The lawsuit filed by County Commissioner Michael Shane Wilcher against Warren County government and Commissioner Ron Lee is moving forward.
Judge Travis R. McDonough recently ruled on four motions: 1) a motion by Lee to dismiss was denied; 2) a motion by Wilcher to strike Warren County’s reply was denied; 3) a joint motion by the parties to stay discovery and cancel deadlines was denied; 4) a motion by Warren County government to dismiss was granted, in part.
At the heart of the case is a verbal exchange between Wilcher and Lee on Aug. 18, 2014 just prior to the monthly meeting of the Warren County Commission. Caught on video, Lee states, “If you ever send a piece of mail to my property again, at my house, I’ll whip your a--. Do you understand me? Do you understand what I just said to you?”
Several months later, Wilcher filed a lawsuit against Lee and the county.
Coming out a partial winner is the county. While its attorney petitioned to have the case dismissed in its entirety, Judge McDonough dismissed the negligent training claim only.
Wilcher asserted a claim of negligence against the county based on the claim Lee was “acting in the course and scope of his employment” with the county when he verbally assaulted him.
He alleges the county “negligently trained, monitored, supervised, controlled, counseled, investigated and disciplined its commissioners” and that because of that, the county is liable for Lee’s actions.
The county remains in the lawsuit because Wilcher also claims administration failed to admonish or otherwise discipline Lee in response to his assaultive actions, as such it “acquiesced, condoned, or adopted” an illegal custom.
Wilcher claims the custom was to “fail to act.”
The allegations made by Wilcher are that his “subsequent attempts to contact Lee in his official capacity – even by the means Lee demanded – were thwarted not only by Lee but also by various county officials, including the County Mayor.”
McDonough refused to dismiss that portion of the case against the county, stating Wilcher’s “allega-tions demonstrate a persistent pattern of which Defendants (Warren County government) had notice, tacit approval of the unconstitutional conduct that caused the deprivation of Plaintiff’s (Wilcher) right to petition, a deliberate indifference in failing to act, and a direct causal link. Therefore, Plaintiff has pleaded facts sufficient to satisfy the elements required and support municipal liability at this stage.”
Lee also petitioned to have the case against himself dismissed, claiming his actions are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity. As a general principle, government officials performing discretion-ary functions enjoy qualified immunity from liability for performance of their duties.
Judge McDonough denied Lee’s claim stating “Since at least 1985, it has been clearly established that the right to petition encompasses a right to send non-libelous written correspondence to public offi-cials. And a reasonable public official would understand that that right encompasses a right not to be assaulted for sending that material.”
The case is set to be heard in December.