Leatherman Terminal (copy)

A Charleston County jury ruled in favor of an engineering firm in a lawsuit filed by the State Ports Authority over work done at the Leatherman Terminal under construction at the former Navy Base in North Charleston Provided/State Ports Authority

A Charleston County jury this week ruled in favor of engineering firm in a lawsuit filed by the State Ports Authority over the initial design of a new container terminal being built in North Charleston.

The jury said the agency did not prove its claims that S&ME Inc.'s soil tests were faulty, resulting in a design at the Leatherman Terminal that wasn’t strong enough to support ship-to-shore cranes, containers and other equipment.

The authority, which operates the Port of Charleston, had been seeking more than $35 million in damages. The circuit court jury heard the case between Jan. 22 and Feb. 4.

“We are glad to put this lawsuit behind us in order to refocus on delivering current client needs," Forrest Foshee, S&ME’s director of geotechnical services, said in a statement.

Foshee added the firm's services "were professionally and competently performed."

Erin Dhand, a spokeswoman for the authority, said the agency "is disappointed with the jury verdict" and is "evaluating its options."

Raleigh-based S&ME has filed a counterclaim alleging the SPA banned it from doing further work for the agency in order to gain a "strategic advantage" in the litigation. For example, the firm said a potential contractor on the authority's Dillon inland port was told it could not use S&ME as a consultant if it wanted to bid on that project.

The counterclaim will be tried later, and a judge has yet to rule on whether S&ME can add a defamation claim against the authority. 

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Prior to the lawsuit, Foshee said, S&ME had enjoyed a long working relationship with the agency, beginning with the firm's help on initial construction of the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant in the early 1980s.

The authority filed its lawsuit in September 2016, claiming it had to spend additional money on work, materials and construction delays due to S&ME's work.

A second defendant — California-based engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol — settled with the SPA a year ago.

The first phase of the 280-acre Leatherman Terminal, under construction at the former Navy base, will include a 1,400-foot wharf that can accommodate ships hauling up to 18,000 cargo containers. The initial phase of the $762 million project is scheduled to open in 2021.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_