Natchez couple sues school board, others; judge denies motions to dismiss

Published 12:18 am Friday, February 1, 2019


NATCHEZ — A Natchez couple is suing the Natchez-Adams School Board and a local activist, claiming the board and individual defamed them, deprived them of their constitutional rights and caused harm to the couple’s business.

Kevin L. Wilson and Dana Williams Wilson filed the complaints in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi Western Division on July 20, 2018, against school board member Philip West, activist Jacqueline L. Marsaw and the NASD board of trustees.

Email newsletter signup

The lawsuit claims the defendants defamed and slandered them by “repeatedly, intentionally, maliciously and negligently stating with hate before the public that the plaintiffs were racist and were taking racist actions.”

The lawsuit stems from statements made by West in a public meeting and social media posts allegedly made after the Wilsons appeared before the school board on July 20, 2017, expressing opposition to the board’s decision to proceed with borrowing funds for a building project voters had rejected at the polls earlier that year.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief and attorney fees and court costs.

The Wilsons’ complaint claims West and Marsaw violated their First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment Constitutional rights.

“Defendant Marsaw, in concert and conspiracy with Defendant West, caused defamatory and hate-driven [speech] and induced publications to be made on social media, which likewise evinces the patently false statements that the plaintiffs are racists and that all persons should boycott the business and enterprises owned by the plaintiffs, so as to cause loss and damages to the plaintiffs,” the lawsuit states.

The case further claims the comments, social media posts and calls for boycotts of their businesses were retaliatory for exercising the First Amendment rights to free speech.

Marsaw and West and the school board filed separate motions to dismiss the lawsuit, and David Bramlette, United States District judge, denied Marsaw’s motion on Jan. 16 and West’s motion on Thursday.

Bramlette’s order rejected several arguments put forth in Marsaw’s motion including that the term “racist” is not hate speech.

“Regarding hate-speech, Marsaw moves to dismiss, claiming that ‘being called a racist does not constitute hate speech within the purview of the First Amendment,’” states Bramlette’s order denying Marsaw’s motion to dismiss.

“All words which, from their usual construction and common acceptation, are considered as insults, and calculated to lead to a breach of the peace shall be actionable ….” Bramlette writes, citing Mississippi Code Annotated 95-1-1, in his order to denying the motion to dismiss.

Marsaw did not return telephone messages Thursday.

“It is a racist, frivolous case,” West said, when informed Thursday afternoon of Bramlette’s decision to deny his motion to dismiss.