JWC lawsuit thrown out

JENKINSVILLE – A six-year legal battle over Jenkinsville water service has reached an end – for now. 

On April 30, Circuit Court Judge Brian Gibbons sided with the Jenkinsville Water Company, throwing out a lawsuit filed by Broad River Campground that claimed breach of contract, fraud and other violations. 

“The non-moving party is only required to submit a mere scintilla of evidence in order to withstand a motion for summary judgment,” the order states. “Summary judgment should be granted when plain, palpable and undisputable facts exist on which reasonable minds cannot differ.”

An attorney for Broad River Campground, which in 2014 filed suit, said he plans to appeal. 

“The court was erroneous in its decision to grant summary judgment. The standard we had to meet was met,” campground attorney Glenn Bowens said Tuesday. “You have to produce at least a scintilla of evidence and we had way more than that.”

An attorney for the JWC could not be reached as of press time. 

Bowens said the litigation is important because he said the JWC needs to be held accountable so that water service is available to all who request it.

“Jenkinsville [Water Company] seems to think they can pick and choose who they want to provide water service to,” he said. “In the course of all of this, we found numerous people who were trying to get water services for their businesses and they were either denied water service or not granted what they needed exactly.”

In his order, Judge Gibbons listed six reasons why he dismissed the case. Most boiled down to whether or not a water service contract existed between Broad River and the JWC. 

Broad River argued that a 2009 letter from the JWC constituted a contract. In the letter, the JWC stated it could provide 175 gallons of water per day to serve 46 campsites, but only if it didn’t negatively impact customers.

Broad River’s lawsuit says the JWC didn’t provide adequate water service despite having adequate capacity. The JWC denied it ever entered into a contract.

Gibbons’ order states that testimony and pre-trial briefs established that campground co-owner Dee Melton never agreed to any restrictions on the campground’s right to expand.

“Defendant JWC is entitled to summary judgment and a dismissal with prejudice as to the breach of contract claim because there was no meeting of the minds as to the essential terms of the October 2009 Letter,” the order states. “Accordingly, the Court finds that the Parties never entered into a valid, legally binding contract regarding water usage.”

By extension, negating the 2009 letter also negated other breach of contract claims related to the water company’s bylaws, a water user agreement and a 2009 oral promise by the JWC to provide up to 40,000 gallons of water per day for up to 200 campsites, the order continued.

“Plaintiff’s co-owner, Dee Melton, should have been aware of the alleged existence of these purported contracts, yet he did not identify any of them in response to direct questions from Defendant’s counsel,” the order states.

Gibbons also dismissed the suit on statute of limitations grounds. He wrote in his order that Broad River amended its original 2014 suit in 2018, which the judge said exceeded the three-year statute of limitations on litigation.

Gibbons threw additional cold water on the campground’s argument that the breach of contract constituted fraud.

“Without a valid and enforceable contract and its subsequent breach, Plaintiff’s claim for breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act fails as a matter of law,” the order says.

The lawsuit’s dismissal doesn’t spell an end to litigation for the JWC. 

Broad River also sued the water company in 2016, accusing the group routinely violating state open meeting and public record laws. That suit is still pending. 

And Fairfield County Councilwoman Bertha Goins countersued the JWC in April, claiming the slander suit the water company filed against her a month earlier was an attempt to harass and intimidate her after she publicly voiced concerns over Jenkinsville water quality. That case is also still pending.