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A judge dismissed a complaint Wednesday from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which attempted to compel the city of Winston-Salem to put back the downtown Confederate statue that it removed in March.
Judge Eric C. Morgan of Forsyth Superior Court ruled that the UDC didn't have standing to bring the lawsuit against the city, Forsyth County and the Winston Courthouse LLC, the owner of the apartment building near where the Confederate statue stood.
Morgan granted the request of defendants' attorneys to dismiss the complaint with prejudice, which means the UDC is legally barred from filing another lawsuit against the city, county and Winston Courthouse LLC in Forsyth Superior Court.
"The city is pleased that Judge Morgan upheld the city’s position as well as the position of the property owner relative to the relocation of the statue," Mayor Allen Joines of Winston-Salem said in an email. "We hope this puts an end to the legal issues here and allows us to move forward to the next step of this project."
The city will move the statue to the Salem Cemetery after a site there is prepared for the statue, city officials say. The city hired a contractor to remove the statue from the corner of Liberty and Fourth streets on March 12.
James Wilson Jr. of Winston-Salem, an attorney for the UDC, declined to comment about Morgan's ruling and referred questions about the case to James A. Davis, the UDC's lead attorney. Davis couldn't be reached to comment on the case.
In addition, Cindy Casey of Advance, the president of UDC's local chapter, and Sara Powell, the president of the N.C. Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, also couldn't be reached to comment.
Before Morgan ruled on the complaint, Davis withdrew the UDC's local chapter from the lawsuit.
Forsyth County Attorney Gordon Watkins said he was pleased with Morgan's ruling.
"Forsyth County is gratified by the thorough explanation in (Morgan's ruling)," Watkins said. "We certainly agree that the plaintiffs didn't have any standing in bringing this action."
In his 10-page ruling, Morgan said that the UDC didn't allege that it owns the statue, that it has any contractual or other legally enforceable right in the statue, "and has not demonstrated a legally protected interest that would be invaded by defendants' actions, sufficient to convey standing."
Morgan also granted the motions from the defendants' attorney that asked the court to dismiss subpoenas the UDC served on Joines and Miranda Jones, who protested the statue.
Jones said she was happy with Morgan's ruling.
"Judge Morgan made a fair and just decision," Jones said. "His decision was rooted in the law. I think he sided with the will of the people here in Winston-Salem."
Among other things, the UDC lawsuit claimed that the city could not legally move the statue because of a state law regarding publicly owned monuments. The city maintained the statue is owned by the UDC, which also claimed ownership at an earlier stage of the controversy.
The UDC sued Winston-Salem and Forsyth County on Jan. 31, adding the local UDC chapter as a plaintiff and Winston Courthouse LLC as a defendant in an amended lawsuit filed on Feb. 6.
The UDC's lawsuit alleged that the city violated its constitutional rights to free speech, freedom from unlawful seizure, due process and equal protection under the law. Asserting that Forsyth County owns the monument, the UDC suit says the city violated a state law protecting public monuments.
The city, county and courthouse owner filed motions asking the judge to dismiss the UDC lawsuit.
The city took down the statue after declaring it a public nuisance. City officials argued the statue presented a safety hazard because of the protests that happened at its site at the corner of Liberty and Main streets, and because protesters have toppled statues in Durham and Chapel Hill.
Advocates for its removal said that the statue represented slavery, white supremacy, Jim Crow segregation and was a symbol of oppression to the city's black heritage. Supporters of maintaining the statue said it was a monument to Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War and represented Southern heritage.
Winston Courthouse owns the property where the statue once stood. In 2014, Forsyth County sold Winston Courthouse the downtown square where the former courthouse stands, but the sale did not include the statue.
Morgan rejected the UDC's claim that it had standing to bring the lawsuit because the organization was forced to defend itself in its legal action against the defendants. Morgan ruled that assertion "is a misapprehension of the law and the facts of this case."
David Plyler, the chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, said he agreed with Morgan's ruling.
"He listened to both sides," Plyler said of Morgan. "He had to make a decision, and he doesn't make snap decisions."