Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 17, 2020

Fed. Dist. Court of SC Dismisses Evangelical Church’s Claims Arising from a Denial of Building Permits

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.

MorningStar is “an evangelical church operating primarily in Fort Mill, York County, South Carolina. In 2004, MorningStar purchased the Heritage Tower, a twenty-one story, partially-completed building consisting of over five hundred residential rooms. When MorningStar was ready to begin renovation of the Tower, the County mandated a “Development Agreement” pursuant to the South Carolina Local Government Development Agreement Act (“SCLGDAA”). In 2008, MorningStar and the County entered into a Development Agreement with a five-year term. The Agreement provided for demolition of the Tower if certain conditions were not met by MorningStar. In 2018, MorningStar filed its original Complaint with this court asserting that Defendants denied building permits to MorningStar without a compelling state interest, and thereby interfered with Morningstar’s stated mode of worship and its right to worship.

MorningStar first alleged, in its §1985 claim, that Councilman Johnson, Larry Harrison, Bea McCarter, Defendants Baker and Motz, and other unnamed co-conspirators, all “working as representatives of York County,” conspired with one another in their official capacities to deprive Morningstar of its right to freely exercise its religion. Despite this, Morningstar failed to allege that any of the alleged co-conspirators “acted other than in the normal course of their corporate duties” for York County. Even accepting Morningstar’s allegations as true, the court found that Morningstar’s §1985 claim was barred by the intracorporate-immunity doctrine. Accordingly, the court held the Complaint failed to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. §1985 and was dismissed.

As a final matter, the court noted that since all federal claims had been eliminated before trial at the motion to dismiss stage of litigation, there was no discovery in this matter. As such, the court found no reason that MorningStar would be prejudiced by dismissing the pendant state law claims. As no compelling basis was presented for exercising supplemental jurisdiction over these claims, the court dismissed them.

MorningStar Fellowship Church v York County South Carolina, 2020 WL 4060135 (D. SC 7/20/2020)

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