virginia Key in October 2018, about a month after city commissioners unanimously voted to reject a contract for the popular, longstanding electronic dance music festival to remain at Bayfront Park. Rapture was not invited to this meeting.

Rapture, which has been held on Virginia Key for two years, submitted an application to the city to hold its 2019 event a year in advance, in March 2018. Rapture organizers paid a $50 application fee on March 11, 2018, and paid a $3,000 deposit on Oct. 31, 2018 — about two weeks before commissioners approved a licensing agreement to allow Ultra to stage its event on the key in a 4-1 vote. Copies of the deposit check and the receipt were attached to the amended lawsuit.

Ultra’s licensing agreement with the city allows the festival to have a monopoly on DJs, performers and vendors during that weekend.

The city ignored Rapture’s application while negotiating the licensing agreement with Ultra.

“Due to improper actions and conspiracy of the Defendants,” the lawsuit reads, “Rapture’s application for its festival was ignored, skipped and otherwise disregarded.”

Rapture’s attorney, Paul K. Silverberg, said in a statement that a win for Ultra would limit music fans’ “choices and experiences.”

“We will stand up for our festival and our fans, vendors, DJs and so many others that make Rapture so special,” Silverberg wrote. “This is definitely the fight of the growing festival versus the machine and those only caring about money.”

Rapture’s organizers are not Ultra’s only critics. Environmental activists have raised concerns about the impact the festival will have on wildlife in Virginia Key’s sensitive environment and on research animals at an adjacent facility run by the University of Miami.

Ultra is in the process of applying for permits with county environmental regulators. Organizers have submitted traffic management and environmental mitigation plans to the city, as required by the licensing agreement.

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, ranging from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He attended the University of Florida.