By Jesse Wood
July 23, 2014. On Monday, a Superior Court Judge announced that he would dismiss the Town of Beech Mountain’s claim that Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary violated its lease agreement with the town. This is a major victory for Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary in the case has been an ongoing for the past two years.
The 30-year lease was signed in 1999 for $1 to house the wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release center on .84-acres of property owned by the town that is located near Buckeye Lake. It wasn’t until 2009 when Beech Mountain Town Council adopted the Buckeye Lake Protection Ordinance, which states that animals can’t be caged or housed within 200 feet of Buckeye Lake and its tributaries, that the relationship began to sour.
Once that ordinance, which enabled the town to use it as a recreation lake, passed, it caused Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary to be in violation of town ordinances and its lease. Genesis wasn’t notified it was in violation of its lease until the summer of 2010 and months later the Beech Mountain Town Council gave Genesis $1,000 to move all of the animals off the property; some were dispersed to private properties and a bobcat was euthanized without a sufficient home to go to.
While Genesis thought it was then in compliance with its lease, Beech Mountain Town Attorney Four Eggers penned a letter on April 2012 to Genesis officials, notifying them of other violations of the lease agreement – including that the space wasn’t being used as an education center; Genesis didn’t provide proof of insurance; structures were in violation of setback variances and would have to be demolished; and a great deal of debris existed on the property, according to court records.
A few weeks later, town filed a complaint in Watauga County Small Claims Court seeking an immediate eviction of Genesis from the property. A magistrate sided with the town, but then Genesis appealed in September 2012 with its own claims –breach of lease, inverse condemnation, unfair and deceptive trade practices and violation of civil and constitutional rights, which the town denied.
Then in October 2012, attorneys for the town filed a motion to dismiss Genesis’ counterclaim. It basically denied most of all the allegations of Genesis’ counterclaim, again requested Genesis’ eviction and sought monies for lawyer services. That motion included that:
- plaintiff pleads all applicable governmental immunities
- the counterclaim by Genesis is based in whole or in part by doctrine of “unclean hands”
- states its actions, practices and policies are based on legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons
- denies that Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary has been injured or damaged in anyway
- alleges parties agreed to lease modification that would ban counterclaims
In May 2013, N.C. Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope sided with Genesis, ruling that the lease was valid. Then another Superior Court judge ruled in October 2013 that the ordinance couldn’t be legally used as a “primary tool to eject Genesis” from the property. While the town sought to end the case quickly, it began picking up steam for Genesis – which leads now to the most recent ruling that occurred on Monday.
“Genesis is extremely pleased with the outcome. We had asserted for quite a long time, certainly even before the lawsuit initiated by the town against Genesis, that we were not in breach of any provision in our lease. It’s gratifying to see the court rule it as a matter of law that we didn’t breach that lease,” Charles Brady, attorney with Clement Law Office, representing Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary, said.
Brady, who said he took notes of the judge’s words when the ruling was handed down, said that Superior Court Gary Gavenus used strong language towards the direction of the town, particularly chastising it for the handling of the property that “does indeed shock the conscious of the court” and adoption of the ordinance that he called “arbitrary and capricious.”
While Gavenus sided with Genesis by dismissing the town’s claim that it violated its lease agreement with the wildlife center, it also dismissed Genesis’ claims regarding unfair trade practices and bill of attainder.
Still, Brady said all of Genesis’ “major” claims against the town are “still alive.”
Asked for comment, Beech Mountain Attorney Four Eggers said in email, “On the remaining issues, it would be premature for me to comment on the various matters and defenses which would be addressed at trial. Since we don’t have a draft of the judge’s order, I wouldn’t want to speak out of turn as to what claims or defenses may be considered by a jury in September. The Town does contest the issues of liability to the defendant, and will review the Order of the Court once it is prepared and proceed accordingly.”
A jury trial and the remainder of the case is set for September 15.