Appeals Court upholds ruling for Louisburg in Confederate monument dispute

A Confederate monument stood on Main Street in Louisburg for 106 years. Town officials removed the monument in 2020. (Carolina Journal file photo)

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  • The state Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court ruling favoring Louisburg in a dispute over a Confederate monument removed from Main Street in 2020.
  • Appellate judges ruled that 12 individual plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the Louisburg Town Council's decision in court. The Appeals Court also rejected the argument that town officials violated state open-meetings requirements.
  • Judge John Tyson dissented from the 2-1 ruling on procedural grounds. He would have sent the case back to a trial judge to have the lawsuit dismissed "without prejudice."

The state Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial judge’s ruling in favor of Louisburg in a legal dispute over the 2020 removal of a Confederate monument on Main Street.

“Plaintiffs lack standing to bring a claim for declaratory relief under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 100-2.1, and their claim under North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law (§§ 143-318.9 – 143-318.18) is moot,” wrote Judge Fred Gore for the Appeals Court majority.

Twelve individual plaintiffs filed suit against the town in June 2020. They challenged the town council’s decision to remove a 106-year-old Confederate monument from a downtown location in a state-owned right-of-way. Louisburg officials eventually moved the monument to a section of the town cemetery where Confederate veterans are buried.

“Plaintiffs alleged the Town failed to comply with the terms and provisions of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 100-2.1 (Protection of monuments, memorials, and works of art) and Article 33C of the North Carolina General Statutes concerning ‘Meetings of Public Bodies,’” Gore wrote. “Plaintiffs also argued defendant violated the notice requirements for special meetings under the Town of Louisburg Code of Ordinances”.

“[P]laintiffs sought a ‘[d]eclaratory judgment declaring that the actions of the Town of Louisburg ordering the removal or relocation of the Confederate Monument be declared void and of no effect,’” Gore added.

A trial judge rejected the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order, injunction, and declaratory judgment blocking the town council’s actions. In March 2022, the trial court issued a summary judgment favoring the town.

“Plaintiffs assert ‘ownership of the Monument itself’ is a disputed issue of material fact precluding summary judgment,” Gore wrote. “They offer various and conflicting positions about who owns the Monument — whether it be Franklin County, a specific County commissioner, the town of Louisburg, or the Daughters of the Confederacy.”

“In any event, disputed ownership is not a genuine issue of material fact precluding summary judgment in this case,” the majority opinion continued. “Plaintiffs fail to show some ‘proprietary or contractual interest in the monument,’ i.e., ‘a legally protected interest invaded by defendants’ conduct.’”

“Through their responses to requests for admissions and in their depositions, each plaintiff party to this action either denies they have an ownership interest in the Monument or admits they do not own the Monument. Plaintiffs offer no alternative argument that they maintain the requisite standing to pursue a claim for declaratory relief on this basis,” Gore wrote.

Appellate judges also rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that an emergency town council meeting in June 2020 violated state open-meetings requirements. A later council meeting rendered that complaint moot, according to the majority opinion.

“At a regular meeting held on 20 July 2020, the Town Council voted unanimously to ratify the prior action taken regarding relocation of the Monument,” Gore wrote. “Plaintiffs never brought an independent challenge to the 20 July 2020 meeting, and they never amended their complaint to challenge the Town Council’s actions at the 20 July 2020 meeting. Even if plaintiffs had obtained their requested relief, a declaration that the actions of the Town Council taken on 22 June 2020 were null and void, this ruling could not ‘have any practical effect on the existing controversy.’”

Judge Valerie Zachary joined Gore’s opinion. Judge John Tyson dissented on procedural grounds. Tyson would have sent the case back to the trial judge to have the lawsuit dismissed “without prejudice.”