CHARLESTON, South Carolina — While dismissing lawsuit claims that Carnival's year-round cruises violate Charleston's noise and sign ordinances, the South Carolina Supreme Court wants to hear from attorneys about whether the cruises constitute a public nuisance or violate city zoning ordinances.
In a case that has attracted national attention, the Preservation Society of Charleston, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and neighborhood groups sued two years ago, seeking to block cruise operations and have the court declare it illegal for the South Carolina State Ports Authority to create a new $35 million cruise terminal.
The city and the State Ports Authority intervened on behalf of Carnival and asked the Supreme Court to take initial jurisdiction in the case, saying the suit threatens the state's maritime commerce and so makes it a matter of statewide public interest.
The justices appointed Circuit Judge Clifton Newman as a special referee. He heard testimony last summer and filed his report earlier this year, recommending that some claims be heard by the high court because the plaintiffs may be able to show the cruise liners are public nuisances creating soot, traffic and noise.
In a June 5 order, the justices agreed with Newman's recommendations to dismiss claims that the cruises violate city noise and sign ordinances as well as state pollution law.
They have given attorneys until early next month to file briefs on whether city zoning ordinances are applicable to ocean-going vessels and, if so, if they are pre-empted by state and federal law. The justices also want to hear from attorneys on whether the plaintiffs have the legal standing to bring the nuisance and zoning complaints.
There have been seasonal cruises from Charleston in years past, but things changed three years ago when Carnival permanently based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy in the city, creating a year-round cruise industry.
"We are pleased that our seven strongest claims remain and look forward to showing that Carnival cannot ignore the rules every other business plays by," said Blan Holman, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center representing the plaintiffs. "We look forward to continuing to act on behalf of citizens to ensure that Carnival follows local laws that protect the city's healthy environment, treasured historic assets, and booming tourism industry."
"We find the court's ruling a very positive development in dismissing a number of the causes of action," Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said. "The two issues they do want further briefing on are issues that the position of the Ports Authority and Carnival Cruise Lines are very sound."
Jim Newsome, president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority, said the agency was "grateful to the Supreme Court for taking this important case in its original jurisdiction, and we are optimistic that this action will lead to an expeditious resolution to remainder of the lawsuit."