In a 3-0 opinion, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sent Liberty Counsel’s case, Maryville Baptist Church, et al v. Andy Beshear, back for the district court to reconsider its previous ruling that found the church was not the “prevailing party,” despite the fact that the church obtained a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s church lockdown order. Today’s ruling sets aside the district court order and directs the lower court to reconsider the case in light of a similar ruling by the Sixth Circuit finding prevailing party status involving the same incident and the same church. Prevailing party status would entitle the plaintiffs to attorney’s fees and costs.
In a similar case, Roberts v. Neace, those plaintiffs attended Maryville Baptist Church on the same day and already have been awarded attorney’s fee by the Sixth Circuit, which found that obtaining a preliminary injunction entitled the plaintiffs to “prevailing party” status. In fact, the Court stated that Governor Beshear ended his worship ban because of the injunctions obtained by Liberty Counsel’s case, Maryville Baptist Church, Inc. v. Beshear.
The three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit wrote, “Roberts addressed Beshear’s COVID-19 restrictions, preliminary injunctions, mootness, and attendance at Maryville Baptist Church—all features of this case. We vacate and remand for the district court to apply Roberts in the first instance.”
On Easter Sunday 2020, Kentucky State Police troopers came to Maryville Baptist Church to fulfill Governor Beshear’s threat to target anyone who attended a church service against his worship ban. The church was allowing a small number of people to assemble inside its 700-seat sanctuary, spread far apart, and had also set up speakers in its parking lot for “drive-in” worship. The police wrote down license plate numbers and placed quarantine notices on every car, including those containing people who had come for the drive-in service. All worshippers whose cars were noticed in the parking lot on Easter Sunday also received a letter from Gov. Beshear’s administration demanding their agreement to take their temperatures and report every day to the county health authority, not attend church, work, school, stores, and other public places; not travel outside the county; not travel outside of Kentucky without prior approval; and not travel by public, commercial, or emergency conveyance such as a bus, taxi, airplane, train, or boat without prior approval.
The Sixth Circuit issued two 3-0 decisions in favor of the church’s parking-lot and in-person services. Despite the church’s wins, however, the trial court denied Liberty Counsel’s clients prevailing-party status for attorney’s fees and costs in September 2022. This decision goes against the weight of the legal authorities.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Liberty Counsel secured all the relief sought on behalf of Maryville Baptist Church and is entitled to prevailing party status which includes attorney’s fees and costs. Now churches in Kentucky are free to worship without the intrusion of Governor Andy Beshear since the courts blocked the governor’s unconstitutional restrictions on churches and places of worship. We are pleased with the ruling from the Court of Appeals. The handwriting is now on the wall that Maryville Baptist Church should be awarded prevailing party status, and thus entitled to attorney’s fees and costs.”