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Tompkins v. Lifeway Christian Resources of Southern Baptist Convention

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

April 10, 2018

L. KIRK TOMPKINS and SUSIE TOMPKINS, Plaintiffs,
v.
LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCES OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION, THOM RAINER, President of Lifeway, JERRY L. RHYNE, C.F.O. of Lifeway, LARRY D. CANNON, Sec. of Lifeway, DAVID WEEKLEY, Director of Glorieta 2.0, TERRY LOOPER, Director of Glorieta 2.0, LEONARD RUSSO, Director of Glorieta 2.0, ANTHONY SCOTT, Director of Glorieta 2.0, HAL HILL, Consulting Director of Glorieta 2.0, LINDA K. DEAN, Trustee of Lifeway, and JEFF WARD, Director of Finance, Glorieta 2.0, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          M. CHRISTINA ARMIJO United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants' motions to dismiss Counts I-V of the Complaint and for sanctions (Docs. 23, 24, 25, and 49). Also before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion seeking leave to file a surreply (Doc. 66). Defendants argue Plaintiffs' pro se Complaint is abusive, barred by preclusion principles, and fails to state a cognizable claim. For the reasons set out below, the Court will deny leave to file a surreply; deny Defendants' motions to dismiss Counts I - IV without prejudice, but grant leave to amend those claims; dismiss Count V; and decline to impose sanctions at this time.

         BACKGROUND

         For the limited purpose of this ruling, the Court assumes the relevant facts taken from Plaintiff's complaint are true.

         The Southern Baptist Convention (“SBC”) owned certain real property in New Mexico and Tennessee. (Doc. 20, p. 12-14). SBC had a business relationship with Defendant Lifeway Christian Resources (“Lifeway”). Id. at p. 12-13. Plaintiffs own, or used to own, a residential dwelling located at 304 Aspen Rd. in Glorieta, New Mexico (“Aspen Property”). Id. at p. 7-8; 16. Construed liberally, the Complaint appears to allege the Aspen Property was part of the Glorieta Conference Center (“GCC Property”), a project managed by Lifeway. Id. at p. 2, 13-15. The GCC Property sits on 2, 500 acres and features single family homes, a religious retreat, camp buildings, a resort, and a conference center. Id. at p. 18.

         In 2013, Glorieta 2.0 Inc. (“Glorieta 2.0”) expressed interest in purchasing the GCC Property. Id. at p. 14-15. Glorieta 2.0 director David Weekley met with the GCC Property homeowners, including Plaintiffs, to discuss the sale. Id. Plaintiffs were not permitted to bring legal representatives or real estate brokers to the meeting. Id. at p. 39. Weekley knew the GCC Property was worth $12 million, but he only “allocated” $2.5 million to the purchase. Id. at p. 15. Glorieta 2.0 purchased the GCC Property in September 2013. Id. Lifeway took the position that it sold the GCC land to Glorieta 2.0 without selling any dwelling houses. Id. at p. 23. The purchase contract therefore included an option for Plaintiffs to sell the home on the Aspen Property (presumably to Glorieta 2.0) for $84, 999. Id.

         According to Plaintiffs, Glorieta 2.0's contract to purchase the GCC Property is “void on the basis of unconscionability.” Id. at p. 34. Plaintiffs also refused the $84, 999 purchase offer on the home because it was insulting and unconscionable. Id. at p. 23-24. Thereafter, Defendants embarked on “a complex scheme leading to egregious heinous damages inflicted on Plaintiffs in efforts to make [them] accept an Unconscionable Contract Offer for [their] Private Property.” Id. at p. 16, 23. Specifically, Defendants represented that the GCC Property lost revenue; published deceitful articles in Baptist newsletters; and misrepresented information at a Baptist conference. Id. at p. 21. Defendants also misrepresented the terms of the GCC Property sale and falsified property records to “explain away errors in … previous … sales contracts.” Id. at p. 18, 23-24, 29. These tactics devalued Plaintiff's home and prevented them from selling the property for fair market value. Id. at p. 25. Plaintiffs allege Glorieta 2.0's directors intentionally engaged in such misconduct to profit at the homeowners' expense. Id. at p. 32.

         In the following years, Plaintiffs submitted five written requests to “discuss problematic conditions” on the GCC Property, including waste management issues. Id. at p. 27-28. Then, in 2016, Plaintiffs confirmed Lifeway, its agents, and “representatives at ‘GCC'” used the GCC Property as an illegal dump site for toxic waste. Id. at p. 28, 35. The problem purportedly existed for at least 40 years. Id. at p. 28. The toxic materials included: “additional debris from renovations;” “asbestos;” “hazardous building materials;” “chemicals;” “carcinogens;” and “black mold” in the eating facility. Id. at p. 36, 38, and 40. Plaintiffs and their children were exposed to the dump site in the 1980's, and they ate at the dining hall containing black mold. Id. at p. 35, 38. Lifeway failed to inform residents about the toxic areas and instead attempted to escape liability by selling the GCC Property to Glorieta 2.0. Id. at p. 35.

         According to the Complaint, such misconduct caused “unknown health problems over several decades” and “anxiety for years to come.” Id. at p. 36, 38. Plaintiffs further allege that “at the time of death of [their] Paternal father, the ‘HIDDEN' hazards created and unattended at ‘GCC' had been on the ‘GCC' Property within ½ mile from” their religious retreat/dwelling home. Id. at p. 41. Lifeway and Glorieta 2.0 are allegedly under criminal investigation for illegal dumping and other violations of environmental law. Id. at p. 39.

         Plaintiffs also allege Defendants abused Mike Adney, a third party. Id. at p. 42. Adney functions as Plaintiff's “Trustee.” Id. He resides at the Aspen Property house “for security, ” and presumably to maintain a presence until the dispute over ownership is resolved. Id. Glorieta 2.0 Director Jeff Ward allegedly threatened and harassed Adney in an attempt to extort Plaintiffs. Id. Such conduct caused Plaintiffs to experience “mental distress” and denied them “meaningful rest leading to sleeplessness.” Id.

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Verified Complaint for Civil Fraud, Denial of Constitutional Due Process, Unconscionable Contract, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, and Extortion (“Complaint”). (Doc. 20). The claims are broken down as follows:

(Count 1): Fraud, which relates to the sale of the GCC Property and the purchase offer on the Aspen Property dwelling house. (Doc. 20, p. 20-26)
(Count II): Denial of Constitutional Due Process, which relates to the sale of the GCC Property, the purchase offer, and the “taking” of the Aspen Property. (Doc. 20, p. 27-30).
(Count III): Unconscionable Contract, which relates to unjust enrichment, the purchase offer, and the sale contract for the GCC Property. (Doc. 20, p. 30-34).
(Count IV): Breach of Fiduciary Duty, which relates to the failure to properly dispose of toxic waste and inform residents of the attendant risks. (Doc. 20, p. 35-41).
(Count V): Extortion, which relates to the threats against Adney. (Doc. 20, p. 42-43). Plaintiffs seek $800, 000 in damages, plus punitive damages in an amount to be ...

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