U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl Wednesday dismissed racketeering and negligence charges against the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, but maintained the fraud and misrepresentation claims.
TIGHAR, the group given exclusive rights to search the waters off Nikumaroro reef, in the Western Pacific, has been sued by one of its major donors, Wyoming man Timothy Mellon, who claims the group found the missing aircraft in 2010 and has kept it a secret in order to extort more money out of its donors.
Mellon, son of philanthropist Paul Mellon, donated $1 million to a 2012 expedition -- one that TIGHAR says may have finally located evidence of Earhart's Lockheed Model 10 Electra at the base of an underwater cliff.
But Mellon claimed images from an earlier expedition, one in 2010, show not only the missing wreckage, but the dismembered remains of Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, along with Earhart's banjo and guitar, flyswatter and rolls of toilet paper.
TIGHAR said it investigated Mellon's claims and its forensic experts said they were without merit.
"When you've got this kind of money, you can put together these kinds of lawsuits," said TIGHAR executive director Ric Gillespie in June, after the lawsuit was filed. "But our group has been totally open with any discovery."
"Despite the lawsuit, TIGHAR will always be grateful to Mr. Mellon for his contribution to the 2012 expedition and respects his right to interpret the imagery any way he choses," the group said. "TIGHAR also maintains that the allegations in the lawsuit are entirely without merit and TIGHAR will defend itself fully."
One prevailing theory of the disappearance posits that Earhart and Noonan were believed to have made a forced landing on Nikumaroro on July 2, 1937, and ultimately died there.