1/12/2012 – ADG: – Court upholds suit’s dismissal in Alamo case. 8th Circuit finds for state agency

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
January 12, 2012
By Andy Davis

Court upholds suit’s dismissal in Alamo case
8th Circuit finds for state agency

A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld the dismissal of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries’ lawsuit against the state Department of Human Services — but for a different reason from the one the trial judge cited in dismissing the church’s claims in 2010.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2009 by the church and two members, accused the Human Services Department of a campaign of “harassment” that included the removal of 36 children from their homes in the ministry amid an investigation into allegations of physical and sexual abuse.

In a ruling Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the church’s claims are barred because they are connected with proceedings in state court that were pending when the suit was filed.

Susan Richard Nelson, a federal district judge in St. Paul, Minn., who served on the panel, wrote for the judges that the federal courts couldn’t interfere with state court proceedings unless it was shown that the proceedings were initiated in “bad faith.”

That hadn’t been proved by the Alamo ministry, Nelson wrote. She noted that decisions on the removal of the children and the termination of members’ parental rights had been upheld by the state Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court.

“Contrary to TACM’s argument that we must accept as true all of the allegations as pled, the numerous state appellate decisions undermine the plausibility of such allegations,” Nelson wrote.

The Human Services Department began seizing children from their homes in the ministry in Fouke and Fort Smith in 2008, saying they were endangered by practices that included allowing underage girls to marry and punishing misbehavior with beatings.

Tony Alamo, the ministry’s leader, was convicted in federal court in 2009 of taking underage girls across state lines for sex and was sentenced to 175 years in prison.

The pending state child welfare proceedings were also cited by U.S. District Judge Harry Barnes as a reason to dismiss claims in the lawsuit by the two church members, Greg Seago and Bert Krantz.

Barnes noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that federal courts should not interfere with state court proceedings except in unusual circumstances, such as when state authorities have acted in bad faith.

As for the church itself, however, Barnes said it did not have the standing to file the suit because it did not allege an “injury to a legally protected interest.” Seago and Krantz did not appeal Barnes’ dismissal of their claims.

In the ruling Wednesday, Nelson wrote that the panel didn’t need to address the standing issue because the church’s claims, like those of the church’s members, are barred under the doctrine stemming from the 1971 Supreme Court ruling.

Although the church was not a party to the state child welfare proceedings, Nelson wrote, its claims stemmed from the complaints of members who were parties.

The other members of the panel were appeals court Judges James Loken of Minneapolis and Steven Colloton of Des Moines, Iowa.

Little Rock attorney John Wesley Hall Jr., who represented the church in the appeal, said he didn’t know Wednesday whether the church would ask for a rehearing before the full 11-member appeals court or seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In: 2012

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