By Jesse Wood
The N.C. Supreme Court has sided with the Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary in a decision handed down last week. This unanimous decision, which upholds prior rulings in favor of Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary, likely ends the five years of litigation between the sanctuary and the Town of Beech Mountain.
“Justice has been served and Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary has been vindicated completely,” Susan Halliburton, a Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary board member, announced after the decision was handed down on June 9.
In March of 2012, the town’s attorney sent Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary Director Leslie Hayhurst an eviction letter along with a notification that the wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release center had violated its 30-year lease for a 0.84-acre town property near Buckeye Lake. The lease was signed in 1999 for $1.
Hayhurt responded with a rebuttal that stated the eviction letter was “factually incorrect [and] heartless.” A few weeks later, Beech Mountain filed a complaint with the magistrate in Small Claims Court in Watauga County, who ordered the sanctuary to leave the property and pay for any court costs.
Genesis appealed, and from there, the case eventually filtered into the state’s highest court. In May of last year, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 jury verdict and subsequent judge ruling ordering the town to pay roughly $360,000 in damages to Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary.
From the beginning of the lease until around 2010, the two entities had a good relationship. Things turned sour after the Beech Mountain Town Council adopted the Buckeye Lake Protection Ordinance, which stated: “No animals can be caged or housed within 200 feet of Buckeye Lake or within 200 feet of any stream that drains into Buckeye Lake.”
A request for comment from the Beech Mountain Town Manager Tim Holloman wasn’t returned on Wednesday. Here’s a statement from Clement Law Office, which represented Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary:
“We are delighted that the highest court in North Carolina has ruled in favor of Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary. Over the course of five years, four Superior Court judges, 12 local jurors, two Court of Appeals judges and seven Supreme Court justices have ruled favorably for Genesis. Only two judicial officials have not, one, a Court of Appeals judge whose dissenting opinion has been rejected by the Supreme Court and, second, a lay magistrate who heard the matter when Genesis was unrepresented by counsel.
“It is irrefutable that the Town of Beech Mountain violated the Constitutional rights of Genesis and inflicted great harm upon it. One Superior Court judge stated in open court that the actions of the Town of Beech Mountain shocked the conscience of the Court.
“For many years, Genesis was a valuable member of the Beech Mountain community, providing wildlife education and wildlife rehabilitation services to northwest North Carolina and east Tennessee. Hopefully, the final chapter of this sad saga has been written and Genesis will now be able to move forward.”