Local News

Dare County sued over virus-related blockade

Posted April 8, 2020 5:04 p.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2020 11:25 p.m. EDT

— Some Dare County homeowners have sued the county, saying restrictions keeping non-residents out of the county during the coronavirus pandemic violate their rights.

John Bailey, Paul and Sheryl Michael, Thompson Brown and Todd and Babette Edgar want a federal judge to void the restrictions as unconstitutional.

Dare County officials set up checkpoints on March 17 at all entry points to the coastal county, denying access to all visitors. The restrictions were extended to non-resident property owners a few days later. Residents and workers in essential local businesses had to obtain a permit to get past the checkpoints.

County officials said the restrictions were needed to keep the virus out of the area. As of Wednesday, the county has 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness associated with the virus, a fraction of the more than 3,400 cases in North Carolina.

Brown and the Michaels, who all live in Virginia, own second homes in Dare County, while Bailey, who is from South Carolina, and the Edgars, who are from Maryland, have rental properties in the county. They allege in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that they are illegally denied a "pursuit of a common calling" by not being allowed to prepare their properties for summer occupancy.

Common calling is a legal term that refers to an ordinary occupation engaged in by a person, which is protected by the Constitution, or a commercial enterprise that offers services to the general public and is legally bound to serve anyone who requests the services.

"Very simply, they own houses in Dare County, and they're not being allowed to get to their houses," attorney Chuck Kitchen said Wednesday, adding that out-of-state residents cannot be treated differently than people who live in the county.

"It's their place. They own it, they pay taxes. They're just like everyone else," he said.

Outer Banks social media sites show many island residents don't share that opinion.

“Stay in your own state till this is over with,” one comment reads.

“These 6 property owners simply have no respect for those of us who live here,” reads another.

Dare County spokeswoman Dorothy Hester declined to comment, saying county officials haven't seen the lawsuit.

The property owners also allege that Dare County didn't, as required by state law, have an ordinance in place spelling out potential restrictions and prohibitions before imposing any under a state of emergency declaration.

"There is no direct grant of power to a county to enact restrictions in a state of emergency declaration. There must be a valid ordinance to impose restrictions such as those included in the State of Emergency Declarations enacted by the Defendant. As the Defendant failed to properly adopt its Emergency Management Ordinance, the State of Emergency Declarations including their restrictions and prohibitions on entry into Dare County are invalid," the lawsuit states.

Kitchen said he has received calls from others who own homes at the coast but live elsewhere who want to join the lawsuit.

"They have a house in Dare County, and they would like very much to be able to go home," he said. "You get to a certain age, [and] sometimes you just want to go to your house, sit there and look out over the water."

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