WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — Last year a federal court judge granted a motion to dismiss filed by the Town of Wrightsville Beach in the lawsuit brought against the town by a jet ski rental company.
For many following the story, that seemed like the final nail in the proverbial coffin for the rental company, however, the owner of that company Chris Mangum isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.
Mangum has been operating his rental company for years, but once residents started complaining about jet skis in the Intracoastal Waterway (something the town has no ability to restrict), town staff went on the offensive against those providing the personal watercraft to visitors.
The entire situation has been ongoing for more than two years and started when Wrightsville Beach started issuing Mangum civil citations for violating their zoning ordinances, despite the fact their zoning ordinances are not valid at the boat launch ramp (which is owned by the state).
After being sued by the town and signing a consent judgment that would prevent him from using the boat launch, Mangum filed a lawsuit against the town in federal court.
The order to dismiss
On November 20, 2019, United States District Judge Louise Flanagan granted Wrightsville Beach’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit under the doctrine of res judicata.
The conclusion of the 12-page document reads, “Based on the foregoing, the court grants defendants’ motions to dismiss. The court dismissed plaintiffs’ claims pursuant to res judicata with prejudice, and plaintiffs’ claims on jurisdictional grounds without prejudice.”
Res judicata is Latin for ‘a matter judged’ and means that Flanagan believed that the complaints brought by Mangum to court have already been decided on in a lower court.
Essentially, the judge ruled that since Mangum had signed a consent order in Superior Court when the Town of Wrightsville Beach took legal action against him, the matter was decided.
But Mangum and his former attorney Greg Buschemi filed a Motion to Reconsider with the federal court back in December of 2019 but the courts have not yet made a decision on that request.
Void ab initio
The main argument in the motion to reconsider is actually based on the first lawsuit the town brought against Mangum and the following consent judgment that was signed by all parties.
The appeal makes the argument that the consent judgment was void ab initio or ‘invalid from the start.’
According to the lawsuit, the judgment is wrong and the claims of Mangum should not be stopped by res judicata.
“Plaintiffs claims for declaratory relief are not moot, are not barred by res judicata, and are raised not only for prospective relief to an active and ongoing constitutional controversy, but also as meritorious arguments against the Defendants’ affirmative res judicata defense based on a presumption of the state court consent judgment’s validity which has been clearly and unambiguously disputed and challenged by Plaintiffs in this action. With these material facts in dispute, and because a ruling by the Court on Plaintiffs’ claims for declaratory relief would be determinative as to the consent judgment’s validity, it is improper for the Court to presume and apply any alleged preclusive effects without first rendering judgments on the merits those claims,” according to the petition to reconsider.
Further, the motion to reconsider argues that the town failed to actually cite any applicable law when requesting the courts dismiss the case.
“The burden of proving res judicata as a valid affirmative defense falls on the Defendants, not the Plaintiffs. Where a proper res judicata analysis determining the preclusive effect of a state court judgment applies alleged facts, viewed in the nonmovant’s most favorable light, to the law of the state in which the judgment was entered, and where Defendants’ motions and memorandums fail to cite any relevant or applicable North Carolina case law or authorities in support thereof, Plaintiffs undoubtedly suffer undue harm and manifest injustice by the Court’s unilateral use and application of North Carolina cases, authorities, and arguments not previously presented which result in a wholesale dismissal of Plaintiffs’ federal claims with prejudice,” according to the motion.
At the end of the day, Mangum believes that the consent judgment that he signed is invalid due to the fact that the state actually owns the property in question and the town’s jurisdiction, by their own Unified Development Ordinance, does not extend onto the land. While this argument was made in part in federal court the judge ruled previously that because this was not brought up in Superior Court it was Mangum’s own fault for not presenting all defenses at the appropriate time.
Covid-19 has caused the world as we know it to change and that even means the justice system has been put on hold. Despite being filed in December of 2019, the court has not yet ruled on the motion to reconsider.
The Town of Wrightsville Beach, as well as its attorney, has refused to issue any sort of statement on the case after being asked multiple times.
You can read the full appeal below.