Thursday, February 14, 2013

Challenge To 10 Commandments Monument Dismissed After Plaintiff Says It Now Lacks Standing

In 2006, Dixie County, Florida commissioners approved a request by citizens to permit them to place a 5-foot tall, 6-ton granite Ten Commandments monument at the county courthouse. The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the monument on behalf of an ACLU member, identified only as John Doe, who did not live in Dixie County, but said he was looking to purchase property there on which he and his wife could park their recreational vehicle. They encountered the offending display when they went to the county courthouse to research any encumbrances on property they were considering. Apparently the ACLU was unable to find an actual Dixie County resident who was willing to act as plaintiff.

As the case wound its way through the courts, standing of plaintiff to bring the lawsuit remained an issue, and last year the 11th Circuit remanded the case to the district court for a hearing on standing. Last month, the ACLU filed a motion (full text) to dismiss the suit without prejudice, asserting that changed circumstances have led plaintiff to conclude that it lacks standing.  The motion asserted:
John Doe recently learned that a revised permitting process will limit the number and location of properties on which RVs may be placed. And more troubling for Doe and his wife, the revised permitting process would require John Doe to publicly advertise his request for a permit. The Does are fearful that, because it is common knowledge that they were seeking property for the purpose of living in their RV, the new permitting requirements will lead to their identities being discovered and make them targets for physical violence and threats or harm to their property.... With these new requirements and accompanying fears for their safety, John Doe and his wife regrettably concluded this past week that, even if the monument is removed, they “are very unlikely to return to Dixie County to search for property.”
Yesterday, in American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Inc. v. Dixie County, Florida, (ND FL, Feb. 13, 2013), the federal district court dismissed the case without prejudice, indicating that all matters, including costs and attorneys' fees, have been resolved by the parties. A press release by Liberty Counsel indicates that under the parties' agreement, the ACLU will pay defendants $1300 for court costs. It says that plaintiff has admitted he does not intend to buy property in the county because the court had ordered him to be deposed to reconcile inconsistencies in his prior affidavit and deposition.