COVINGTON — Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott on Monday ordered that two parties who had filed petitions to block the removal of the Confederate monument from the Covington Square do not have standing to bring suit against the county, and even if they did, the county is protected by sovereign immunity.
Ott dismissed complaints for damages and injunctive relief filed by resident Tiffany Davis Humphries and Sons of Confederate Veterans, General George “Tig” Anderson Camp. Both parties were seeking to prevent the county from moving the statue from the Historic Square to another location yet to be determined.
Despite Ott’s ruling, the statue will remain where it is for now.
“In the beginning Judge Ott asked me if I would give them an opportunity to appeal his decision,” said Newton County Commission Chairman Marcello Banes. “So the county will stand by our word and give them an opportunity to appeal. Once they appeal his decision, we’ll go from there.”
Humphries and the SCV had filed petitions seeking damages and injunctive relief on July 13 and July 15, respectively. The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted on July 14 to have the statue removed. A hearing on the complaints was held before Judge Ott on July 20, and both parties were given until Sept. 2 to file briefs.
In his ruling, Ott first addressed the issue of standing, citing a U.S. Supreme Court case ruling that stated the petitioners must have suffered “an injury in fact,” that there must be a “causal connection” between the injury and the challenged action, and that it must be “likely” that the injury would be redressed by a favorable decision by the court.
“In the present case, it is clear that neither petitioner has sustained any actual damages when they are seeking an injunction,” wrote Ott. “Even were the Confederate monument removed, it is questionable if the petitioners would have standing” because there are no damages at this time.
While Ott ruled that the petitioners did not prove that they have standing to sue the county, he also addressed the issue of sovereign immunity.
The petitioners had argued that the sovereign immunity that protects the state does not extend to the counties. However, Ott cited a ruling by Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amerio in a similar case in which Amero wrote, in part, “it has long been recognized that counties are included in the extension of sovereign immunity to the state and its departments and agencies…”