University Heights resident Sue Robinson emphasizes a point during a meeting of the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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Litigation over deed restrictions in University Heights will continue, according to a group of residents suing to stop development at the corner of Sunshine Street and National Avenue.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal Greene County Circuit Judge Derek Ankrom’s June 14 ruling in favor of the defendant, developer Be Kind & Merciful, according to Sue Robinson, one of the 13 University Heights property owners suing BK&M.

In doing so, the plaintiffs have rejected a settlement offer from BK&M (Be Kind and Merciful), which offered not to file a counterclaim and seek damages in excess of $60,000 if the plaintiffs agree not to appeal, participate in future rezoning hearings — including written comments, public posts and communications with the Springfield City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission — and/or take part in referendum petition efforts.

“Members of the University Heights Preservation Group and plaintiffs in the deed restriction lawsuit are disappointed and dismayed by the June 14th judgment,” Robinson said in a statement to the Hauxeda. “We reject the so called ‘settlement offer’ from ‘Be Kind and Merciful’ and view it as an attempt to threaten and intimidate the ‘[Dixie] Sleight Plaintiffs.’”

The bailiff in Judge Derek Ankrom’s courtroom admonishes plaintiff Susan Robinson for leaving the spectator section and speaking with fellow plaintiffs Mark and Courtney Fletcher during their civil suit against developers BK&M on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Plaintiff intervenors Mark and Courtney Fletcher also rejected the settlement offer.

In a letter sent to the Fletchers and plaintiffs' attorney Bryan Wade from BK&M attorney Bryan Fisher on June 18, Fisher outlines BK&M's plans to refile a counterclaim against the plaintiffs for “abuse of process and malicious prosecution” if any post-trial motions or an appeal is filed.

The offer, which expired at noon on Friday, June 21, was contingent on all plaintiffs and intervenors agreeing to the proposal.

“We feel confident that further written discovery and the depositions of Plaintiffs and Intervenors will show additional facts sufficient to sustain claims for abuse of process and malicious prosecution at trial,” Fisher writes in the letter.

Attorney Bryan Fisher, representing BK&M, questions plaintiff Courtney Fletcher in Greene County Circuit Court on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. Defendant Ralph Duda is at right. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

In an Friday morning interview with the Hauxeda, Ralph Duda, partner with BK&M, said the group is “absolutely” going to pursue damages if the deadline for the settlement offer is not met. At the time, Duda was unaware of the plaintiffs' intent to appeal Ankrom's judgment.

“We're tired of this,” Duda said. “This is complete shenanigans now, and we've had enough, and we're absolutely going to follow through on our demand letter.”

BK&M attorney Bryan Fisher confers with his client, Ralph Duda, during the civil suit trial. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Prior to the court's ruling, the Fletchers offered to waive present and future claims against BK&M in exchange for the developer buying their University Heights home, initially for $840,000, with an April 18 deadline.

In a June 4 email to Bryan Fisher, Mark Fletcher reduced his asking price to $600,000, and suggested that he is the only resident in University Heights able to continue litigation beyond the Ankrom's ruling.

Duda described Fletcher's offer as a threat. Mark Fletcher told the Daily Citizen that he and his wife plan to move to Walnut Grove, but that he would continue to participate in the appeal process until they sell their University Heights home and lose standing in the lawsuit. Fletcher said he would continue to provide assistance to the plaintiffs.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Plaintiff Courtney Fletcher accepts a document from her husband, Mark Fletcher, while she testified in a procedural hearing over their suit against developers, BK&M. Mrs. Fletcher is an attorney and was representing herself along with her husband, who is not an attorney and who was acting pro se. (Photo by Jym Wilson)


Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Hauxeda. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@hauxeda.com or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee