An Arkansas couple who lost a lease on property on which they purchased a vacation home with the sale of Glorieta Conference Center in 2013 say they aren’t giving up on their legal battle to invalidate the deal after losing an appeal before Christmas for reasons of procedure.
Kirk and Susie Tompkins of Little Rock, Ark., asked the full 12-member 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Jan. 4 to review the Dec. 21 decision of a three-judge panel that the homeowners failed to state a legal claim when they filed their lawsuit without aid of an attorney in a lower court.
“We have not yet thrown in the towel,” Kirk Tompkins said in an email Jan. 4.
The new filing claims the three-judge panel failed in its obligation to “go to particular pains” to protect “pro se” litigants untrained in law against consequences of technical errors that would not be tolerated coming from an experienced attorney.
The Dec. 21 judgment mentioned the “liberal construction” due to litigants without legal representation but found the couple failed to establish “a plausible claim” of wrongdoing by officials of LifeWay Christian Resources when they liquidated the 2,100-acre property near Santa Fe, N.M., for $1 claiming financial losses in 24 of the previous 25 years.
The ownership group that purchased the campground offered homeowners options for phasing out their leases, but the Tompkinses said none of the deals came close to the fair market value of their vacation home. They claim they made home improvements based on “privately implied contracts” assuring that their recurring lease with Glorieta would be renewable for another 50 years.
Lower courts have dismissed the couple’s breach-of-contract claim and ruled they lack standing to challenge whether the sale violated Southern Baptist Convention bylaws.
The Tompkinses argued in their original appeal that the court should find sufficient evidence that the leases offered to homeowners were so one-sided in favor of LifeWay that they were legally “unconscionable,” even though as inexperienced litigants the couple “in-artfully” presented the claim in court documents.
The three-judge panel agreed that the lease arrangement “operated to the detriment” of the homeowners but not to a level required to “establish substantive unconscionability under New Mexico law.”
The couple further claims that an attorney appointed by the court to present oral arguments on their behalf wasn’t adequately prepared for a Sept. 19 hearing in Denver. The most recent court filing says the lawyer didn’t consult with the couple in preparing his case, and when a judge asked if he could cite case law to back up one of his claims, their legal counsel surprised them by answering, “No sir.”
The Glorieta homeowners say “fair-minded objective treatment” by the full court would allow them to provide legal precedent showing other courts “more interested in liberally deciding cases providing fair and moral justice to the deprived” in cases where an untrained plaintiff’s “in-artful individual procedural pleading fail to be strictly interpreted.”
Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, said there is nothing new in the Tompkinses latest appeal.
“We have full confidence this latest effort will be denied by the court,” Rainer said in a statement Jan. 5.