Extension filed in courthouse case

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A stipulation agreement has extended the response time for Carter County government officials to answer a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by the owners of the former Seiler office building on East Elk Avenue.
   The county has until Monday to file an answer to a lawsuit seeking $18.5 million in damages filed by plaintiffs Janet and Ed Peters in U.S. District Court in Greeneville on Feb. 17. The lawsuit names County Mayor Dale Fair, Chancery Court Clerk and Master Charlotte McKeehan, the county government and all 24 county commissioners as defendants both individually and in their capacities as elected officials. The lawsuit also names as defendants Jim Woltz and Ken Farmer, of Woltz and Associates, who conducted the auction.
   Defendants typically have 30 days to file a response to a lawsuit unless granted a motion to extend the deadline. However, each party is allowed to have one stipulation extending their response time provided both parties to the suit agree to the extension. A separate stipulation agreed to and filed in the case granted an extension for Woltz and Farmer until April 5 to respond to the complaint.
   The lawsuit stems from the couple's purchase of the former Seiler office building immediately adjacent to the county courthouse in December of 2002.
   The Peters allege their civil rights have been violated by county officials after they purchased the building located at 100 Courthouse Square at a public auction for a $90,000 bid plus a buyer's fee of $4,500. The plaintiffs allege the special master's deed given to Janet Peters was an "unmarketable, improper deed" indicating the Seiler building had but 2.6 feet of road frontage rather than 50 feet indicated in the deed and auction advertisement.
   The lawsuit states the Woltz advertisement for the auction used the 50-feet street frontage stated in the deed of record and did not include any mention of the 2.6-feet street frontage of the property. Janet Peters stated she was unaware the property was landlocked or that there were any questions regarding the property line when the auction occurred.
   The suit states that Janet Peters paid off and closed the property on Feb. 18, 2003, "despite a concerted effort by the defendants, especially Special Master Charlotte McKeehan and Mayor Dale Fair to keep her from closing." The lawsuit alleges McKeehan refused to issue Janet Peters a property deed, violated the terms of the sale and breached the contract she signed with the plaintiff and Woltz and Associates. The lawsuit states the existing building or land has never encroached on the courthouse property.
   According to an heirs and administrators deed in the county Register of Deeds office, the late Dayton Seiler sold the property to seven family members each of whom took a one-seventh interest in the property. The deed, dated Dec. 30, 1994, describes the property as being a lot fronting 50 feet on the north side of Forge Street (East Elk Avenue). According to the property tax identification card on file at the Assessor of Property's office, the lot's size dimension is listed at 50 feet by 70 feet.
   The plaintiffs allege the defendants have engaged in breach of contract, misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and common law negligence. The suit sets forth 18 separate allegations against the defendants including violation of the Fifth and 14th amendments by depriving the plaintiff of her property without due process of law, breach of contract, as well as common law acts of civil conspiracy, negligence and retaliation. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages totaling $18.5 million.
   Attorney Sheryl C. Rollins of Knoxville filed the suit on behalf of the Peters. Attorney Patrick Ledford of Kingsport is representing the county.