The lawsuit filed by the owners of the building that houses the abortion clinic in Bristol seeking to terminate its lease can move forward against Bristol Women’s Health, but the owner of the clinic and a doctor were dismissed as individual defendants in the case, a judge decided during a motions hearing Wednesday.
The split decision on the motion to dismiss the suit was made by Bristol Circuit Judge Sage Johnson during a hearing that lasted more than two hours.
The lawsuit was filed in December by Kilo Delta, a company owned by Chase King and Chadwick King, which leased the building on Osborne Street in north Bristol to the abortion clinic. The clinic opened last summer.
The lawsuit claims that the clinic concealed the fact that it would provide abortions, which has resulted in financial and social losses for the owners. The clinic’s owner, Diane Derzis of Alabama, denies this, saying she never tried to hide the fact that abortions would be performed there.
Derzis and Dr. Wesley Adams, who was involved in the clinic’s creation and operated a women’s clinic that performed abortions in Bristol, Tennessee, for 40 years, originally were named as defendants in the lawsuit. The judge said there was no need for them to be involved individually.
The one-year commercial lease agreement started on June 1, 2022, and has renewal options, which Derzis fully intends to exercise, her attorney, Alexis Tahinci, said Wednesday. She emphasized after the hearing that the clinic remains open and operating.
The judge did not rule on another motion by Tahinci that the lawsuit essentially be dismissed because the building’s owners waited six months to file it.
Jeff Campbell, the attorney for the building’s owners, said he didn’t realize that witnesses would be called Wednesday and his clients couldn’t be in court, so the judge allowed an additional 30 days for them to testify if they choose to do so. Tahinci will then have two weeks to present any rebuttal evidence.
Under Virginia law, Tahinci said, the plaintiffs have to take immediate action if they discover fraud, rather than wait six months to file a lawsuit. She also pointed out that the Kings accepted the first and final payments for the lease and deposited the checks.
Campbell — who also is a Republican state delegate and was joined in court by House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County — said six months isn’t that long a period when you have to hire a lawyer and the lawyer has to investigate the case.
Tahinci also pointed out that Derzis spent a lot of money getting the building ready, furnishing it, making repairs and other expenses. She called a witness, Deborah Jo Adams, the wife of Wesley Adams, who handled office manager duties for the clinic but wasn’t paid. She testified about a number of bills the clinic’s owner paid for office furnishings, flooring, supplies and other items.
Campbell, however, countered that some of the items, including furniture, aren’t a permanent part of the building and can be moved.
A June 30 deadline was set by the judge for the lawyers to submit any further briefs.