The Georgia Attorney General’s Office has received a response from the city of Cumming regarding a lawsuit filed in June.
Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman with the office, confirmed that the response was received by the office Thursday afternoon.
Attorney General Sam Olens filed the suit against Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and the city as a result of an incident that occurred during a Cumming City Council meeting April 17.
Nydia Tisdale, a political activist from Roswell, and her video camera were removed from the meeting on Gravitt’s orders, according to the lawsuit.
She was also reportedly told that video recording was not permitted and later that she could not record the meeting on her still camera.
Olens has said that Gravitt’s actions during the meeting were violations of Georgia’s recently passed Open Meetings Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on the day of the incident.
The new law, as well as the old, both state that video and audio recordings are permitted during public meetings.
Kane said Olens filed the suit after “trying to negotiate with the city attorney and [the parties] were never able to come to a resolution.”
City Attorney Dana Miles did not comment on Thursday’s response, citing his firm’s policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.
Miles did provide a copy of the response, however, which contends that since Gravitt was acting in his official capacity as mayor at the time of the incident, under the Georgia Constitution, he has “sovereign immunity.”
“Both the City of Cumming and Mayor Gravitt fall within the penumbra of sovereign immunity provided for by the Georgia Constitution,” the response states.
The response goes on to quote portions of the state Constitution: “…officers and employees of the state or its departments and agencies shall not be subject to suit or liability, and no judgment shall be entered against them, for performance or nonperformance of their official functions.”
The response argues that since Gravitt was “presiding over a meeting of the governing authority of the City of Cumming” he was acting in an official function.
“The City and Mayor Gravitt have been sued by the Attorney General in a civil action under the newly enacted House Bill 397 despite their Sovereign and Official Immunities. The parties are uncertain and insecure with respect to their rights and obligations in this matter,” the response states.
Kane said attorneys with Olens’ office will now enter into a process called discovery.
“That means exchanging documents and going through, kind of like a research process to see what the claims are [in the response],” she said.
Tisdale also filed a civil suit in federal court in June against Gravitt, as well as Police Chief Casey Tatum and Deputy Police Chief Walter Cook, who she alleges physically removed her from the meeting room.
City attorneys have not yet filed a response in that lawsuit.