Skip to content

Motorcycle rally suit costs mount for Myrtle Beach

September 29, 2009

Ordinances cost city $145,000 in defense fees

So far, Myrtle Beach has spent $145,000 defending itself in five lawsuits filed because of ordinances passed last year to curb the effects of motorcycle rallies on the city, and in each case so far, judges have ruled in the city’s favor. 

Several suits have either been withdrawn or fallen inactive.

The local helmet requirement, one of the city’s new ordinances, is a major component in all the suits, and right now, the city and plaintiffs are waiting to hear if the state Supreme Court will take up a pair of cases revolving around that law.

Attorney Thad Viers, representing his brother, Bart Viers, is suing the city to stop it from enforcing the helmet law and asked the state’s high court to hear his arguments.

Virginia-based attorney Tom McGrath, representing about 50 people who received helmet citations the first day the helmet law took effect, will be allowed to argue with Viers if the court decides to hear oral arguments. It can also rule solely on the detailed briefs both parties are supposed to file. Viers has filed his, and the city has until Oct. 23 to do the same, although city spokesman Mark Kruea said the city likely will not wait that long.

The city doesn’t typically comment on the specifics of pending litigation. Viers and the others who take issue with the city’s helmet law contend Myrtle Beach overstepped its bounds by passing a law more restrictive than the state’s. South Carolina statute says people younger than 21 must wear helmets but is silent on those 21 and older. The city’s ordinance requires all riders to wear helmets.

Viers said he found a 1993 Supreme Court ruling that gives people 21 and older the right to decide for themselves.

The city has argued it can make not wearing a helmet a civil infraction – not a crime – and rests its case on other cities’ smoking bans, which have been upheld by the high court even though the state does not ban smoking.

Viers, like many of the others who have filed suits, say some of the city’s laws targeting the rallies are ambiguously written, unconstitutional, at odds with other laws and out of the city’s jurisdiction.

So far, the city has spent $18,952.95 on the Viers case and $7,918.59 on the McGrath case.

Here is where the other suits stand:

Harley-Davidson of Myrtle Beach and Mike Shank, owner of Festival Promotions, dropped their U.S. District Court suit against the city this spring, after filing last October. Shank, his attorneys and the city attended a hearing before a federal judge in Florence to argue the city’s actions would harm their businesses and chill their right to free speech by criminalizing promotion of events, and to challenge the helmet law, among other contentions. The judge declined to issue an injunction to stop the city from enforcing its new laws; the suit could have proceeded from there, but the plaintiffs decided not to go on. The city spent $63,462.33.

Don Emery, The Master’s Club and Sonny Copeland also filed suit last October in federal court, on the same day as Shank’s hearing. But after filing and missing some further filing deadlines, the suit has become inactive. Emery, who is a candidate for Myrtle Beach City Council, said the suit is not a priority right now. “The damage has been done – now I’m trying to find a way to fix it,” he said. Kruea said the city has filed motions to produce action in the case and to have it dismissed. The city has spent $13,910.21.

William and Carol O’Day, local hotel owners, filed suit in the Horry County 15th Circuit Court to stop the city from enforcing the helmet law and portions of the city’s noise ordinance, saying the laws are unconstitutional, overstep the city’s bounds and conflict with other laws. An Horry County judge declined to issue an immediate injunction in that case, too, and there has been little action on it since. The O’Days’ attorney, McGrath, is working on the helmet case that could be heard by the Supreme Court. The city has spent $40,715.87 on this case.

Contact LORENA ANDERSON at 444-1722.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: