Federal judge trims WOFF lawsuit

The Digital Courier/July 24, 2004
By Jerry Stensland

Spindale -- A motion made by the Rutherford County Department of Social Services to dismiss a federal lawsuit filed by the Word of Faith Fellowship and multiple individual church members was largely denied by a federal district court judge recently.

Judge Lacy Thornburg dismissed two of the nine complaints levied by WOFF and limited three others to state, not federal, law.

The ruling did not pass judgment on any of the WOFF's allegations.

Instead, in denying the dismissal, Judge Thornburg ruled that if sufficient evident were presented to prove the WOFF claims then they would violate federal and/or state law.

DSS, in asking for its dismissal, said that the claims would not violate laws. Additionally DSS says its employees have a limited amount of immunity in carrying out their duties.

The Judge agreed with the immunity stance on some of the claims, but not on others.

WOFF attorney John Gresham saw the ruling as validation of their legal rationale and has filed a motion relating to the three claims that were limited only to assessment on state law.

"We felt the claims brought were consistent with the law dealing with First Amendment and Constit-utional claims and are glad with what the court ruled so we can move forward with the case," said Gresham.

Gresham said they filed a motion to bring back the federal law portion on three of the claims.

"We have filed a motion that the claims under the federal law should still be there, not for damages against any of the defendants, but for injunctive relief," he said.

DSS is represented by the Scott McLatchie of Charlotte, who was out of the office Friday.

There were nine original claims in the suit including alleged violations of the free exercise of religion, right to familiar relations, the prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures, right of free speech and a civil rights conspiracy.

Thornburg dismissed claims about the intentional discrimination on the basis of religion and the violation of due process because he saw them as redundant and covered by the other claims.

Attorneys for both sides this week met to discuss the length of time need to gather evidence before the trial.

Gresham said the estimate was about one year or until July or August 2005. Thornburg will rule on whether that is an appropriate length of time for discovery.

Gresham is also representing the WOFF in the Lacy Wien civil suit which Wien dismissed earlier this week.

"The Church and the other defendants are pleased that this matter has been dismissed so that they can get on with their lives and with their worship," he said.

He added that he would be surprised if Wien brought the suit up again because she would be required to pay legal costs incurred by the WOFF as a result of rules related to civil suit dismissals.

He said that based on what he was told, the case is probably over.

"Mr. Lane had specifically told me that Ms. Wien had dismissed the lawsuit so she could get on with her life," he said.

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