Judge dismisses suits over beach easements
A ruling in Circuit Court could end the first effort by the town of Pawleys Island to condemn easements on three beachfront lots for future renourishment projects. That effort resulted in two sets of lawsuits and a finding for the property owners that led them to seek over $100,000 in fees and costs from the town.
Town Council voted in May 2020 to condemn the easements it says are required by the Army Corps of Engineers to allow the agency to maintain and renourish 1.4 miles of beach on the island’s south end. The area was included in a $14.8 million project last year that was funded by the town and with a state grant.
To be eligible for federal funding, which officials say would be worth tens of millions of dollars, the town needs easements from the owners of 113 lots. It has 110.
The town sought to condemn easements from Frank Beattie, Barry Stanton and Sunset Lodge LLC. The property owners filed suit, saying the easements were unnecessary and amounted to a taking without compensation. They also said the town’s process was flawed. A Circuit Court judge agreed and, in January, quashed the condemnation.
But the town had tried to correct the process with a new notice of condemnation last fall. That was also challenged by the property owners. The town later abandoned the notice and sought to have the challenges dismissed. The property owners, who are represented by Stanton, argued that they wanted their day in court.
Judge Ben Culbertson last month sided with the town, saying the cases should be dismissed and any further claims against the town can be made if the town starts another condemnation proceeding.
He rebuffed the effort by the property owners to conduct further discovery in the case in order to amend its complaint. The rules of procedure don’t allow “for open-ended discovery in the absence of even a single pending claim,” Culbertson said in his order. “Allowing the action to move forward in that manner would be unfairly prejudicial to the Town, which would be subjected to the time and expense of participating in discovery without even knowing which claims might be at issue.”
During a hearing this month, Culbertson repeatedly asked Stanton about what relief he was seeking. Stanton said he wanted the court to bar the town from condemning the easements on the three lots.
Instead, Culbertson ruled that the issue was moot because the town had withdrawn the condemnation notices.
This week, Stanton filed a motion for reconsideration, calling the dismissal “erroneous and extraordinary.”
The ruling will only lead to further lawsuits, he said.
Will Dillard, who represents the town, told the court at this month’s hearing that failing to dismiss the suits would restrict the town from starting a new condemnation action.
In asking the court to reconsider, Stanton said that’s what he wants to avoid.
The owners “cannot just keep spending money on filing fees and discovery again in a third or fourth action,” he said.
If Culbertson decides not to amend his ruling, Stanton asked that the judge agree to consolidate the three suits. “To do so would alleviate some protracted expense on appeal,” he said.
Stanton also filed an amended request for fees in the first set of cases. They total $114,606.02. He represents himself at no cost.