‘Stripped of his livelihood’

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PWCLawsuitStory

Wrightsville Beach is being sued by two personal watercraft rental companies in the area, which allege the town is violating their rights as small-business owners. According to PortCityDaily.com, the North Carolina town is being sued by Chris Mangum of Wrightsville Beach Jet Ski Rentals and Carson Seiter of Carolina Coast Watersports regarding multiple and ongoing citations and fines that they have received from the town.

The lawsuit contends that the town has issued multiple zoning violations against the businesses for launching rental personal watercraft, but Mangum says they have been unfairly targeted and that other similar businesses in the area have not been fined to the same extent. The lawsuit also says that the state owns the public boat ramp in Wrightsville Beach, which therefore has no jurisdiction to issue zoning citations on state property.

The owners of the rental business said they had long had a “gentleman’s agreement” with previous town officials to use the launch ramp for their rental customers. As long as they did not collect any money in Wrightsville Beach, said the lawsuit, they were in compliance with state and local laws. When he has gone to launch personal watercraft over the last three years, Mangum said he was presented with 39 citations with $50 fines for violating city property ordnances. In addition, he said he had to pay a $500 fee to appeal the initial fines, which is the basis for the federal suit.

“Mangum has been operating a commercial jet ski rental business for over 17 years, many of those alongside other jet ski rental businesses, all of which utilized the boat ramp at the state-owned public boating access area on Wrightsville Beach as a location to launch rented jet skis into the public waterway,” said the lawsuit. He collected his rental fees in nearby Wilmington and then crossed the bridge to launch from Wrightsville Beach to avoid any legal issues.

Mangum said he is not the only rental company using the public boat launch, but his business (which partners with Carolina Coast Watersports) was the only one targeted by Wilmington Beach. “Defendants are aware of most, if not all, of these operations and their use of the public boating access area for purposes of providing a safe location for customers to access and enjoy the recreational equipment and activities. Yet, plaintiffs, and to a lesser degree another jet ski rental operator, are the only businesses that have been subjected to defendants’ UDO enforcement,” according to the lawsuit.

The town, according to the lawsuit, has used zoning ordinances to go after specific businesses while ignoring others.

“In 2017, the town once against escalated in its methods to stop Mangum from operating in the town and sent him notices of the town’s intention to ‘setoff debt,’ said the paper. “Under the North Carolina Debt Setoff Program, local government can garnish state income tax returns and lottery winnings to collect a variety of debts, including red-light camera fees, delinquent property taxes, and outstanding citations. Wrightsville Beach sought to use this program to collect payment on citations and late/non-payment fines from Mangum.”

In 2017, the town offered to dismiss the citations, according to the story, if Mangum did not rent jet skis near the town. If he chose to continue the business, the civil citations would be reinstated. A letter from a town official said that the town would ‘take all available legal steps to collect the fines,'” according to the lawsuit.

Multiple attempts by Mangum to settle the case went unanswered. When Mangum decided not to close down his business, according to the lawsuit, the town official threatened to send the debt to the state for collections. Magnum was subsequently sued by the town in Superior Court.

“Defendants [town of Wrightsville Beach] then presented Mangum with a proposed consent judgment and told him he would need to sign it to avoid an entry of default,” said the lawsuit. “The judgment waived 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 Extraterrioritial jurisdiction,'” the lawsuit states.

Mangum once again noted to the town that other businesses in the area also rent personal watercraft and launch from Wrightsville Beach, but they were not targeted. He says one other business was then fined, but the fines were not collected.

According to the lawsuit, Mangum claims he was “stripped of his livelihood and fears that any attempt to visit WB or otherwise use the public lands and public trust waters, even for his own personal enjoyment, will result in further violations or retaliation for defendants.”

The lawsuit continues in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Southern Division.

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