030818 Pawleys Island: Judge dismisses ‘frivolous‘ suit over Town Hall
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A contractor is preparing to start work on the new Town Hall.

Pawleys Island: Judge dismisses ‘frivolous‘ suit over Town Hall

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A Circuit Court judge last week dismissed a suit claiming that the town of Pawleys Island violated the local, state and federal laws in seeking contractors to build a new Town Hall. It was the second win in court for the town in as many months. The state Supreme Court said in February that it would not hear an appeal of a long-running challenge to the town’s zoning ordinance in a case involving a beach walkway.

Judge Ben Culbertson ruled that a suit brought by a Murrells Inlet man who was denied the chance to bid on the Town Hall project was “a frivolous lawsuit.” He dismissed the claim and ordered Thomas G. Davis to pay the town’s costs and attorney’s fees.

BEC Construction is preparing to start work on the project to build a new Town Hall at the southwest corner of Myrtle Avenue and the North Causeway, across the street from the facility that was flooded during Hurricane Matthew in 2016. BEC was one of 10 area contractors invited to bid on the project and one of four that responded.

Davis contacted the town and asked for construction documents so he could bid. He was told that only the 10 initial firms would be considered.

Woody DuRant, the assistant town attorney, told the court at a hearing last week that Davis’s complaint addressed restraint of trade, monopoly laws and the federal Sherman Antitrust Act. “Nowhere in that complaint does the plaintiff state any facts on the fact of the complaint that says that Pawleys Island did not competitively bid this project,” he said. “I don’t care if you go online and Google monopolies on trade, none of this matters if you can’t show facts that the town didn’t follow its own ordinance.”

DuRant also argued that Davis, who represented himself, lacked standing to bring suit because he is neither a resident nor a taxpayer in the town.

Davis told the court he had amended his complaint “and took out half the stuff that they’re trying to make me sound so nefarious about.”

As to standing, “I would submit that everybody in this room is a taxpayer over there. The largest property owner on the island is the state of South Carolina. They own every road over there,” Davis said.

He told the court his interest in the project was initially welcomed, then rebuffed. “Those are the facts, your honor. I believe I’ve pled those facts,” Davis said.

“Yes, he did not get an invitation to bid,” DuRant said. “That’s not the issue. The issue is whether this was competitively bid or not. There are no facts in the complaint that state that.”

Culbertson reviewed the case file for a few minutes, then granted the town’s motion to dismiss.

“I’m asking for leave to amend,” Davis said. “I have it as a matter of right.”

“You’ve got certain procedures you’ve got to follow, and you’re not following the procedures,” Culbertson said. “You can’t stand in open court and make an oral motion without notice. I’m not going to entertain it.”

In an order filed Wednesday, Culbertson cited Davis’ lack of standing and failure to state facts that the Town Hall project was not bid competitively. Davis also filed a request this week to have Culbertson overturn that decision and said he would appeal.

While the lower court ruling was straightforward, the decision by the state Supreme Court was a Pyrrhic victory for the town.

The town’s 4-foot limit on walkway width was the subject of appeals that ran for nearly a decade. Robert and Pamela Wilkes, property owners with a 6-foot walkway, challenged the enforcement of the limit saying that a town worksheet cited the greater width. Although they applied for a building permit, it hadn’t been issued before the walkway was built in 2008. They sought a variance. It was denied and the appeals finally reached the state Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

But there are at least 32 walkways that exceed the 4-foot limit, Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. Many were rebuilt after Hurricane Matthew. If the limit is enforced at the Wilkes house on Atlantic Avenue, it will have to be enforced island-wide. “It would be unfortunate to have to go to all these property owners and tell them to tear up their walkways,” he said. “It’s become a problem more than a solution, and I don’t know what problem they were trying to solve,” he said.

He wants the Planning Commission to review the limit and make a recommendation to Town Council. He tried to do that last year, but with the appeal pending the council balked.

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