County responds to lawsuit

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

A lawyer representing Carter County government officials filed a response to a multimillion dollar lawsuit involving the purchase of the two story white building adjacent to the Carter County Courthouse.
   Patrick Ledford, attorney with Moore Stout Waddell & Ledford, P. C., filed motions to dismiss on behalf of defendant Charlotte McKeehan, Clerk and Master, and Carter County defendants, which includes county commissioners and County Mayor Dale Fair.
   The plaintiffs, Janet and Ed Peters, allege their civil rights have been violated by the defendants after they purchased the building at a public auction for $90,000 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," saying the Seiler building had only 2.6 feet of road frontage rather than 50 feet indicated in the deed and auction advertisement.
   The lawsuit also names Jim Woltz and Ken Farmer, of Woltz and Associates, who conducted the auction. The lawsuit states the Woltz advertisement for the auction used the 50-foot street frontage stated in the deed of record and did not include any mention of the 2.6 feet of street frontage of the property. Janet Peters said she was unaware the property was landlocked or that there were any questions regarding the property line when the auction occurred.
   Peters closed off on 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," according to the suit. The lawsuit alleges, "Mayor Fair and Ms. McKeehan used the power of their office and their agents to weave a web of destruction and despair" against the couple.
   Janet Peters claims McKeehan issued her an incorrect deed, violating the terms of the sale and breached the contract.
   The motion to dismiss states, "The only other paragraph of the Complaint which might infer actions by Defendant McKeehan place her outside of judicial immunity are contained in (paragraph) 54 wherein it is alleged Defendant McKeehan 'blocked access from the Courthouse parking lot to Plaintiff's property with their car.' Surely, Plaintiff Peters does not insist that Defendant McKeehan parking on the Courthouse property constitutes a violation of her federal protected rights."
   Because of McKeehan's position as Clerk and Master of the Chancery Court, the motion to dismiss claims McKeehan has "immunity under the 11th Amendment of the United States Constitution ... Therefore, the suit brought against Defendant McKeehan in both her official and individual capacity must be dismissed," the lawsuit claims.
   The plaintiff also alleges that property was taken from her and accuses McKeehan and county officials of taking a portion of the 50 feet-by-75 feet described in the auctioneer's brochure.
   The dismissal motion states, "Prior to February 18, 2003 closing of Plaintiff Peters' purchase of her tract, she at no time owned a 50 feet-by-75 feet or 50 feet-by-72.31 feet tract or an interest therein. To establish a claim for deprivation of property without due process of law, a Plaintiff must first establish he or she had a property interest in that which he was deprived.
   "It is submitted, Plaintiff Peters did not possess a property interest in a 50 feet-by-75 feet or a 50 feet-by-72.31 feet tract prior to February 18, 2003 delivery of the Clerk and Master's deed to her. Plaintiff Peters was conveyed by Defendant McKeehan, Clerk and Master, a tract of lesser dimensions. The only property interest Plaintiff Peters has is in that tract conveyed to her by the Clerk and Master. Nothing was taken from Plaintiff Peters in which she had a property interest."
   Another allegation against Fair is that he threatened to use his power to condemn the property in order for the county to acquire the property. The response says, "Since there was no attempt to condemn the property of Plaintiff Peters, no such allegation can be made."
   The lawsuit asks the court for actual compensatory and punitive damages totaling $18.5 million.