By Michael Praats | September 28, 2020 at 12:32 PM EDT – Updated September 28 at 4:37 PM
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) – The battle between the Town of Wrightsville Beach and a small business owner is headed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Chris Mangum has been renting jet skis in Wrightsville Beach for years without issue, but in 2015 that all changed.
“For 20 years I have rented jet skis down here at Wrightsville Beach, but the past five years have been very hard for me to run a business without interference from the town hall,” Mangum said.
Troubles started after complaints from residents about jet skis in the waters around Wrightsville Beach.
That’s when the town started issuing Mangum citations for alleged violations of town zoning ordinances, despite the fact the property in question is not actually located in the town and does not fall under its jurisdiction.
Normally the town’s zoning ordinances would apply to a business operating in the town, however, the property in question is owned by the state and according to the town’s own ordinances, it does not have the right to apply zoning regulations to the land.
The town’s Unified Development Ordinance states, “In accordance with NC General Statutes 160A-392, the Town of Wrightsville Beach UDO applies to state-owned lands only when a building is involved.”
There are no buildings on the property.
After racking up a collection of citations, Mangum hired an attorney to help him fight the town and continue his business, however, he has faced several setbacks in court.
The Town of Wrightsville Beach hired attorney Mark Hamlet to represent them in the legal proceedings when the matter first started. Mangum hired his own attorney but he withdrew from the case and left Mangum without legal counsel and few options.
That’s when the town offered a solution – sign a consent judgement that would prohibit Mangum from renting jet skis in the area.
“Shortly after Mangum’s former counsel withdrew, defendants presented Mangum with a proposed consent judgment and told him he would need to sign it to avoid an entry of default. The judgment waived the fees charged from the citations but enjoined Mangum and WB-JSR from ‘operating a business involving the rental of jet skis in the Town of Wrightsville Beach or in the town’s Extraterritorial jurisdiction,’” a federal lawsuit states.
Mangum, seeing no other options, signed the judgement – but is asking a federal court to overturn it due to the fact the town had no jurisdiction in the matter to begin with.
One of the most troubling facts for him is the fact that since the issues arose, he has yet to receive a hearing or a chance to be heard from any judge.
“What mind-boggles me is that I have yet to get a hearing on the local level or the federal level,” he said. “The town shut me down illegally for two years, I operated this year without any interference from the town.”
Last year, the federal lawsuit Mangum brought against the town was dismissed by United States District Judge Louise Flanagan under the doctrine of res judicata, the Latin term for ‘a matter judged.’
His attorney, at that time, was Greg Buschemi, a mayoral candidate running against the current mayor Darryl Mills.
The federal judge decided since a consent judgement had already been signed in a lower court the issue had already been ruled upon and decided. However, Mangum argues that the consent judgement is invalid and the Superior Court judge erred in issuing it.
The business is his sole source of income and the town has taken away his ability to make a living, but it’s not just money that this has cost him but also his health.
“It put me in extreme debt, luckily I did get out of debt this summer by working. I don’t have health insurance. I’ve had tumors in my chest since I was 19 years old, I am 43 now. I am due for a CAT scan in November and I have no way of getting a CAT scan because I have no health insurance,” he said.
What does the state say? What’s next?
The NC Wildlife Resources Commission, the property owners of the ramp and surrounding property, have actually confirmed that Mangum is permitted to use their boat launch.
“All of our Boating Access Areas are open to the public 24/7 and anyone is allowed to launch from these sites, assuming they follow the regulation posted on our website,” according to the NC Wildlife Resources Commission Communications Specialist Ryan Kennemur.
“That being said, jet ski rental companies can use the ramp. Since the Wrightsville Beach property is owned wholly by Wildlife Commission, the town has no jurisdiction at this BAA,” Kennemur concluded.
“The state said I can use this ramp and I can use that property as long as the jet skis stay outside the drip line of the bridge, and no money is collected on this property,” Mangum said.
The appeal to the Fourth Circuit was filed last week, so it will take time before Mangum’s case is actually heard. This time, he is not counting on a lawyer to help him. In June, court records show Mangum submitted a notice to the courts with his intention to represent himself pro se, or, ‘for oneself.’
“As of right now I do not have an attorney, this case is a very simple case. You cannot sue people on property you do not own, the town did, they succeeded and as of right now I am representing myself,” he said.
Ultimately, Mangum said he is confident the consent judgement will be thrown out eventually and that he plans on suing the town for damages.
“It was all a campaign to get rid of jet skis and jet skis only. I am no different than any other business down here and you cannot single out companies that you do not like,” he said.
The Town has declined to comment in the past due to ongoing litigation and has not yet issued a statement on the latest move by Mangum.
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