The owner of a popular Port Royal seafood restaurant is getting his day in court nearly six years after suing the S.C. State Ports Authority in a dispute over their lease agreement for a parking lot.
Sammy Gray filed suit in 2007 after discovering some of the land the Ports Authority was renting to him actually belonged to the town of Port Royal. The property was part of the parking lot for Gray's 11th Street Dockside restaurant.
The case is being heard this week in a jury trial at the Beaufort County Courthouse.
The lawsuit originally named the town as a defendant, but Port Royal was later dropped.
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According to testimony Wednesday, 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 that land from Port Royal and subleasing to Gray, but that agreement with the town expired in 1999, according to testimony.
In 2007, Gray attempted to sell his business to Tommy Oliva, who currently runs Dockside, according to testimony. That deal never was completed.
Without the additional parking area, Dockside's lot has room for only about 20 spaces, which is inadequate, Gray said in 2007.
Gray is suing for damages.
"This has caused a great deal of hardship, pain and health issues for our family," his daughter, Margaret Gray-Messner, said. "At my parents' age, the last thing they want to be doing is running a restaurant."
Gray is 81 and his wife, Doris, is 83.
The trial began Monday before Judge Roger L. Couch, and Gray's legal team, led by Ned Tupper, is expected to wrap up its case today. The defense is led by Cheryl Shoun.
Neither attorney would comment Wednesday.
"We just feel very strongly that it's a David and Goliath case when you're fighting an agency the size of the Ports Authority against an individual, and that has continued for as long as this has," Gray-Messner said. "We feel this could have been resolved a long time ago in our favor."
Accountant Doug Crowley of Crowley Wechsler & Associates testified Wednesday that he calculated the total loss in value to Gray at about $2.59 million.
Three prospective buyers have tried and failed to purchase the shuttered Port of Port Royal from the Ports Authority. The most recent attempt this summer ended because of financing trouble.
The town of Port Royal has worked a land swap into development agreements, in which a portion of land in question would be traded for the shrimp docks if the property is sold.
The Ports Authority has not yet swapped land with the town because the state agency cannot give or sell land for less than the appraised value, authority attorney George Bullwinkel told town council in January.