The owner of a popular Port Royal seafood restaurant has been awarded $1.4 million in damages in his lawsuit over a portion of the parking lot he leased from the S.C. State Ports Authority.
Sammy Gray, the owner of 11th Street Dockside restaurant, filed the suit in 2008 after discovering some of the land the Ports Authority was renting to him actually belonged to the town of Port Royal.
"I'm very pleased," he said as he hugged family members after the verdict. "It's been almost seven years of this going on. I feel like this is very fair for what my family has gone through."
The trial began Monday before Judge Roger L. Couch, and Gray's legal team, led by Ned Tupper, argued his case through Thursday. The defense, led by Cheryl Shoun, called no witnesses, and attorneys gave closing arguments Friday. The jury deliberated less than two hours.
Neither attorney would comment afterward.
According to testimony, Gray signed an agreement to lease the property from the authority from 1996 to 2032, with an option to add 10 years. A 2006 land survey -- prepared as the Ports Authority attempted to sell its shuttered Port of Port Royal -- indicated most of the parking lot was owned by the town.
The authority had been leasing a triangular piece of parking lot from Port Royal, but that agreement with the town expired in 1999, according to testimony.
"We didn't (renew) it because we didn't have an obligation to do that," Shoun said, arguing there was no breach of contract. "We never purported to lease that portion of the triangle."
Shoun argued that Gray knew or should have known in the 1990s that portion of the parking area did not belong to the Ports Authority.
Tupper argued that Gray did not know there was a problem with the parking lot lease until 2007, and that issue scuttled a $1.8 million deal to sell Dockside. The lease with the Ports Authority did not clearly describe the parking lot property, Tupper said, causing the confusion.
"So if there's an ambiguity, that's not (Gray's) fault," Tupper said. "That's the fault of the Ports Authority."
He asked the jury to "make Sammy whole" financially by considering the loss of a $1.8 million sale and an accountant's testimony that the lost value of that sale is about $2.59 million today.
Couch agreed to give attorneys 10 days to file post-trial motions.
Ports Authority spokeswoman Allison Skipper said attorneys are reviewing the ruling and deciding how they will respond.
Gray said he hopes to negotiate with the town of Port Royal to resolve the parking lot issue. Town manager Van Willis said that piece of land is committed, by a council-approved agreement, to be swapped with the shrimp docks if a developer buys the Port of Port Royal from the Ports Authority. Any interim arrangement would need council approval.