Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The City of Georgetown prevailed on Thursday in a long-standing lawsuit filed against the city by a former motel owner who claimed the city wrongfully denied him the opportunity to restore a billboard damaged by an auto accident.
A Georgetown County jury took only 45 minutes to deliver its verdict in favor of the city, ending a years-long legal battle between the City of Georgetown and former Georgetonian Motel owner David Ashenfelder, finding that the billboard was on city right-of-way land and Ashenfelder had no right to reconstruct it.
The prolonged case had gone from state court to federal court and back to state court. Ashenfelder originally filed his lawsuit in state court, claiming both state and federal constitutional rights were violated. The city asked a U.S. District Court to hear the case, and the court dismissed Ashenfelder’s claims of constitutional rights violations.
The federal court, however, sent the case back to a state court. After a jury was unable to reach a verdict, a mistrial was declared, and Ashenfelder filed a new lawsuit. The city, however, prevailed in the trial on that suit that ended Thursday.
“Our attorney was wonderful,” City Administrator Chris Carter said, referring to Andrew F. Lindemann, of Columbia. “He spoke the case law off the top of his head and forced Ashenfelder to adhere to the oath of truth that he had taken prior to taking the stand.”
The legal action stemmed from an auto accident in 2003, when a vehicle struck and severely damaged a billboard advertising Ashenfelder’s motel. The city determined that Ashenfelder had never applied for a sign permit, and the city removed and disposed of the damaged billboard. City officials also told Ashenfelder he could not receive a permit for a new billboard, because the site was located on city property.