News Mar 31, 2024

Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss in Civil Rights Action Against White Supremacist Group

Paul, Weiss achieved a major victory in a civil rights action brought on behalf of two residents of the Battery Park neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, against members of the Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, when the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, allowing the case to move into discovery.

The case stems from an October 2021 incident in which the defendants vandalized a mural honoring Richmond-born tennis legend Arthur Ashe, located in Battery Park, the historic heart of Richmond’s Black community. Ashe was the first Black man to win the U.S. Open, in 1968, and a committed humanitarian; the mural is located near the once-segregated courts where he learned to play. Patriot Front, a group that calls for the formation of a white ethno-state, filmed themselves painting their logo over Ashe’s face.

Plaintiff Doe 1 and Plaintiff Doe 2 v. Patriot Front, et al.

Our lawsuit, filed in October 2022, alleges that members of the Patriot Front conspired to commit this vandalism in an effort to intimidate the Battery Park community and to interfere with residents’ use of Battery Park as a public accommodation, in violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and Virginia’s hate crime statute. The defendants named in the suit include the group itself, its founder and national director Thomas Rousseau, network director Paul Gancarz, two other identified members and 23 “John Does.”

In a 71-page decision, U.S. District Judge Mary Hannah Lauck of the Eastern District of Virginia denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, rejecting outright all of their arguments. The court agreed with our assertions that we had sufficiently pled that the defendants conspired to deprive our clients of their use of a public park through this act of intimidation, and that the act had been motivated by racial animus. The court also rejected the defendants’ arguments that, among other things, the plaintiffs lacked standing, that the claims against the defendants were barred by the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine, and that Virginia’s hate crime statute is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. In rejecting the defendants’ arguments, the court expressly noted the “dearth of thoughtful legal analysis” on their part.

The Paul, Weiss team includes litigation partners Daniel Kramer, Joshua Hill and Gregory Laufer, counsel Robert O’Loughlin and associates Arielle McTootle and Agnes Lee. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP are co-counsel on the matter.