Dare County settles lawsuit over out-of-town property owners’ rights

Checkpoint at the Wright Memorial Bridge on March 17, 2020. [Kari Pugh photo]

Dare County has settled in a federal lawsuit filed brought by Outer Banks’ property owners claiming their constitutional rights were violated by an COVID-19 emergency order preventing access to their homes.

The settlement, approved by the Dare Board of Commissioners on Monday, gives out-of-town property owners the same rights as residents during a public health emergency. Those rights, however, don’t extend to natural disasters such as hurricanes and tropical storms.

“This action is brought by plaintiffs who seek to protect their right to travel, to engage in a common calling or occupation, and to obtain medical treatment as is guaranteed to them as citizens of the United States” by the U.S. Constitution, the suit reads.

On March 20, the Dare County Control Group — a multi-jurisdictional policy-making body that assumes a leadership role for the entire county during emergencies — amended a March 17 emergency declaration restricting visitor access to include non-resident property owners. Law-enforcement checkpoints were established at both bridges into Dare County to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The suit, filed in April, contended the prohibition on the entry of out-of-state property owners violated the U.S. Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause, which says citizens of each state are entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in every state.

Attorney S.C. Kitchen, who represented the property owners, said the plaintiffs weren’t questioning the coronavirus restrictions in Dare County, and didn’t seek monetary damages. They simply wanted access to property they own and pay for.

“We’re happy to see the constitution is still in effect, even during a pandemic,” Kitchen said.

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Kari Pugh is digital director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, 94.5 WCMS and Classic Rock 92.3. Reach her at [email protected]