Judge sanctions Gerald Price in civil lawsuit

Wil Petty

May 15, 2014

A U.S. Magistrate Judge granted motions on May 6, 2014, for protective orders and for sanctions against Ashe County Commissioner Gerald Price in an ongoing civil suit Price filed in May 2013.

Price is seeking $7.5 million in damages related to the repossession of his vehicle by the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office in 2012. He filed the civil suit against Ashe County Sheriff James Williams, two of the office’s deputies, the Watauga County Clerk of Court and four attorneys.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer, ruled on May 6, 2014, that “The Court warns (Price) that further failure to comply fully with any of the Court’s Orders, the Local Rules, or the Rules of Civil Procedure may result in the imposition of additional sanctions, which may include dismissal of the Complaint with prejudice.”

On Oct. 25, 2013, three of the defendants in the case, attorneys Joseph Thompson IV, Amanda Moore and Christina Hughart filed a motion to compel Price to discontinue requests for discovery against them. On Oct. 28, Cayer ordered “All non-consensual discovery requests served by any party prior to the entry of a scheduling order, including the Requests for Admission served upon Defendants Thompson, Moore and Hughart are stricken and the receiving party (Price) need not respond.”

In addition, on Oct. 28, 2013, Cayer ruled on the Oct. 25, 2013 request by Thompson, Moore and Hughart that, “No party shall make any additional discovery requests except by consent of the parties, prior to the Court’s ruling on Defendants’ …Motions and the entry of a scheduling order.”

Williams, and Ashe Sheriff’s Deputies Jerry D. Lewis and Randy M. Lewis and attorney Michael Vetro filed earlier motions with the court also requesting Price to discontinue making discovery requests. The May 6, 2014 ruling also answered these motions.

According to documents from the May 6 ruling, Price violated the court’s order on Feb. 13, 2014.

According to the May 6 order, “If they have not already done so, Defendants shall submit an affidavit detailing the costs, including attorneys’ fees, incurred in filing their respective Motions… The Court will issue an order granting reasonable costs.”

Letters sent to Price from attorneys requested Price withdraw Requests for Admissions (RFA) made of the defendants. If Price did not remove the RFAs, the attorneys would request the Court strike the motions and impose sanctions on Price.

On April 22, 2014, Price filed three responses to motions which said “Upon close examination, (Price) discovered that the supposed, Court’s Order, dated October 28, 2013… is improper, therefore of no force an effect concerning this instant action. Therefore Plaintiff has not violated a Court Order and Sanctions can’t apply.”

In addition, Price in the April 22 responses claimed the defendants have no standing to have protection from “properly complying with discovery” in these actions.

The initial complaint, made by Price, requested a jury trial involving a civil dispute where Price alleges a 2007 Toyota Camry was unlawfully taken by Ashe County Sheriff’s Deputies Lewis and Lewis at the direction of Williams.

According to the initial filing by Price, the department violated the Fifth Amendment “for civil rights violations involving, grand theft, criminal trespass and lack of territorial jurisdiction, and the unlawful taking of private property, for public use, without just compensation.”

According to a June 2012 complaint filed by Citi Financial Auto in Watauga County Court, Price owed “the principal sum of $13,706.70 plus interest thereon at 16.68 percent per annum from June 7, 2012, until judgment and at the legal rate thereafter until paid.” In addition, the case requested Price pay additional attorney’s fees to Thompson, totaling $2,056.

The deputies took possession of Price’s vehicle on Oct. 26, 2012. According to the complaint, the Ashe deputies were acting on behalf of a Watauga County Court and allegedly violated his rights that are “protected under the Constitution, particularly under the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th and 14th Amendments.”

In a July 18, 2013, response made on behalf of the Ashe County Sheriff and Deputies, it was admitted that “Williams contacted (Price) on several occasions regarding the Claim and Delivery Order that Sheriff Williams had received from the Watauga County Court.”

According to the sheriff’s response to the suit, Williams, as a courtesy to Price, offered to allow Price to voluntarily relinquish his vehicle and avoid having it seized by the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office. In addition, documents show claims that Price “repeatedly told Sheriff Williams that he would voluntarily bring his vehicle to the Sheriff’s Office to relinquish it; however, Plaintiff repeatedly failed to do so.”

According to Price’s May 30, 2013 complaint, there should not have been an arbitration hearing on the disposition of the vehicle because a state district court judge had determined the previous day that the case involving the vehicle would go to trial.

A July 19, 2013 response to the lawsuit by defendants Thompson, Moore and Hughart say they “were not ‘acting under color of state law’ and therefore, (Price’s) claims should be dismissed.” In addition they said if Price “had sufficiently alleged a conspiracy, which is again denied, (Price) failed to allege any facts to support that (they) prevented any officer from performing any duties in violation of (law).”

According to the May 30 2013 lawsuit, Price said he did not and had never lived in Watauga County and “when informed of the Venue and jurisdiction problem, Diane Deal stated to the Plaintiff she didn’t care that he didn’t live in Watauga County.”

Attempts to contact Price for comment were unsuccessful.

Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @JeffersonNCPost.