ROACH, Mo. — Windermere Baptist Conference Center filed a lawsuit Oct. 25 against the Missouri Baptist Convention in an effort to move ahead with utility improvements for the facility located at the Lake of the Ozarks.
According to the petition, the primary concern for the conference center has been to upgrade its antiquated sewer system to meet Missouri Department of Natural Resources and federal Environmental Protection Agency standards. MDNR fines against the facility have been accruing daily.
Windermere cites continued litigation with the MBC that dates from legal action the convention filed on Aug. 13, 2002, in Cole County against the conference center and four other formerly affiliated entities to stop the five from electing their own trustees.
In addition to Windermere, that lawsuit named The Baptist Home, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and Word&Way. The Windermere portion of that case was handled first. The center won in Cole County and through the appellate court. The Missouri Supreme Court turned down a request to examine the district court ruling.
In 2006, the convention filed another lawsuit against Windermere in Camden County, where the center is located, in a second effort to reclaim the property. The Camden County Circuit Court dismissed that case earlier this year, and the MBC is currently appealing.
Defendants listed in Windermere’s new petition included the MBC and five individuals where were plaintiffs in the original lawsuit against the center: Lyn Heying, currently pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Hartsburg, Mo.; Mitchell Jackson, pastor of Miner Baptist Church in Sikeston, Mo.; James Plymale, director of missions for Franklin County Baptist Association; Ralph Sawyer, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wentzville, Mo.; and Randy Comer, DOM for Barry County Association.
The legal action also lists Don Hinkle, editor of the convention’s official news journal The Pathway, and MBC lead attorney Michael Whitehead.
Windermere claims the defendants made or published “false or otherwise improper or unlawful statements” that affected the center’s business, title to the land and the financing necessary to upgrade the wastewater system.
The lawsuit seeks damages for “tortious interference with contract or business expectancy,” “injurious falsehood,” “slander of title” and “breach of warranty,” as well as seeking to force the MBC to remove impediments to improvement and expansion of the sewer system.
Windermere is asking for $10 million in damages, $5 million of which it says represents the amount it has lost in convention and conference business.
In a statement also released Friday, Windermere trustees said the center has “only acted to defend itself.... Up to this point, Windermere has chosen not to respond to the tactics of the convention and its attorneys by suing the convention.”
They added that they had tried “numerous times” to reach an agreement with the MBC. “Unfortunately, recent developments involving water quality at the Lake of the Ozarks have made it impossible for Windermere to continue this approach,” the statement noted.
Trustees noted that Windermere has worked with governmental agencies for three years and that improvements could be made without using the center’s funds and without additional debt or long-term financial obligations.
Windermere also has agreed to participate in mediation that Church Mutual Insurance Company, which insures the MBC and Windermere, has called for. Apparently, all parties have agreed and have met individually with the Church Mutual chosen mediators. Meetings of the parties may take place later this year.