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The owners of the building that houses a Bristol abortion clinic that has attracted international attention since it opened this summer have sued to have the lease terminated, saying they were deceived about the property’s intended use.
The owner of the clinic, meanwhile, says that the landlords should have done their due diligence, and that she has never tried to hide what she does.
In a lawsuit filed last week against Bristol Women’s Health, its owner and a doctor involved in the clinic’s creation, Chase King and Chadwick King assert that the defendants “willfully concealed” their plan to offer abortions at the brothers’ property. Their company, Kilo Delta LLC, “has suffered great financial loss and lost business opportunity; been forced to suffer in its reputation and endure humiliation within their business and social circles; [and] been required to endure great mental anguish,” the suit says.
According to the suit, which was filed in Bristol Circuit Court, the Kings were told in May that a prospective tenant was interested in a small office building they had available for lease near the Bristol Casino. A letter of intent from the tenant’s real estate broker listed the proposed use of the building as a “medical clinic.” The suit claims that in conversations, the broker “represented that the type of medical practice of her clients was a general family practice.”
In early June, the lease was signed by Diane Derzis, who lives in Alabama and has owned abortion clinics around the country for decades, and Dr. Wesley Adams, whose women’s health practice in Bristol, Tennessee, has offered abortions for more than 40 years.
Several days later, the suit says, the Kings learned from an employee of theirs about Adams’ Tennessee practice. Because that state had more restrictive abortion laws than Virginia – it would, in fact, nearly outlaw abortions following the fall of Roe v. Wade just weeks later – they believed that their property would become an abortion clinic.
They told the broker that “they felt they had been misled and would never have leased the property to the Defendants” if they had known this, as they were “morally opposed” to such a use.
According to the suit, the broker tried to negotiate an amendment to the lease agreement that would allow only medical abortions within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, but the Kings refused and demanded that the lease be terminated. The defendants instead moved forward with work on the clinic, the suit said.
The suit asks that the lease agreement be canceled and seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The broker, who is not named as a defendant in the suit, did not respond to a voicemail message Monday.
The Kings also did not respond to a request for a call left at their office on Monday. Their attorney, Jeffrey Campbell, was in court Monday and unavailable, according to the person who answered the phone in his law office in Marion. Campbell is also a Republican member of the House of Delegates.
Bristol Women’s Health has been the target of local anti-abortion protests since it opened this summer, and the novelty of Bristol’s half-Virginia/half-Tennessee geography, paired with the national abortion debate, has attracted attention from journalists from as far away as New Zealand.
The opposition ramped up further in October, when the Richmond-based Family Foundation, a conservative Christian nonprofit, worked with a Bristol City Council member to draft a proposed change to the city’s zoning ordinance that would prohibit future abortion clinics from opening in Bristol.
The change was first publicly discussed at the council’s October meeting, which drew a capacity crowd of mostly abortion opponents from across the region. The city council voted 5-0 to send the proposal on to the planning commission and to seek legal advice from the city attorney.
While the Family Foundation has said that the amendment is on solid legal ground, other legal experts have expressed doubts that the city would be allowed by state law to ban abortion clinics, and have suggested that Bristol could be open to discrimination lawsuits by banning one type of medical practice. City Attorney Randall Eads, who is also the city manager, also raised questions about how such an ordinance would be enforced.
Both the city council and the planning commission have met with Eads behind closed doors to discuss the legal issues, and neither body has publicly discussed the issue since that October meeting. Jay Detrick, the city’s director of community development and planning, said Monday that it’s not clear when, or if, the ordinance will be back on a planning commission agenda. That will be up to the members of the commission, not city staff, he said.
While it’s true that the clinic opened in Virginia as a response to Tennessee’s abortion restrictions, Derzis said Monday that the allegations of deceit made in the lawsuit are “not at all” true. Adams had been performing abortions for decades just a mile away from the new clinic, she pointed out, and her name isn’t hard to find online. She has owned multiple abortion clinics, including the Mississippi clinic that was at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that struck down Roe v. Wade.
“They didn’t do due diligence,” said Derzis, who said she only recently met the brothers. “That’s on them.”
She speculated that the lawsuit is driven by blowback from the community. “I think that they’ve received a lot of flak both at home and at work, from the people in Bristol,” she said.
Neither Adams nor his wife, Jo Adams, responded to a voicemail message left on her cellphone on Monday. But in a conversation about the clinic in November, Wes Adams recalled talking to Chad King on the phone not long after he and Derzis signed a five-year lease on the building. (They paid a year’s rent up front, Derzis said.)
Adams said King asked him if he thought he had duped the brothers.
“I said, ‘No,’” Adams said. “He said, ‘You didn’t tell me you were doing abortions there.’ And I said, ‘You didn’t ask.’
“And he said, ‘If I’d have asked you if you were going to do them, would you have told me?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. Then we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Adams said.
“I said, ‘We consider it women’s health care,’” he said.
While the lawsuit describes Adams as an owner of the Virginia clinic, he said in October that he had sold his half interest in the business to Derzis. The new clinic had been his idea; he’d been watching Tennessee’s abortion laws become more and more restrictive and figured it made sense to open an office across the state line. But the still-murky legal landscape gave him pause; he lives in Tennessee, as do some of the clinic’s patients, and he and his legal advisers worried that Tennessee could pursue some kind of legal action.
The defendants have 21 days from the date of the filing to respond to the lawsuit.