Federal suit against city dismissed

  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A federal lawsuit against the City of Georgetown, the mayor and several city personnel has been dismissed in U.S. District Court.

James M. “Marty” Tennant originally filed the civil suit on Feb. 8, 2012. On Aug. 15, U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel filed an order on the case.

The case involved six claims: two violations of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and four pendant state law claims for “defamation, civil assault, conspiracy to defame and conspiracy to commit civil assault.”

The City of Georgetown, Councilman Brendon Barber, Mayor Jack Scoville, former City Risk Manager Cindy Howard, City Clerk Ann Mercer, and Chief of Police Paul Gardner were all named as defendants.

The U.S. Magistrate Court conducted the pretrial proceedings of the case and filed a report and recommendation on June 26, which was to dismiss the charges.

Judge Gergel’s order was to accept the report and recommendation. The order dismissed the first two counts of the cases, dismissed the four pendant state law claims without prejudice, and granted the defendants’ motion for a summary judgment.

The first claim implicates the City of Georgetown, the mayor and Barber restricted Tennant’s rights to speak freely at a City Council meeting, during which Barber and Tennant engaged in a verbal dispute.

The order states the city was dismissed because the unconstitutional action was not the result of a policy of regulation.

Scoville was dismissed because he had a “neutral role in the altercation” and his comments made after Tennant left the room “could not have possibly” affected Tennant’s decision to leave the meeting.

Barber was dismissed because Tennant “provided no evidence to support his claim” that his altercation with Barber restricted his right to free speech.

“The Court finds that the Magistrate properly applied the law to this case and therefore dismisses Claim One,” the order reads.

The second claim argues there was a conspiracy against Tennant, who was not permitted to enter City Hall without a police escort after an incident at the building.

According to the order, the law requires that for a conspiracy to be proved, evidence must prove there was no rational basis for the difference in treatment compared to other citizens.

The order states the district judge agreed with the magistrate judge, who wrote in the report and recommendation, “[I] can discern no unlawful ‘conspiracy’ by the Defendants.”

The remaining pendant state law claims were dismissed without prejudice, which allows Tennant to pursue the charges in state court.

The defendants filed a motion for a summary judgment on Oct. 4, 2013, that would, if granted, allow the case to proceed without a full trial. The motion was granted in Gergel’s order.

The order concludes the case in federal court, although appeals may be made.

Tennant said he plans to make an appeal to the decision.

“The judge is wrong,” he said. “If I have to take this all the way to the United States Supreme Court I will. What happened to me was totally wrong. The city, the mayor and Brendon Barber were not treating me the way they treat everybody else, and that’s against the law.”

Mayor Scoville said he agreed with the judge’s ruling.

“This was obviously the right decision. There never was a case there, and there isn’t a case there. … It was a ridiculous lawsuit from the beginning.”

Barber could not be reached for comment.

According to the mayor, the case was defended by the S.C. Municipal Insurance Reserve Fund and has cost an estimated $30,000.

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