MURRELLS INLET, S.C. (WBTW) — A court was correct to hold a Murrells Inlet business in criminal contempt after the owner’s son repeatedly parked a golf cart in front of a restaurant’s delivery gate, the South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday.
The case of Gulfstream Café versus Palmetto Industrial Development — and owner J. Mark Lawhon, specifically — is “another episode in a series of disputes between Appellants and Gulfstream involving a joint, non-exclusive easement,” the contempt appeal reads.
The court issued a second ruling on Wednesday stating that a circuit court was correct not to award Gulfstream Café attorney’s fees in the case.
The disputes between the neighboring businesses, which started in 2016, are unlikely to stop anytime soon, according to the court.
“Although we strongly encourage the parties to resolve the issues as neighbors, we believe their history indicates litigation is likely to continue,” one ruling states, noting that during the oral arguments, lawyers said they were going to trial again.
The contempt appeal was heard on March 16.
Gulfstream Café is in the Marlin Quay Marina Development area in Murrells Inlet. Before November 2016, Marlin Quay Marina Bar & Grill and a marina were in a lot next to Gulfstream. Palmetto owns the marina, store and parking lot where the restaurant was located.
The bar and grill was demolished in November 2016.
Gulfstream has four joint, non-exclusive easements that were issued in 1986 and 1990 by the Marlin Quay Marina Corporation, Palmetto’s predecessor.
After demolishing the old bar and grill, Palmetto planned to build a larger restaurant that would have been on stilts and extend over the parking lot, according to court documents. The same month, Gulfstream filed a lawsuit claiming that the construction was “intentional interference” with its easement rights, trespassing and causing a nuisance, along with forcible entrance.
The café received a temporary restraining order and injunction in the case, but was warned during the hearing because “the court believed that one of the parties was ‘intentionally misleading’ about what was happening.”
The relationship “continued to sour,” according to the court, and Palmetto was held in criminal contempt in May 2017 for allegedly interfering with the easement rights during a fishing tournament and for calling police to remove Gulfstream’s window washers on two separate occasions. Lawhon was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine or spend a month in jail for the window washing incidents.
The two businesses went to court in June 2018, when a jury ruled in favor of Gulfstream and awarded it $1,000. The same day, a circuit court ordered a permanent injunction stating that Palmetto can’t prevent Gulfstream from the rights included in the nonexclusive joint easement. It also ruled that Palmetto can’t expand the outside boundaries of any new building outside of the first one’s footprint.
Gulfstream soon filed a motion to clarify the injunction.
A month later, Gulfstream moved to hold Palmetto in criminal contempt because Lawhon’s son parked a golf cart in front of the delivery gate at least four times. Gulfstream claimed that there were other parking spots available and that the golf cart blocked food deliveries from being made at the gate, instead causing floor damage.
Gulfstream has also raised complaints about lights in the parking lot, a delivery truck and boat trailers, but courts have ruled that Palmetto was not in contempt.
Palmetto argued that it didn’t see the sign asking for vehicles not to park in front of the gate, didn’t receive any communication from Gulfstream about not parking there and that the food vendors didn’t always use the gate. It said that in one instance the cart was parked there because it was raining. In another, it said Lawhon’s son was seen walking away from the cart because he dropped something.
After the 2018 trial, Lawhon’s son blocked the phone number of Gulfstream’s owner, according to court documents.
Palmetto was fined $5,000 by the court, which said that parking the cart in the spot “was calculated to undermine the circuit court’s injunction that permitted Gulfstream to use its easement.” Many appeals on rulings have been filed since.
“Additionally, it would be illogical to accept Appellants’ implicit argument that they could park and block the delivery gate as much as they wanted to because Gulfstream only had a joint, non-exclusive easement,” the court wrote.