Judge tosses suit in Charleston airport board case; appeal expected
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought against lawmakers serving on Charleston County Aviation Authority, according to court documents.
Circuit Judge Markley Dennis ruled the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, but did not rule on the merits of the case, which challenges the constitutionality of certain lawmakers on the airport board.
“I think there is a 2,000 percent probability there will be a notice of appeal,” said Ed Sloan, a retired paving contractor behind the S.C. Public Interest Foundation, who brought the case to court with Charleston attorney Waring Howe. Howe served as chairman of the airport board several years ago.
They sued Rep. Chip Limehouse, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, both of Charleston, and others, alleging, among other things, that the General Assembly violated the state Constitution by passing legislation specific to one county. Harrell was sued because of his position as Speaker of the House.
The law, co-authored in 2007 by Limehouse, places the chairman and vice chairman of Charleston County legislative delegation on the Aviation Authority. Limehouse has alternately served in both capacities for several years.
The defense argued that Howe and Sloans’ foundation did not have legal standing to bring the suit because they weren’t directly affected by the law.
Sloan lives in the Upstate. Attorneys claim Howe, as a county resident and taxpayer, had no basis to sue because the airport receives no county taxes.
It does receive federal funding and levies bonds to cover its debt.
Limehouse serves as chairman of the delegation, and until January, was chairman of the airport board, which owns and operates the county’s three airports, including Charleston International, which has taken on greater significance with the looming $200 million terminal expansion to meet growing demand and since Boeing started building 787 airplanes on its property.
Limehouse continues to hold a seat on the board, but he has appointed retired Maj. Gen. Jim Livingston as his proxy on the Aviation Authority while he campaigns for Congress.
Limehouse believes the law is constitutional and declined to comment on the ruling.
Sen. Chip Campsen of Charleston, who serves as vice chairman of the delegation, believes the law is unconstitutional because it “likely violates the separation of powers doctrine ... of the South Carolina Constitution” and “violates the constitutional prohibition against dual office-holding.” He declined to sit on the board.
Because the law states the vice chairman or his proxy can serve on the airport board, Campsen appointed former state lawmaker Ben Hagood to take his place.
Howe said it was important to note that the ruling was not on the constitutionality of the law, but on the plaintiff’s standing to sue.
If there is an appeal, it will go to the S.C. Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court. If the judge’s ruling is overturned, the case would be go back to circuit court for a trial. A ruling there could still be appealed to the higher courts where a final decision would settle the case.