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Dismissal of Alamo Ministry Civil Suit for Taken Children Upheld

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By Dyanna Quizon, Esq. on January 12, 2012 3:03 PM

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a federal lawsuit brought by Tony Alamo Christian Ministries connected with the removal of dozens of children from its compound.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Younger v. Harris, the Eighth Circuit held that the federal courts cannot consider civil claims brought by plaintiffs who are being prosecuted at the state level on matters related to their federal claims.

The church and two of its members had filed the lawsuit in federal district court, alleging that the federal authorities' seizure of 36 children from its compound violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights.

The children were removed from the ministry and placed in foster care in 2008 after allegations surfaced that they were being beaten and sexually abused.

Tony Alamo was charged with violating the Mann Act, the federal law banning the transportation of women or girls across state lines for "prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose." He was sentenced to 175 years in prison in 2009. Ironically, he subsequently lost the appeal of his sentence in the Eighth Circuit, as well.

During the criminal investigation, the petitioners brought their civil suit to a federal district court. The judge in that case dismissed the suit brought by the individual plaintiffs because of its interference with state proceedings. He dismissed the ministry's claims because he stated it lacked standing. Only the ministry appealed its decision to the Eighth Circuit.

The Eighth Circuit, however, said the abstention rule in Younger would have applied to the ministry even if it did have standing.

Further, the Eighth Circuit noted that Arkansas' courts had already provided an adequate opportunity to address the parents constitutional claims and have uniformly upheld the children's removal and the termination of the parents' rights.

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