A federal lawsuit filed by a survivor of the 2017 Unite the Right car attack against the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party will continue after a judge dismissed the group’s argument of improper venue.
The suit was filed last year on behalf of William “Bill” Burke in the Southern District of Ohio U.S. Court. Burke was among the dozens of people injured during a vehicular assault by James Alex Fields Jr., who has been convicted of first-degree murder and federal hate crimes.
Burke, who attended the rally to protest against racism, testified at both Fields’ state and federal sentencing hearings and shared about the physical, emotional and mental toll the rally and car attack took on him.
James Kolenich — counsel for the Traditionalist Worker Party in both this case and in Sines v. Kessler, another suit against rally organizers filed in Charlottesville by victims of the car attack — had argued the organization should be dismissed as a defendant in the case in part because the Ohio court lacks venue, as the rally occurred in Charlottesville.
However, in a May 18 ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson denied TWP’s motion, writing that the defendant’s arguments were directed at a prior version of Burke’s complaint that premised TWP as a nonresident defendant.
“Yet by incorporating its prior filings, TWP’s current motion ignores the fact that Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint, wherein Plaintiff explicitly alleges that TWP is domiciled in Cincinnati, Ohio,” Watson wrote.
Watson also points out that TWP provided no evidence that the group is not Ohio-based.
“Moreover, although TWP attempts to undermine Plaintiff’s allegation that it is ‘based out of Cincinnati, Ohio’ by labeling it a ‘conclusory statement,’ TWP’s motion is unsupported by any affidavit or other evidence that it is not based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, and is not otherwise an Ohio resident,” he wrote.
Watson directs the defendant to either file a properly supported motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction that is directed at Burke’s second amended complaint — which addressed many jurisdiction issues — or inform the court that TWP submits to the personal jurisdiction of the court.
Watson formally dismissed defendants Andrew Anglin; Gregory Anglin; Daily Stormer; Moonbase Holdings LLC; Anglin and Anglin LLC; and Morning Star Ministries after Burke’s counsel failed to show that he had served the second amended complaint to them.
Various other defendants previously were dismissed, including Fields; Jason Kessler; Vanguard America; Robert Ray; Mathew Heimbach; Proud Boys; Richard Spencer; National Front; Augustus Sol Invictus; Honorable Sacred Knights; and 2,000 unnamed individuals.
In January, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke agreed to pay $5,000 to Burke after a judgment was entered against him. Michael Fradin, Burke’s attorney, claimed the settlement as a win for his client, though Duke also claimed the settlement as a victory.
The only other remaining defendant is the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank, which earlier this month was ruled to be in default after failing to plead responses to Burke’s complaint in a timely manner, which means the court can proceed to offer a default judgment in the plaintiff’s favor.