NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A beach equipment company in North Myrtle Beach filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday against the city, alleging its constitutional rights have been violated due to a city ordinance that doesn’t allow the selling or leasing of goods on public beaches.
The lawsuit, filed by the owners of Cherry Grove Beach Gear, accuses the city of enacting the ordinance to “restrict competitive business practices” so the city could have a monopoly on beach equipment rentals.
“City has also engaged, almost exclusively, in the rental of beach chairs and beach umbrellas and the sale of beverages and concessions on the beaches located within the jurisdictional limits of the City of North Myrtle Beach,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit claims the city makes between $1.5 million to $3 million in revenue annually from beach rentals.
The lawsuit claims Cherry Grove Beach Gear was granted a business license in 2019 to “purchase, sell, and lease beach chairs, beach umbrellas, coolers, floats, and accessories for use on the beaches” in North Myrtle Beach. The business applied and was approved for business licenses in two more consecutive years.
The lawsuit states Cherry Grove Beach Gear abided by the city’s ordinance at all times, including the restrictions on where beach equipment could be located on the beach and the times items had to be removed from the beach.
The city is accused of harassing Cherry Grove Beach Gear, including when a North Myrtle Beach police officer, while in uniform, visited a location and told them the North Myrtle Beach City Attorney said his number one priority was to get rid of the business, according to the lawsuit.
On July 6, an officer went to the location and said he was told to issue a ticket every day, but not to arrest anyone, according to the lawsuit. The business owners claim they’ve been issued at least eight summons and criminal citations.
The city passed an amendment to the ordinance in June that specifically aimed to outlaw Cherry Grove Beach Gear’s business practices, according to the lawsuit.
The Cherry Grove Beach Gear owners said the city is violating federal and state anti-trust laws, according to the lawsuit. The city is also accused of violating the the business owners’ constitutional rights by violating the Fifth and 14th Amendments.
The city’s actions “intentionally and flagrantly targeted Plaintiffs by enacting an amendment to North Myrtle Beach City Ordinance 5-24 in order to render Plaintiffs’ lawful and existing business practices unlawful, without establishing any amortization period during which Plaintiffs could recover their business investment,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit claims the city’s actions were “positive, aggressive, illegitimate, unlawful, unreasonable, and taken without constitutional, statutory, or regulatory authority.”
The business owners are also suing for defamation, libel and slander, stating the city is damaging the business’ reputation by publishing statements about the company, according to the lawsuit.
The business owners are seeking an injunction that would stop the enforcement of the city’s ordinance and other unspecified monetary damages.
Donald Graham, a spokesperson for North Myrtle Beach, said the city has not yet been served with the lawsuit but it is city policy not to comment on pending litigation. News13 received an email from the City of North Myrtle Beach at 11:40 a.m. Tuesday calling a special executive session for a legal briefing on the lawsuit.