S.C. Supreme Court rules against Surfside Beach in lawsuit

Current interim administrator Jim Duckett is at the center of a 2012 lawsuit against the Town of Surfside Beach in which the S.C. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a former town employee.

In April 2012, Jacklyn Donevant, the town's building official, filed the lawsuit, claiming the town wrongfully terminated her after she issued a stop work permit concerning the town's pier restaurant space. According to the suit, Duckett made the decision to fire her.

Now, the S.C. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Donevant.

"As we read this record and the court of appeals' opinion, Donevant was fired because she carried out her mandatory responsibility under the law to enforce the provisions of the building code," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit

In the original suit, Donevant claimed she was fired for her refusal to violate state law, and was asking for unspecified relief for actual, consequential and incidental damages.

Shortly before Donevant took a 12-week medical leave, she issued a permit for demolition work on the restaurant space of the pier.

After she returned, Donevant found construction work being done without a permit, and found it to be in violation with building code, according to the ruling.

At that point she issued a stop work permit.

On March 21, 2012, Duckett suspended Donevant for three days without pay, citing her "inability to follow directions" after he told her not to reverse anything done while she was gone, the lawsuit states. At that time, Sabrina Morris, who worked in the planning department, issued construction permits, according to the original lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Donevant said the construction plans for the pier had not been approved, and Morris did not have to authority or license to issue the permit. Donevant then wrote a letter to Duckett on March 25 saying her suspension was unlawful.

She was fired 10 days later.

"Donevant was not fired for taking the discretionary action of issuing the stop work order," the ruling reads. "Rather, she was fired for carrying out the building official's mandatory legal duty to 'enforce compliance' with the building code."

At the time, Duckett said her firing did not have anything to do with the stop work permit. He resigned a month later, claiming it was a voluntary resignation, but did not cite any specific reasons.

Duckett is currently filling in as interim administrator after town council voted to fire Micki Fellner, former town administrator in January. During that meeting, Morris was reinstated to her director position in the Planning, Building and Zoning Department, after she was fired by Fellner for allegedly recording a a conversation with him.

The Sun News has reached out to Duckett, but he has not immediately returned a phone call.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Micki Fellner fired Sabrina Morris for allegedly recording their conversations. Those conversations weren't during executive sessions, as previously reported.