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Skydive Myrtle Beach, Inc. v. Horry County

Supreme Court of South Carolina

November 20, 2019

Skydive Myrtle Beach, Inc., Petitioner,
v.
Horry County, Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2018-001910

          Heard September 24, 2019

          Appeal from Horry County Larry B. Hyman Jr., Circuit Court Judge,

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

          Robert Bratton Varnado, Brown & Varnado, LLC, of Mt. Pleasant, for Petitioner.

          Michael Warner Battle, Battle Law Firm, LLC, of Conway, for Respondent.

          FEW, JUSTICE

         Horry County filed an action in magistrates court to eject Skydive Myrtle Beach, Inc., from a hangar at the Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The magistrates court found Skydive did not have any right to occupy the hangar, and ejected Skydive. The circuit court affirmed. Skydive appealed to the court of appeals, which dismissed the appeal on the ground it was moot. We granted Skydive's petition for a writ of certiorari. We reverse the court of appeals because we hold the appeal is not moot. On the merits, we agree with the magistrates court and the circuit court that Skydive has no right to occupy the hangar. Thus, we affirm the circuit court.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Horry County owns Grand Strand Airport. Until 2013, the County leased the airport to Grand Strand Aviation, which operated under the name Ramp 66. On May 10, 2012, Ramp 66 entered into an agreement with Skydive allowing Skydive to use "a minimum of" 2, 500 square feet of what is commonly called the "bird hangar" to operate its skydiving business. The agreement provided, "This agreement remains in effect through Grand Strand Aviation's lease with Horry County Department of Airports through July 2020 unless both parties agree to any changes in writing."

         Horry County terminated its lease with Ramp 66 in August 2013 and began its own management of the airport. On September 13, 2013, Horry County and Skydive entered into a new agreement entitled "Space Use Permit." The new agreement was designed to allow Skydive to continue operations at the bird hangar while it negotiated a longer-term lease directly with the County. The Space Use Permit granted Skydive the right to "occupy and use" a much larger portion of the bird hangar-6, 800 square feet-than Skydive occupied under the May 2012 agreement. It also granted Skydive the right to use the hangar at night, a right Skydive did not have under the May 2012 agreement. The Space Use Permit stated "it shall continue in force and effect until January 31, 2014," and "either party may terminate [it] for any reason by giving at least thirty days written notice to the other party."

         Skydive continued to occupy the bird hangar and to operate its skydiving business after January 31, but it did not enter into a new lease. On February 19, Horry County wrote Skydive listing numerous safety-related concerns about Skydive's operations. The County's letter advised Skydive the Space Use Permit had expired and "you are currently occupying County property without any right or authorization." The letter explained that in light of what the County perceived to be Skydive's poor safety record and other concerns, "Horry County is unwilling to offer Skydive a leasehold interest." Instead, the letter offered "a new, short-term Space Use Permit" that would allow Skydive to continue occupying the hangar until July 31, 2014. This new Space Use Permit would have imposed additional safety requirements that were not in the original Space Use Permit. The letter stated that if Skydive did not sign the new Space Use Permit within seventy-two hours, "you will need to vacate the premises immediately." Skydive did not respond to the February 19 letter. On February 28, 2014, Skydive filed a lawsuit in circuit court against Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports, and several individually named County employees. Skydive alleged the defendants improperly conspired to remove it from the bird hangar, breached the May 2012 agreement, and otherwise tortiously interfered with Skydive's business. The nature and progress of that lawsuit-which is still pending-are discussed in Skydive Myrtle Beach, Inc. v. Horry County, 426 S.C. 175, 826 S.E.2d 585 (2019).

         Horry County filed this ejectment action on June 5, 2014. The magistrates court entered an order ejecting Skydive from the bird hangar, and Skydive appealed to the circuit court. The magistrates court allowed Skydive to remain in the bird hangar- pending the circuit court's decision on appeal-by making a monthly bond payment equal to the rent Skydive paid under the Space Use Permit. The circuit court affirmed the ejectment order. Skydive made a motion for a stay of the order, which the circuit court denied.

         Skydive appealed the circuit court order to the court of appeals on August 24, 2015. Three years later, the court of appeals dismissed the appeal as moot. Skydive Myrtle Beach, Inc. v. Horry Cty., 424 S.C. 298, 303, 818 S.E.2d 224, 227 (Ct. App. 2018). We granted Skydive's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision.

         II. ...


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