Post Tagged with: "Horry County Department of Airports"

Discovery Imminent in Skydive Myrtle Beach Case Remanded to District Court

October 13, 2019 7:42 AM
Discovery Imminent in Skydive Myrtle Beach Case Remanded to District Court

Discovery requests for production of documents, answers to interrogatories and depositions will go out very shortly in the lawsuit that Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB) filed against Horry County, the Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), Robinson Aviation and numerous individuals associated with those entities.

After hearing arguments by the opposing parties in the case last spring, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed prior decisions by the Fifteenth Circuit Court and S. C. Court of Appeals and remanded that case back to district court for trial.

In October 2015, Horry County government evicted Skydive Myrtle Beach from Grand Strand Airport using a 73 page Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Director’s Determination as justification. Much of the Director’s Determination report was based on 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB.

The alleged safety violations were recorded on a form generated by the HCDA, called an “Unusual Incident Report”. They are one page reports signed either by HCDA staff members or Robinson Aviation personnel. In one case, five alleged violations were reported by letter to the FAA from former HCDA Director Pat Apone.

No record of any action, other than the filling out of these forms, by either HCDA or Robinson Aviation, the contracted tower operator at Grand Strand Airport, was taken. It appears the forms were created to establish a paper record of alleged safety violations with no backup investigations to support the allegations.

These forms were the ones county attorney Arrigo Carotti provided in response to an FOIA request. Along with that response was a cover letter by Carotti which stated in part, “These records are provided in an abundance of caution, in that each may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.”

On at least three occasions since the Director’s Determination was published, the FAA has admitted in email correspondence regarding Freedom of Information Act requests that it has no documentation with respect to investigations, fines or other information on the alleged 112 violations.

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Supreme Court May Address Merits of Skydive Myrtle Beach v Horry County et al Case

October 7, 2019 9:01 AM
Supreme Court May Address Merits of Skydive Myrtle Beach v Horry County et al Case

The S.C. Supreme Court notified both attorneys in the Skydive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County lawsuit that they have been afforded the opportunity to file supplemental briefs with the Supreme Court addressing the merits of the entire case.

The order, signed by Chief Justice Donald Beatty, was filed two days after a September 24, 2019 hearing of the parties before the Court.

The September 24th hearing was scheduled to address whether a claim by the county that the issue of the county’s eviction of Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB) from Grand Strand Airport in October 2015 was in fact “moot” as the county claimed.

Attorney Mike Battle, representing Horry County, told the court during his oral argument that the decision before the Court was of a very limited scope.

Evidently the justices don’t see it that way.

The order from the Chief Justice reads in part, “The briefs filed with this Court only address the issue of mootness. … this Court may wish to address the merits of this case. Therefore, this Court will afford each party the opportunity to serve and file a supplemental brief addressing the merits.”

The order goes on to say any supplemental brief must be filed within 30 days of the date on the order, September 26, 2019, and no briefing in response to any supplemental brief filed will be allowed.

The merits of the case have never been litigated.

The Supreme Court has heard arguments before it on two occasions regarding aspects of the case.

The first hearing, held last spring, dealt with whether the District Court erred in removing individual defendants from the case. The S.C. Court of Appeals upheld that decision but the Supreme Court reversed it and remanded the case to District Court for trial with the individuals included with Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports and Robinson Aviation as defendants.

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SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

March 17, 2019 3:47 AM
SC Supreme Court Overturns SkyDive MB Dismissal

By a 4-1 decision, the S. C. Supreme Court overturned decisions at the District Court and Appeals Court levels giving SkyDive Myrtle Beach the opportunity to prove its case in court.

The details of the case have never been heard as Horry County was successful at using some legal hocus pocus at the lower court levels to keep from allowing the case to go forward.

That is not the result now as the case, SkyDive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County et al, has now been remanded back to the District Court and will go on the trial roster with discovery pending immediately.

This means the case, once described by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti as “rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs,” was not treated in that fashion by the Supreme Court.

Referring to SkyDive Myrtle Beach owner Aaron Holly, myself and others, Carotti wrote the following to a council member inquiring about the case:

“On Aug 15, 2017, at 11:24 AM, Carotti, Arrigo wrote:

The misrepresentation of facts and the law has been ongoing on the part of Mr. Holly, misguided bloggers, and Holly surrogates for several years now, involving universally unsuccessful litigation by Holly, and pending litigation against the FAA, the State of South Carolina, Horry County, officials and employees. There have been no new admissions, the FAA’s and County’s sound positions in the matter remaining the same.  Defamatory commentary on the part of Holly and his surrogates also has been ongoing and is expected to continue, but has been rightfully dismissed by all who have discerned the true set of affairs, borne out in voluminous court documents and public records.

Arrigo P. Carotti / County Attorney”

The original case was filed on February 28, 2014 against Horry County under the general court classification “Unfair Trade Practices.” It alleged a pattern of harassment by the County and its Department of Airports (HCDA) with the ultimate goal of removing SDMB from Grand Strand Airport (GSA) as the original complaint states:

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Skydive Owners Lawsuits Against Horry County Consolidated

September 5, 2018 5:29 PM
Skydive Owners Lawsuits Against Horry County Consolidated

The eleven tort claims lawsuits against Horry County et al. filed by former owners and employees of Skydive Myrtle Beach have been consolidated into one tort claim case with eleven plaintiffs per a judge’s order granting consolidation filed on August 31, 2018.

Originally filed Pro Se, the 11 owners have joined together to hire attorney Robert Varnado. Varnado will be filing an amended complaint consolidating the claims against Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports, various county officials and employees and Robinson Aviation, the contract operator of the control tower at Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach.

The Federal Aviation Administration was removed as a defendant previously.

The basic claims of the complaint are conspiracy among the defendants to deprive the respective owners of Constitutional rights with respect to 14thAmendment and due process protections, for interference with the business Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB), and with contractual ties between SDMB and HCDA in order to illegally shutdown SDMB.

In early 2014, shortly after Skydive Myrtle Beach reported to the FAA of discriminatory actions against it by the Horry County Department of Airports, the HCDA began circulating stories about alleged safety violations committed by Skydive Myrtle Beach while it was operating out of Grand Strand Airport.

In October 2015, Horry County government ultimately evicted Skydive Myrtle Beach from Grand Strand Airport using a 73 page FAA Director’s Determination as justification. Much of the Director’s Determination report was based on 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB.

Neither the county nor the FAA has documented evidence of any investigation or finding of safety violations by Skydive Myrtle Beach, according to responses to Freedom of Information Act requests filed with both the county and the FAA.

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Status Conference Set in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owners Lawsuits

April 17, 2018 4:28 AM
Status Conference Set in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owners Lawsuits

A status conference has been set for next month in federal tort claims lawsuits brought individually by the 11 co-owners of Skydive Myrtle Beach against Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Robinson Aviation, the operator of the control tower at Grand Strand Airport, and a host of individuals including all members of Horry County Council.

The status conferences are scheduled for May 17, 2018 at the federal court house in Florence, SC.

Each of the respective 11 lawsuits claim conspiracy among the defendants to deprive the respective owners of his Constitutional rights with respect to 14thAmendment protections, for interference with the business, Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB), and contractual ties between SDMB and HCDA in order to illegally shutdown SDMB.

The Magistrate Judge previously ordered discovery in the lawsuits to go forward last fall. The status conferences could be where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, with regard to 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB, which were used as the basis by HCDA to close SDMB down.

Skydive Myrtle Beach is a tandem skydiving business owned and operated by armed forces service veterans.

It began operating its business in Horry County in 2012 after signing an eight year lease with Ramp 66, the county’s general aviation operator of Grand Strand Airport at that time.

After Horry County government bought out Ramp 66 in 2013, it appears that concentrated efforts were made by HCDA to close down the operations of Skydive Myrtle Beach.

In early 2014, shortly after Skydive Myrtle Beach reported to the FAA of discriminatory actions against it by the Horry County Department of Airports, the HCDA began circulating stories about alleged safety violations committed by Skydive Myrtle Beach while it was operating out of Grand Strand Airport.

In October 2015, Horry County government ultimately evicted Skydive Myrtle Beach from Grand Strand Airport using a 73 page FAA Director’s Determination as justification. Much of the Director’s Determination report was based on 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB.

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Fourth Circuit to Hear Oral Arguments in Skydive Myrtle Beach Appeal

February 18, 2018 6:00 AM
Fourth Circuit to Hear Oral Arguments in Skydive Myrtle Beach Appeal

A complaint brought by Skydive Myrtle Beach against Horry County Department of Airports has been tentatively scheduled for oral arguments before the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA May 8-10, 2018.

See extract of official electronic notification here:

A quick recap of the case:

In early 2014, shortly after Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB) reported to the FAA of discriminatory actions against it by the Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), HCDA and other Horry County officials apparently decided they wanted to eliminate SDMB from operating in Horry County.

Tandem skydiving is a recognized and approved use of publicly supported airport facilities by the Federal Aviation Administration. It is illegal for an airport that accepts publicly funded grants, as HCDA does annually, to discriminate against one type of approved aviation activity, say helicopter operations, over another – tandem skydiving.

In 2014, HCDA began circulating stories about alleged safety violations committed by SDMB while it was operating out of Grand Strand Airport.

In October 2015, Horry County government ultimately evicted SDMB from Grand Strand Airport using a 73 page FAA Director’s Determination as justification. It is the findings in the FAA Director’s Determination that is on appeal before the Fourth Circuit.

Much of the Director’s Determination report was based on 112 safety violations allegedly committed by SDMB and quite unofficially and sloppily documented by HCDA and its tower operator at Grand Strand Airport, Robinson Aviation.

On at least three occasions since the Director’s Determination was published, the FAA has admitted in email correspondence regarding Freedom of Information Act requests that it has no documentation with respect to investigations, fines or other actions taken by HCDA on the alleged 112 violations.

Likewise, Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti wrote in an email response to FOIA requests seeking information on the 112 alleged violations that, “These records are provided in an abundance of caution, in that each may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.”

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Judge Orders Discovery in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owner Lawsuit

November 19, 2017 4:19 AM
Judge Orders Discovery in Skydive Myrtle Beach Owner Lawsuit

A federal magistrate judge has ordered discovery to go forward in a lawsuit brought by Aaron Holly against Horry County, Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Robinson Aviation, the operator of the control tower at Grand Strand Airport.

Holly claims conspiracy among the defendants to deprive him of his Constitutional rights with respect to 14th Amendment protections and for interference with his business, Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB), and contractual ties between SDMB and HCDA in order to illegally shutdown SDMB.

A short historical perspective on the relationship between Horry County Department of Airports and Skydive Myrtle Beach follows:

Skydive Myrtle Beach is a tandem skydiving business owned and operated by armed services veterans.

It began operating its business in Horry County in 2012 after signing an eight year lease with Ramp 66, the county’s general aviation operator of Grand Strand Airport at that time.

After Horry County government bought out Ramp 66 in 2013, it appears that concentrated efforts were made by HCDA to close down the operations of Skydive Myrtle Beach.

Tandem skydiving is a recognized and approved use of publicly supported airport facilities by the Federal Aviation Administration.

It is illegal for an airport that accepts publicly funded grants to discriminate against one type of approved aviation activity, say helicopter operations, over another – tandem skydiving.

The only excuse allowed by the FAA for shutting down approved aviation operations is that those operations contribute to an unsafe environment at the airport.

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No Safety Violations Proven Against Skydive Myrtle Beach

August 29, 2017 9:11 AM
No Safety Violations Proven Against Skydive Myrtle Beach

It is now apparent that Skydive Myrtle Beach was shut down from operating at Grand Strand Airport on the basis of safety allegations that were never investigated, much less proved.

For whatever reason, county officials (council members, staff or some combination thereof) decided they wanted to shut down Skydive Myrtle Beach (SDMB). The only way they could do that and not violate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Grant Assurances was to claim safety violations.

And this they did, sort of.

Horry County Department of Airports (HCDA) staff and Robinson Aviation employees, who were contracted with HCDA to operate the Grand Strand Airport control tower, created 112 “Unusual Incident Reports” (UIR) of SDMB alleged safety violations over a nearly two year period.

HCDP sent these UIR’s to the Federal Aviation Administration as documentation of safety violations. According to responses to FOIA requests by both Horry County and the FAA, none of these alleged incidents was ever investigated by HCDA and only one, number 86 on the compilation record, was investigated by the FAA.

Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti responses to two FOIA requests: 

“These records are provided in an abundance of caution, in that each may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.” 

And

“Enforcement was held in abeyance due to pending litigation.” 

No investigation of any of the incidents was ever conducted by HCDA or other Horry County agencies.

The FAA found NO VIOLATION in the case of number 86, which occurred on May 31, 2015.

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Another Twist in the Skydive Myrtle Beach Controversy

August 19, 2017 12:30 PM
Another Twist in the Skydive Myrtle Beach Controversy

Another interesting twist has appeared related to the Skydive Myrtle Beach controversy with Horry County over the county’s closing of the Skydive Myrtle Beach business.

Nearly two years ago, the county used a Director’s Determination by the Federal Aviation Administration to close the landing zone for skydivers at Grand Strand Airport and evict Skydive Myrtle Beach from a hangar at that airport.

The Director’s Determination was based on 112 alleged safety violations committed by Skydive Myrtle Beach, which were documented and reported by Horry County Department of Airports personnel and/or Robinson Aviation personnel who are contracted by the county to staff the control tower at Grand Strand Airport.

In a recent post about the ongoing controversy, we quoted a letter by Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti that backed away from calling the documents proof of safety violations by SDMB.

Carotti’s letter, which was included with a response to a FOIA request for documents related to SDMB safety violations, stated, in part, the documents provided “may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.”

Several days after the story was posted, the following was contained in an email to at least one county council member:

“On Aug 15, 2017, at 11:24 AM, Carotti, Arrigo wrote:

The misrepresentation of facts and the law has been ongoing on the part of Mr. Holly, misguided bloggers, and Holly surrogates for several years now, involving universally unsuccessful litigation by Holly, and pending litigation against the FAA, the State of South Carolina, Horry County, officials and employees. There have been no new admissions, the FAA’s and County’s sound positions in the matter remaining the same. 

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Horry County Reverses Story on Skydive Myrtle Beach Alleged Violations

August 12, 2017 4:56 AM
Horry County Reverses Story on Skydive Myrtle Beach Alleged Violations

Nearly two years after evicting Skydive Myrtle Beach from Grand Strand Airport for, allegedly, committing numerous safety violations, Horry County now won’t claim the skydiving business committed any violations.

In a cover letter providing 126 documents responding to a Freedom of Information Act request for all public documents associated with Skydive Myrtle Beach safety violations, Horry County Attorney Arrigo Carotti stated in part, “These records are provided in an abundance of caution, in that each may or may not demonstrate violation by Skydive Myrtle Beach of Horry County Department of Airports Minimum Standards, as that assessment has not been undertaken.” (See full letter below)

What is astounding about that statement is that two years ago the exact same documents were provided to both the Federal Aviation Administration and S.C. Fifteenth Circuit Court as proof of safety violations by Skydive Myrtle Beach.

In 2014, Skydive Myrtle Beach lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration against Horry County Department of Airports alleging discriminatory actions against Skydive Myrtle Beach by HCDA.

In response, Horry County Department of Airports reported to the Federal Aviation Administration that Skydive Myrtle Beach was the subject of 112 alleged safety violations (contained in the 126 pages of documents) while conducting business at Grand Strand Airport.

On October 7, 2015, the FAA issued a Director’s Determination Report, authored by Randall Fiertz, the FAA Director of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis, in response to Holly’s original complaint, supposedly basing the report on those safety violations.

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