Nat'l Ass'n for the Advancement of Colored People, Inc. v. City of Myrtle Beach

Decision Date04 August 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 4:18-cv-00554-SAL
Citation476 F.Supp.3d 308
CourtU.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
Parties NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE, INC., BY AND THROUGH its MYRTLE BEACH BRANCH; Harry Briggs; Novice Briggs; Kenneth Coleman; Simuel Jones; Tyrone Kinard; William Lassiter; Cedric Stevenson; and Leslie Stevenson, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF MYRTLE BEACH, a municipal corporation within the State of South Carolina; and City of Myrtle Beach Police Department, a department of the City of Myrtle Beach, Defendants.

Peter Wilborn, Law Office of Peter Wilborn, Charleston, SC, Angela A. Groves, Pro Hac Vice, Kali Jones Schellenberg, Pro Hac Vice, Reed N. Colfax, Pro Hac Vice, Tara K. Ramchandani, Pro Hac Vice, Relman Colfax PLLC, Dorian Lawrence Spence, Pro Hac Vice, Maryum Jamal Jordan, Pro Hac Vice, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

James Richard Battle, II, Battle Vaught and Howe, Michael Warner Battle, Battle Law Firm, Conway, SC, for Defendants.


Sherri A. Lydon, United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the City of Myrtle Beach ("the City")1 on August 13, 2019. ECF No. 129. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Inc. ("NAACP"), Harry Briggs, Novice Briggs, Simuel Jones, Tyrone Kinard, William Lassiter, Cedric Stevenson, and Leslie Stevenson (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed a Response in Opposition on September 18, 2019, ECF No. 134, and the City filed a Reply on September 27, 2019. ECF No. 142. Arguments were heard on July 2, 2020, and this matter is ripe for consideration.


For decades, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has been home to two motorcycle rallies: the Myrtle Beach Bike Week Spring Rally ("Harley Week"), and the Atlantic Beach Bikefest ("Bikefest"). The parties agree that most attendees of Harley Week are white, while most attendees of Bikefest are African-American. The City does not dispute that Bikefest, which occurs annually on Memorial Day weekend, is the only event during which the majority of persons in the area are African-American.

Plaintiffs filed this action in February of 2018, alleging that Defendants have violated their constitutional rights by employing discriminatory measures during Bikefest that are not employed during Harley Week or other busy weekends that bring many tourists to the area. Specifically, Plaintiffs challenge the traffic control plan ("Operations Plan") implemented during Bikefest, which consists of, among other features, one-way traffic along Ocean Boulevard within the City of Myrtle Beach. The Operations Plan also calls for a traffic loop that stretches approximately twenty-three miles. The traffic loop may be implemented only between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. during Bikefest. Plaintiffs, in their controlling Amended Complaint, ECF No. 84, assert causes of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Dormant Commerce Clause, the expressive associational protections of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, Plaintiffs assert discrimination claims under 42 U.S.C. § 2000d and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

In 2003, the NAACP filed a similar lawsuit challenging the City's practice of allowing two-way traffic on Ocean Boulevard during Harley Week while restricting traffic to one direction during Bikefest. United States District Judge Terry L. Wooten granted the plaintiffsmotion for a preliminary injunction in that case, and the Court ordered the City to maintain a substantially similar traffic pattern during both events. See Order, Nat'l Ass'n for Advancement of Colored People v. City of Myrtle Beach , No. 4:03-1732-25TLW, 2006 WL 2038257, at *8 (D.S.C. July 20, 2006). The Fourth Circuit stayed the action pending appeal, see ECF No. 129-28, and the parties to the 2003 litigation eventually settled before a final determination on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims. ECF No. 129-2. In the settlement agreement, the City agreed, with certain caveats, to implement the same traffic plan during both events. Id. at 3. In essence, the City agreed to treat both motorcycle rallies the same. The agreement further provided that it would be of no force as of July 31, 2010.

In 2008, while the settlement agreement was in effect, the City enacted a number of ordinances regulating motorcycle riding. The ordinances applied with equal force to participants of Harley Week and Bikefest alike. The City's ordinances so offended Harley Week participants that a boycott occurred, see ECF No. 129-3 at ¶ 5, and the sponsor of the Harley Week event moved it to New Bern, North Carolina. The record indicates that participation in both motorcycle events in Myrtle Beach declined as a result of the ordinances. Currently, the Harley Week events appear to have largely moved outside of the City limits, though the extent to which motorcyclists still cruise in Myrtle Beach during Harley Week is not clear. See ECF Nos. 134-24 at 3, 134-30.

After the settlement agreement expired, the City lifted one-way traffic restrictions on Ocean Boulevard between 2011 and 2014. During this period, law enforcement officers expressed concern for public safety during the event and proposed reinstating a one-way traffic pattern, see ECF Nos. 129-3 at ¶ 9, 134-17 at 3; however, Tom Leath, then the City Manager, rejected the proposals. ECF No. 129-4 at 9 ("I wasn't convinced that we needed it"). Then, in 2014, several shootings and three homicides occurred during the Bikefest event. The parties disagree whether the shootings had any causal relationship to the Bikefest event. The City argues the shootings amplified the need to enhance public safety during the event, and Plaintiffs argue the shootings are pretextual justification for discriminatory action. Within days of the shootings, City officials received numerous emails from the public, many of which were racially inflammatory on their face. See ECF Nos. 137-57 to -66.

Mark Kruea, the City's Public Information Officer, forwarded a sampling of these emails to the Myrtle Beach City Council and City Managers. See ECF Nos. 137-57, 137-61. On May 28, 2014, John Pedersen, then the Assistant City Manager,2 emailed other public officials including Tom Leath and Chief of Police Warren Gall, indicating his desire to "mak[e] [Bikefest] go away" by "suck[ing] the fun completely out of the event." ECF No. 137-21. John Pedersen's proposed strategies included (1) reinstating an emergency lane on Ocean Boulevard; (2) forcing traffic to flow in one direction on Ocean Boulevard; (3) using barrels and barricades to force vehicles into one lane on nearby roads; (4) implementing a curfew; and (5) "[g]et[ting] our hands on as many drug dogs as possible" and "[u]s[ing] them in all traffic stops." Counsel for the City acknowledged during the hearing on this matter that the email is "egregious." With arguable inconsistency, John Pedersen later told the City's Public Information Officer in December of 2014 to "weave in the notion" that the Operations Plan was "a reaction to the violence" and that the City's "goal is to provide a safe experience for both our visitors and our residents." ECF No. 137-54 at 2.

After concerns were raised following the 2014 shootings, City officials began developing plans for the 2015 Bikefest event. They discussed Bikefest public safety plans during City Council meetings on August 12, 2014; August 18, 2014; and September 23, 2014, each time in executive session. ECF Nos. 137-48 to -50. On September 24, 2014, Randall Webster, Director of the Horry County Emergency Management Department, announced the formation of a Memorial Day Bikefest Task Force ("Task Force"), and he invited local jurisdictions to attend the first Task Force meeting set for October 13, 2014. ECF No. 137-31 at 3. Randall Webster emphasized that "while each local jurisdiction remains in charge of their response activities, the task force is designed to promote communication and collaboration to ensure a safe event." Id.

The parties disagree about the role and authority of the Task Force, but both sides agree that the City discussed the implementation of a traffic loop prior to the first meeting of the Task Force. For example, before the Task Force's first meeting, Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes opened discussion of a forty-mile traffic loop during a meeting of the Coastal Alliance, which is a multi-jurisdictional coalition of local governments. ECF No. 137-28 at 3. Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Coastal Alliance, testified that ultimately, "the loop came because that's what the City of Myrtle Beach wanted to do." ECF No. 129-10 at 7. "[W]hen their original loop was presented, it created concerns for the county. And that's really where we became involved in that. And then the creation of the task force [was] for everybody to work together instead of independently." Id. The Task Force ultimately recommended a 23.1-mile traffic loop for Bikefest, which each affected jurisdiction implemented beginning in 2015. Mark Lazarus testified the final plan was an adaptation of a nine-mile loop he had proposed, which in turn was a "compromise" to the City's initial 40-mile plan. ECF No. 134-11 at 3, 5.

Ultimately, the Operations Plan was implemented, and it has remained in effect each year during Bikefest since 2015.3

Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on February 27, 2018, and they have moved for a preliminary injunction twice. On both occasions, their motion was denied. ECF Nos. 50, 122. On August 13, 2019, the City filed the instant motion for summary judgment as to all claims asserted in Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint. ECF No. 129. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants the City's motion with respect to all claims other than those raised under the Equal Protection Clause and 42 U.S.C. § 2000d.


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