Cases & Deals

Charlottesville City Councilors obtain pro bono summary judgment win granting statutory immunity in Charlottesville monument case

Client(s) Bellamy, Wesley; Galvin, Kathleen; Signer, Michael; and Szakos, Kristin

Jones Day achieved victory on behalf of four Charlottesville City Councilors who voted to relocate the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson statues at the center of the violent rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. The plaintiffs, including a group of Charlottesville residents and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., sued the City of Charlottesville, the Charlottesville City Council, and the City Councilors (in their individual capacities) after the Councilors voted to relocate the statues. The plaintiffs invoked Virginia laws they claim protect the statues as war memorials and thus entitle them to recover damages and significant attorneys' fees.

On July 8, 2019, Judge Richard E. Moore granted the Councilors' motion for summary judgment, finding that the Councilors are entitled to statutory immunity under Virginia law because their challenged votes were legislative in nature and constituted neither gross negligence nor an unlawful appropriation of funds. The court's ruling means that the City Councilors will not be held personally liable. The Councilors were then dismissed from the suit altogether, and—without ever having been deposed—are no longer subject to discovery or personal exposure.

As reported in multiple national and local media outlets, this case presented numerous legal issues and strategic calls in a volatile setting. Jones Day argued and briefed numerous motions, staved off invasive discovery while deposing the plaintiffs and their experts, secured the Councilors' right to trial by jury, and petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus. In addition, Jones Day forcefully explained why the Virginia laws the plaintiffs invoke do not protect Charlottesville's Lee and Jackson statues or entitle the plaintiffs to damages and attorneys' fees. Jones Day also pressed an important constitutional defense that the statues express hostility and exclusion to racial minorities, in violation of the equal protection guarantees of the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions.

The court's ruling ensures that the Councilors will not need to defend against the jury trial originally scheduled to take place in September.

Payne, et al. v. City of Charlottesville, No. CL17000145-00 (Va. Cir.)