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Federal judge dismisses jet ski operator’s suit against Wrightsville Beach ‘with prejudice’

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A federal judge has dismissed “with prejudice” the lawsuit a jet ski rental company has filed against the town of Wrightsville Beach, potentially ending a years-long dispute between the town and local business operator.

In a judgment issued on Wednesday, Nov. 20, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled that many elements of the lawsuit filed by Chris Mangum, on behalf of his business Wrightsville Beach Jet Ski Rentals, against the town had been already decided in previous legal actions between the two.

In the decision, U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan wrote that several of the issues raised by Mangum were “res judicata,” meaning that they were addressed in prior court rulings, and several of those claims were dismissed “with prejudice,”meaning that Mangum couldn’t pursue a similar suit in the future against the town. Some issues relating to state court were dismissed “without prejudice,” the ruling noted. A decision dismissed “with prejudice” generally can’t be brought before the same court again, though it could be appealed.

In the latest motion, Mangum challenged the constitutional authority for the town to impose a $500 fee to bring a challenge to the town’s zoning rulings before the town’s board of adjustments. Joining Mangum in the suit was Mitchell Seitter, and his business Carolina Coast Watersports, which leased equipment from Mangum, the suit said. But Flanagan ruled that Seitter’s participation didn’t change any issues related to prior court orders and rulings.

At the heart of the issue, town officials said that Mangum’s jet ski rental business couldn’t conduct formal operations in the town, including collecting money. Town officials told Lumia News in previous interview that a key point of contention was that Mangum was launching the jet skis from underneath the drawbridge, which is town property. Jet skis could be launched from the boat ramp, which is town property, but can also be crowded, especially on peak boating days.

In a prior interview with Lumina News, Mangum said that town officials were targeting his business while ignoring other businesses, including other jet ski rental businesses that were launching from the same area. 

After dozens of citations and several years of court battles, a New Hanover County judge ruled in August 2018 that Magnum was in contempt of court after  town officials testified that he continued to operate the business on public land in Wrightsville Beach, despite not having a physical presence in the town. The contempt of court ruling follows more than two years of dispute between the business and the town. In a May 2018 presentation to the town, Mangum said he had received eight citations in 2015 and another 14 in 2016. During that period, town officials said that Mangum would launch the jet skis from underneath the bridge, where there is less traffic than the nearby boat ramp.

“We have to be pretty strict about operating businesses on town property,” town manager Tim Owens told the Lumina News in August 2018. “Businesses have to operate with the permitted and conditional uses. They can’t just operate in rights-of-ways. We wouldn’t allow someone to operate a business in Wynn Plaza or at the park.”

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