(9/26/03) Two Thurmont residents have
refiled a lawsuit against the town, its board of commissioners
and Mayor Martin Burns for denying them water for their
On Monday, Daniel Mahone filed the
amended suit in Frederick County Circuit Court on behalf of
Christa Rhen and Bill Sullivan. The attorney submitted a
second amended complaint to the court on Wednesday.
That complaint listed four counts
against the defendants. It requested at least $100,000, plus
interest and costs, and asked that a water ordinance passed by
the board be declared invalid.
Mr. Burns was sued in his official
capacity as mayor, meaning he has immunity unless it's proven
that he made the statements in question with malice.
The plaintiffs claimed that Mr. Burns
maliciously defamed them and placed them "in a false
light." They requested at least $50,000 for defamation
and at least $50,000 for being cast in a false light.
The suit also requested a judgment
voiding the water ordinance passed by the board on July 23,
2002. It claimed the legislation violated the town's charter,
the Maryland Declaration of Rights, a gubernatorial executive
order regarding the drought, and the U.S. Constitution.
The fourth count alleged that the town
breached an agreement to provide water for the horses and
requested that they be forced to honor the agreement.
The action stems from events that
occurred during the drought in July 2002. Ms. Rhen and Mr.
Sullivan claimed Gary Dingle, Thurmont's water superintendent,
said they could haul 150 gallons of water for their horses
outside the town limits daily, but later rescinded that offer.
When they attended the July 16 town
meeting to clarify the matter, the plaintiffs claimed Mr.,
Burns falsely accused them of breaking town law and the board
"ridiculed" them. Ms. Rhen and Mr. Sullivan said
they were further maligned by Mr. Burns at a press conference
on July 18.
The suit alleged that the mayor's
statements "were a political act undertaken for his own
benefit and self-aggrandizement" and were meant to
"chill" the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights.
In August, Judge Julie Stevenson Solt
threw out the first lawsuit filed by Ms. Rhen and Mr.
Sullivan. The judge prohibited the plaintiffs from refiling
the suit against Mr. Burns personally, but she gave them 30
days to enter an amended complaint against the town, the
board, and the mayor in his official capacity.
That original deadline expired Friday,
but with the courthouse closed because of Hurricane Isabel,
the plaintiffs had until Monday to file. Mr. Mahone said the
original suit disappeared from his computer files, so he wrote
a complaint Monday to meet the deadline and filed the amended