Sexual abuse survivor Jennifer Lyell has filed a motion with the Circuit Court of Mobile, Ala., asking that a lawsuit brought against her and others by David and Mary Sills be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
In November, the Sillses filed suit in Alabama accusing a dozen people and entities of defamation against the couple. David Sills, a former professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., previously admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Lyell, who was a trusted friend of the family and had been a student at Southern Seminary. She later became an executive with the SBC’s Lifeway Christian Resources.
Lyell alleged — and multiple others who investigated the claims agreed — that she had been sexually abused by Sills over a period of years. Sills now contends their relationship was consensual and therefore those who said otherwise have defamed him and his wife. Lyell’s story was mishandled by the SBC’s news service, Baptist Press, which resulted in a later apology and financial settlement with her of an undisclosed amount. Her story became a centerpiece of the call for reform in the SBC on how sexual abuse reports are handled.
Although all the alleged activities between Sills and Lyell presumably took place either in Kentucky or Tennessee and although only one person named in the suit lives in Alabama, the suit was filed in Mobile. Legal observers have noted this is a common practice because Alabama has no laws that punish people for filing “frivolous” lawsuits. Kentucky and Tennessee are less friendly to lawsuits that might be unfounded.
Lyell appears to be the first of the 12 defendants to ask the court to dismiss the suit for lack of jurisdiction. Her Feb. 1 filing with the court says she “moves to dismiss all claims against her before this court for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution” and the Alabama rules of civil proceedings.
She claims she “does not have the minimum contacts with Alabama sufficient for personal jurisdiction to be exercised over her, the plaintiffs are themselves non-residents, and there are no cognizable allegations in the complaint that establish personal jurisdiction.”
The only person named in the lawsuit who lives in Alabama is former SBC President Ed Litton, who is a pastor in Mobile. David and Mary Sills reside in Mississippi.
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