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Court could rule on Myrtle Beach helmet lawsuits

December 8, 2009

Court could rule on Myrtle Beach helmet lawsuits

Two lawsuits against Myrtle Beach over the helmet law could be heard by the state’s high court in the new year.

The S.C. Supreme Court clerk sent a letter to Myrtle Beach and the plaintiffs saying the lawsuits filed by Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism, Bart Viers and a group of motorcyclists might be heard in the February session.

The plaintiffs are suing the city to stop it from enforcing the motorcycle helmet law it imposed last year as part of a package of ordinances designed to deflect the May motorcycle rallies from the city.

Residents had complained for years about the noise, traffic, garbage and other effects of the rallies, which drew nearly half a million people to the Grand Strand at their peak. In 2008, the council took steps to quell the rallies, enacting more than a dozen new rules and ordinance amendments and sparking a firestorm of controversy that persisted through last month’s municipal election. The controversy has quieted down, but it isn’t over yet.

The court will convene Feb. 3, 4, 16, 17 and 18, and the hearing – if it is going to be scheduled – could be called for any of those days.

The letter asks all parties to submit any scheduling conflicts for those days by Dec. 10, and city spokesman Mark Kruea said the city anticipates knowing definitively about the hearing by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the city, BOOST and the nearly 50 riders who protested the city’s helmet ordinance on the day it became effective and were ticketed have filled their briefs with the high court, allowing judges to read the issues that will be argued orally if the hearing is slated.

The city and attorney Thad Viers, who’s representing his brother Bart and BOOST, each filed more than 30 pages of briefs containing multiple sections.

Viers and BOOST contend, among other issues:

The city is overstepping its bounds by making such a law;

The General Assembly intended people older than 21 to have freedom of choice on wearing helmets;

The helmet ordinance violates the state’s Uniform Traffic Act;

The ordinance should be voided because it is vague and ambiguous;

The ordinance is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable;

And ending a motorcycle rally isn’t a legitimate government purpose.

But Tom McGrath, a Virginia-based attorney who is representing the protesters, filed a much shorter brief, saying, among other things, that most of the arguments don’t matter because the city’s ordinance is at odds with state law, and for that reason alone it should be tossed out.

“The gist of the city’s arguments is that it has the right to do whatever it wants to do as long as it declares something to be a public nuisance and decides to abate it,” McGrath’s brief begins. “…If the ordinances conflict with state law, the ordinances are void. If the ordinances are void, their underlying merits are irrelevant.”

The city contends it does have the right to pass a local helmet ordinance, and cites among other supporting information the state’s Home Rule authority, and says nuisance abatement is a legitimate government purpose.

It also says the helmet ordinance and other efforts did have a positive effect on the city in that traffic accidents and injuries were significantly reduced during the 2009 rallies.

Contact reporter LORENA ANDERSON at 444-1722.
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