LAS VEGAS — The chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada yesterday rejected all attempts by U.S. attorneys to dismiss claims brought by NPRI’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation on behalf of Pastor Victor Fuentes and Ministerio Roca Solida Church (Solid Rock Church).
The suit — before Chief Judge Robert C. Jones — seeks restoration of the church’s water, declaratory and injunctive relief, takings relief, and restitution from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for negligent actions by the agency resulting in more than $86,000 in damage to the church’s property.
Patch of Heaven, in the Amargosa Valley, is a church retreat that suffered significant damage in 2010 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally rerouted a stream that has historically flowed through Patch of Heaven. Less than three weeks after being rerouted, the stream overflowed the federal agency’s poorly engineered new banks during rain showers — sending destructive floods of mud and muddy waters through the camp.
“We are gratified that the Court has rejected the government’s numerous motions to dismiss and is allowing our pursuit of justice for Pastor Victor Fuentes to move forward,” said Joseph Becker, chief legal officer and director of CJCL. “While the government is desperate to avoid accountability for its irresponsible and destructive actions, the time has now come for government and its officials to face the consequences of their actions.
“To evade responsibility for their actions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its Refuge Manager cited, among other justifications, the intact, but unfortunate, judicial doctrine of sovereign immunity held over from the days of monarchies. Sovereign immunity states a government may only be sued when it gives its ‘subjects’ explicit permission to do so.”
Ironically, Victor Fuentes came to the United States to escape oppression from another government that claims “sovereign immunity.” In 1991, he swam seven miles from near his home in Santiago, Cuba, to Guantanamo Bay and gained political asylum.
“I am an immigrant from Cuba who risked death to escape Castro’s regime, only now I am in a country overrun by a federal government that reminds me of the horrors from which I fled,” said Fuentes. “In Cuba, I had this beautiful image of America as a place of freedom and liberty, but after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recklessly damaged our property through its irresponsible actions, that image has changed.”
Becker noted, however, that despite the government’s attempts to dismiss all claims and all defendants to the lawsuit, all claims and defendants remain.
The defendants’ Answer to the Complaint is expected by month’s end.
- Order denying Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss is available at http://www.npri.org/docLib/20130711_FUENTESMTDDECISION.pdf.
- CJCL’s Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Sharon McKelvey in her Official Capacity in Ministerio Roca Solida v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, et al. is available at http://www.npri.org/docLib/20130711_SOLID-ROCK-OPPOSITION-USFW-AND-MCKELVEY-FINAL.pdf.
- CJCL’s Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Sharon McKelvey in her Individual Capacity is available at http://www.npri.org/docLib/20130711_SOLID-ROCK-OPPOSITION-TO-MCKELVEY-FINAL.pdf.
- CJCL’s First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, Relief under Federal Tort Claims Act, and Other Relief is available at http://www.npri.org/docLib/20130711_SOLID-ROCK-FIRST-AMENDED-COMPLAINT-FINAL.pdf.
The Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation is a public-interest law organization that litigates when necessary to protect the fundamental rights of individuals as set forth in the state and federal constitutions.
Learn more about the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation and this case at http://npri.org/litigation/.