By Paul Gable
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.
There is no doubt that official records, including records of investigations that confirmed safety violations by SDMB, will play a big part in discovery. If the FAA and/or HCDA cannot produce such records, the eviction of SDMB for unsafe practices is without foundation.
Of course, after denying such records exist in prior responses to FOIA requests, it will be impossible for either the FAA or HCDA to now produce such records without opening up a whole new can of worms for themselves.
On several different occasions, Carotti has said Horry County Government and its Department of Airports were completely justified in the actions they took.
Below is an extract from an email sent from Carotti to at least one member of county council questioning the case (Aaron Holly is the principal owner of SDMB):
“On Aug 15, 2017, at 11:24 AM, Carotti, Arrigo <CarottiA@HorryCounty.org> 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”
Carotti will now have the opportunity to produce the “voluminous court documents and public records” bearing out his “true set of affairs” in discovery. They better be something different than the 112 “Unusual Incident Reports”, which he admits were never investigated, and court records relying on actual official documented proof other than those suspicious reports. But, how do you do that when you’ve already admitted none exist?
Soon we will see who has been misrepresenting facts and the law.