City to petition Heart of Albemarle case to N.C. Supreme Court

Published 5:06 pm Wednesday, July 31, 2019

By: Chris Miller and Evan Moore

The City of Albemarle is set to petition the North Carolina Supreme Court to review its case against the owners of a site once operated as a hotel.

In a 6 to 1 vote Monday night, the City Council agreed to petition the Supreme Court after the North Carolina Court of Appeals in June upheld the Stanly County Superior Court’s ruling in 2018 that the city did not have standing to sue the owners of the Heart of Albemarle Hotel property.

Chucky and Jennifer R. Nance purchased the Heart of Albemarle Hotel property in 2012 and leased it to Charlene Smith, according to court documents. 

Albemarle Police visited the property 79 times from 2014 to 2017 “in response to complaints of criminal activity, including assaults, sales of narcotics, and solicitation of prostitution,” court documents claim.

Police officer Star Gaines said the property was used for narcotics sales and prostitution, according to court records. She said drug dealers and prostitutes were known to frequent the hotel. A witness reported seeing tenants operating multiple methamphetamine labs in unoccupied rooms. 

On March 24, 2017, the Nances received a notification from the city that their property was being used in a manner that was illegal. 

Chucky Nance evicted all tenants and closed his business to resolve the situation 28 days after the notice was delivered.

In early August 2017, four months after the hotel closed, the city’s outside legal counsel filed a lawsuit against the Nances alleging their property constituted a public nuisance. 

The City Council did not pass a resolution authorizing the filing of the lawsuit, Chuck Nance said in a phone interview Tuesday. Nance said Albemarle Mayor Ronnie Michael ordered then-police chief Danny Bowen to push for the lawsuit. 

Michael said he can’t talk about pending litigation due to advice of counsel.

“Just because I hurt his feelings doesn’t give him the authority to file a lawsuit against me without having the City Council in support of it,” Nance said referring to Michael.

In May 2018, Stanly County Superior Court ruled in favor of the Nances, stating the city did not follow the proper channels by allowing the Police Department to move forward with the lawsuit.

In early June of this year, the three-judge panel for the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling. 

According to the North Carolina courts website, “if a member of the three-judge panel dissents from the decision of the majority, there is a right of appeal from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of North Carolina; otherwise, further review of a decision of the Court of Appeals is limited to those cases that the Supreme Court accepts in its discretion.”

“All I can assume is that they think they know what they’re doing,” Albemarle Councilwoman Shirley Lowder said Tuesday, referring to the city continuing to pursue the case. She was the lone council member who voted against trying to take the case to the N.C. Supreme Court.

Paul Whitfield, the former lawyer for the city, said last week the city has spent close to $100,000 fighting the case. Whitfield said while the city is spending thousands to contest the case, backing out because of lack of funds would be unlikely. 

The city’s current attorney for their petition to the N.C. Supreme Court is Janelle Lyons, who works for Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP out of Charlotte.

“My client and I have no comment at this time due to pending litigation,” Lyons said in an email.

Nance said he planned to turn the hotel property into affordable low-income housing and the city knew his intentions. 

“This started ever since they knew I didn’t want to sell them the property,” he said. 

Multiple phone calls and emails to lawyers for the city and the Nances were unreturned.