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National Association for Advancement of Colored People, Inc. v. City of Myrtle Beach

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

May 23, 2018

CITY OF MYRTLE BEACH, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court upon the Plaintiffs National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Inc., Simuel Jones, Leslie Stevenson, and Cedric Stevenson's (“Plaintiffs”) Motion for Preliminary Injunction. (ECF 6.) The Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction requiring the Defendants City of Myrtle Beach and City of Myrtle Beach Police Department (“Defendants”) to maintain a substantially similar traffic pattern during both Myrtle Beach Bike Week Spring Rally and the Atlantic Beach Bikefest.[1] (ECF 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction is denied.


         For the last several decades, two large motorcycle rallies have been held in the Myrtle Beach area during the month of May. The first is the Myrtle Beach Bike Week Spring Rally (“Harley Week”), which is held during the middle of May. The second is the Atlantic Beach Bikefest (“Bikefest”) which is held over Memorial Day Weekend each year.[2] The Plaintiffs contend, and the Defendants do not dispute, that the majority of Harley Week participants are white, while the majority of Bikefest participants are African-American. This preliminary injunction involves the traffic management plan instituted by the Defendants in conjunction with other state and local agencies during Bikefest.

         Currently, the Defendants do not implement a unique traffic plan for the Harley Week biker event. Conversely, the Defendants do implement a traffic plan over Bikefest which involves reducing a portion of Ocean Boulevard[3] to one lane, one-way traffic from Friday to Monday of Memorial Day Weekend. In addition, the Bikefest plan calls for a 23.1-mile traffic loop around Horry County that is generally in place on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend from 10:00pm to 2:00am. The current traffic plan for Bikefest is substantially similar to a plan that took effect over Memorial Day Weekend 2015 and has been in place ever since that time.

         A short history of the traffic plans instituted during Bikefest will be helpful in understanding the historical backdrop of this case. From 1999 to 2010, traffic flowed one-way southbound on Ocean Boulevard during Memorial Day Weekend, and there was no traffic loop in place for the event.[4] In 2011, the City began to allow traffic to flow in both directions on Memorial Day Weekend. In 2013, members of the Myrtle Beach Police Department, along with other law enforcement agencies, requested that that the City reestablish a one-way traffic pattern for Memorial Day Weekend due to concerns about increased public safety and traffic issues during Memorial Day Weekend. The City denied the request. (ECF 24-2.)

         During Memorial Day Weekend 2014, there were nine shooting incidents, including three homicides, in the vicinity of Ocean Boulevard during Memorial Day Weekend. Id. These events were the catalyst that led to the formation of the Bikefest Task Force (“Task Force”) to address the perceived public safety problems arising during Memorial Day Weekend. Id. The Task Force consisted of representatives from various agencies affiliated with Horry County, the State of South Carolina, and municipalities throughout the Myrtle Beach area.[5] Id. The Task Force eventually decided to implement the current traffic plan in effect on Memorial Day Weekend. Id. The Task Force developed this plan based on a consensus among Task Force members that local governments needed to keep pedestrians and vehicular traffic moving at all times during peak times of traffic during Memorial Day Weekend. Id. The current traffic plan for Memorial Day Weekend has been in place for Bikefest 2015, Bikefest 2016 and Bikefest 2017.

         The Plaintiffs filed their complaint on February 27, 2018, seeking, among other things, a permanent injunction to enjoin the traffic plan in place for Memorial Day Weekend. (ECF 1.) The Plaintiffs filed their Motion for a Preliminary Injunction on the same day. (ECF 6.) The Defendants filed a response to the Plaintiffs' Motion on March 28, 2018 (ECF 24), and the Plaintiffs filed their reply on April 10, 2018. (ECF 29.) This case was reassigned to the Honorable A. Marvin Quattlebaum, Jr. on April 12, 2018. (ECF 30.) Thereafter, on April 20, 2018, the Court scheduled a hearing on the Plaintiffs' motion for June 6, 2018. Upon request of the Plaintiffs, the Court adjusted its hearing schedule and held a hearing on this matter on May 8, 2018. At the hearing, the Plaintiffs stated that their request for a preliminary injunction sought only to enjoin the one lane, one-way traffic restriction on Ocean Boulevard and the elimination of the 23.1-mile loop from the Bikefest traffic plan. R. at 14.


         A court may issue a preliminary injunction upon notice to the adverse party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(a). It is well settled law that “[a] preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right.” Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008). A movant seeking a preliminary injunction must establish (1) that he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest. Id. at 20. See also Pashby v. Delia, 709 F.3d 307, 320 (4th Cir. 2013). Critically, each of the four elements must be satisfied. Winter, 555 U.S. at 20. Moreover, a plaintiff must make a “clear showing” both that he is likely to succeed on the merits at trial and that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm absent relief. Id.; The Real Truth About Obama, Inc. v. FEC, 575 F.3d 342, 346-47 (4th Cir. 2009), vacated on other grounds, 559 U.S. 1089 (2010).

         The Defendants raise an issue as to whether the injunction sought by the Plaintiffs constitutes a mandatory preliminary injunction or a prohibitory preliminary injunction. When a preliminary injunction is mandatory rather than prohibitory in nature, a court's application of the preliminary injunction standard set forth in Winter is “even more searching.” Pashby, 709 F.3d at 319. “[A] preliminary injunction's tendency to preserve the status quo determines whether it is prohibitory or mandatory.” Id. at 320. A prohibitory preliminary injunction aims to maintain the status quo and prevent irreparable harm while a lawsuit is pending, while a mandatory preliminary injunction does not preserve the status quo. Id. at 319-20. The Fourth Circuit has defined the status quo as the “last uncontested status between the parties which preceded the controversy.” Id. at 320 (internal citations omitted). The Court need not reach this issue because, even applying the Winter test for prohibitory injunctions, the Plaintiffs have failed to make the showing required for the Court to grant preliminary injunctive relief.


         The Court has evaluated the record carefully, as well as the briefs, testimony, and other submissions by the parties. The Court notes that some of the exhibits and testimony offered by the parties may fall short of the standards required under the Federal Rules of Evidence. For purposes of the preliminary injunction hearing, however, the Court did not exclude the evidence submitted by either side. See Univ. of Tex v. Camensich, 451 U.S. 390, 395 (1981) (stating that a preliminary injunction is customarily considered on the basis of procedures that are less formal and evidence that is less complete than in a trial on the merits); See also G.G. ex rel. Grimm v. Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd., 822 F.3d 709, 725-26 (4th Cir. 2016), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 137 S.Ct. 1239 (2017) (“[D]istrict courts may look to, and indeed in appropriate circumstances rely on, hearsay or other inadmissible evidence when deciding whether a preliminary injunction is warranted.”).


         As set forth above, the Plaintiffs must first make a clear showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits of the case. Winter, 555 U.S. at 20. In their motion, the Plaintiffs allege that the Bikefest traffic plan violates their rights under the United States Constitution. Specifically, the Plaintiffs claim that the traffic plan violates their rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and their rights to expressive association under the First Amendment. The Court will address the Plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits for the equal protection and expressive association claims in turn.


         The Plaintiffs claim that the traffic plan instituted during Memorial Day Weekend violates the rights of Bikefest participants under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that “[n]o State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. The Equal Protection Clause limits all state action and prohibits a state from denying a person equal protection through enactment, administration, or enforcement of its laws and regulations. Sylvia Development Corp. v. Calvert County, Md., 48 F.3d 810, 818 (4th Cir. 1995). However, the Equal Protection Clause does not remove all power of classification from the States. Morrison v. Garraghty, 239 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 2001). Rather, it “keeps governmental decisionmakers from treating differently persons who are in all relevant respects alike[.]” Id. (quoting Nordinger v. Hahn, 505 U.S. 1, 10 (1992)) (internal citations omitted). Therefore, to succeed on an equal protection claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate (1) that he has been treated differently from others who are similarly situated and (2) that the unequal treatment resulted from intentional or purposeful discrimination. Id. If the Plaintiff makes the requisite showing, the court then proceeds to determine whether the disparity in treatment is justified under the appropriate level of scrutiny. Id.

         Here, the Plaintiffs claim there are differences in the traffic control measures for Harley Week and Bikefest. The primary differences on which the Plaintiffs rely are the one lane, one-way traffic restrictions on Ocean Boulevard and the 23.1-mile traffic loop. It is undisputed that these traffic control measures are not included in the traffic control measure for Harley Week. Although the Defendants claim that some of the methods involved in the traffic control plan for Bikefest are utilized ...

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