The Town of Thayne, its mayor and town council repeatedly violated the constitutional rights -- with the apparent approval of local Mormon Church leaders -- of a gay couple who opened a restaurant more than two years ago, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court this week.

The town has inconsistently, if not illegally, applied rules about restaurants, liquor licenses, regulations, council meeting procedures, law enforcement, publicity on a government website and other issues, the attorneys for Marc and Rusty Andrus wrote.

"Such conduct ... is best summarized as the municipality's refusal to evenly apply its laws to all of its citizens and businesses, and its sue of its government position to actively discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ('LGBT') people and business owners, specifically Plaintiffs Marc and Rusty Andrus and their business, Rustlers, LLC," wrote James Lubing and Kevin Gregory of the Jackson-based Lubing Law Group.

The local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints drives that conduct, according to the lawsuit: "In essence, with respect to Plaintiff's liquor licenses and other interactions before Defendants as government officials, Defendants have conducted the Town of Thayne municipal government as a theocracy."

Gregory declined to comment.

Thayne Mayor DeLand Lainhart declined to comment.

Thayne Facebook page
Thayne Facebook page

Lainhart is at the center of the dispute that began in September 2015 when the Andruses bought a century-old building that had been on the market for eight years on Main Street in Thayne. The Andruses remodeled it, created a family-style restaurant with an old west theme including purchases antique bars and wagon wheel light fixtures, and brought it to code with off-street parking and handicap accessibility.

They began meeting with town officials in the fall of 2015 about obtaining a bar and grille license, and provided the details about the restaurant and the Training for Intervention Procedures ("TIPS") for employees.

On March 31, 2016, they attended a special meeting of the town council that lasted two-and-a-half hours, according to the complaint.

It got ugly.

"Plaintiffs were subjected to verbal accusations and hostility from multiple members of the Town Council. Defendant Council Members Joe Heward and Lorell Woolley repeatedly and very publicly accused Plaintiffs of being deceitful without any basis for such accusations whatsoever," according to the complaint.

Lainhart told the Andruses town officials would collect monthly sales and use tax receipts on a monthly basis to verify the alcohol sales were legally proportionate to food sales, and the town would revoke the license if the proportion was not maintained. This is unlawful because the state requires the proportions to be viewed over a 12-month period, according to the complaint.

Lainhart also threatened to enter the bar to make sure the grill was on, asked about parking compliance, ordered the Andruses to build a fence, and prohibited them from erecting a neon sign -- things that were never demanded of other restaurants.

Despite setting the liquor license fee at $1,500, the town council said it could charge up to $10,500 for the license.

The people attending the meeting weren't nice, either. "Members of the audience at the special meeting made hostile gay slurs about Plaintiffs during the hearing."

The town council approved the application on a 3-2 vote.

On April 28, the town council approved the first reading a revised liquor license, but town officials denied their requests to obtain a copy of it.

The next week, Lainhart went to the restaurant and told the Andruses he spoke to a high-ranking local member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who said he approved of their receiving the liquor license, according to the complaint. "When questioned about the legality or appropriateness of having a religious leader influence or  impact local government decisions, Defendant Mayor of Thayne stated '[this religious leader] represented the people' of Thayne."

The problems continued in 2017 when the town council held a meeting about liquor license renewal applications. Despite having complete documentation, the town council initially did not gain a second to the motion -- until after a newer member of the council seconded it -- to renew the Andruses' license, but quickly granted licenses to two other bars that didn't have their TIPS certification.

The lawsuit noted these other actions, or lack of actions, by the town and its residents:

  • Intoxicated patrons of other bars would enter Rustlers and utter vulgarities and threats.
  • Twice, drunk patrons leaving other bars drove their vehicles through the fence at Rustlers.
  • The town did not enforce its ordinances about off-street parking, intoxicated patrons, open containers outside bars, or handicap accessible facilities.
  • The government-run website has a section on dining, which lists local restaurants, but did not list Rustlers until today.
  • An email was circulated among LDS members opposing the liquor license application.
  • The town council announced a special meeting on Nov. 27, 2017. The only item on agenda was about ambulance service finances. But the town council dealt with Rustlers' liquor license without a public notice. The town did not notify the Andruses about the matter.

The Andruses assert the Town of Thayne has violated their 14th Amendment rights about equal protection under the law and due process.

But they say the religious influence of the Mormon Church, and its historic opposition to homosexuality, drives much of the mayor's and town council's disparate treatment of them in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, according to the complaint.

They cited Rainhart's conversation with the local church leader as an example of that.

"The foregoing constitutes the endorsement of a religion over other religions or no religion at all, in violation of well-settled law relative to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

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