90 F.3d 118 (5th Cir. 1996), 95-10218, Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church, Inc. v. Sawyer

Docket Nº:95-10218.
Citation:90 F.3d 118
Party Name:RICO Bus.Disp.Guide WORD OF FAITH WORLD OUTREACH CENTER CHURCH, INC., A dissolved Corporation on behalf of its members; Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church, a Church on Behalf of its Members, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Diane SAWYER, An individual; Capital Cities/ABC Inc., A New York Corporation; American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., A Delawa
Case Date:August 07, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 118

90 F.3d 118 (5th Cir. 1996)

RICO Bus.Disp.Guide

WORD OF FAITH WORLD OUTREACH CENTER CHURCH, INC., A

dissolved Corporation on behalf of its members; Word of

Faith World Outreach Center Church, a Church on Behalf of

its Members, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Diane SAWYER, An individual; Capital Cities/ABC Inc., A New

York Corporation; American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., A

Delaware Corporation; ABC News, Inc., A Delaware

Corporation; Robbie Gordon, An individual; Kelly

Sutherland, An individual; Jeff Cooke; Trinity Foundation,

Inc., A Texas non-profit Corporation; Ole Anthony, An

individual; Harry Guetzlaff, An individual; Powell

Holloway, An individual; John Does, and/or Jane 1-30,

Defendants-Appellees,

A H Belo Corp., A Texas Corporation; WFAA-TV, Inc., A Texas

Corporation; Bill Brown; Dallas Morning News, Inc., A

Texas Corporation; Ed Housewright, An individual; Steve

Blow, An individual; Ed Bark, An individual, Defendants.

No. 95-10218.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 7, 1996

Page 119

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 120

John L. Ross, Rhonda Johnson Byrd, Scott Patrick Stolley, Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, Dallas, TX, J.C. Joyce, Tulsa, OK, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Floyd Abrams, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, New York City, Frank Charles Vecella, Dallas, TX, for defendants-appellees Sawyer, Capital Cities/ABC Inc., American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., ABC News, Inc., Gordon, Sutherland and Cooke.

Richard Alexander Rohan, Barbara M.G. Lynn, Dallas, TX, for defendants-appellees Trinity Foundation, Inc., Anthony, Guetzlaff and Holloway.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before REYNALDO G. GARZA, JONES and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.

EDITH H. JONES, Circuit Judge:

This lawsuit began as a result of critical television reports on the weekly ABC news program PrimeTime Live concerning Reverend Robert Tilton and Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church. The Church and Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church, Inc. appeal the decision of the district court dismissing their claims against ABC and others who assisted ABC in preparing the shows for violation of the RICO statute and a federal civil rights statute. 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

The facts are distilled from appellants' pleadings. Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church is a Christian church based in Farmers Branch, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. 1 Robert Tilton is the Church's head pastor, and central to the Church's beliefs is the importance of tithing and making vows to God. The Church teaches that expressions of faith as manifested by financial vows to God, through the Church, are rewarded by God with physical, spiritual, and financial prosperity. At the peak of the Church's popularity, approximately 8,000 people regularly attended services, with an additional national television audience estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

In addition to weekly services and television broadcasts, the Church on a regular basis mails items of correspondence to members who have asked that their names be placed on the Church's mailing list. Often, these mailings include materials that the member can return to the Church in an enclosed preaddressed envelope, such as a prayer cloth or prayer request, and which Reverend Tilton has promised to pray over. The Church classifies mail returned as a result of these mailings as "regular mail." The Church also routinely receives unsolicited pieces of mail, known by the Church as "white mail."

In the spring of 1991, journalists working for ABC's weekly news program PrimeTime Live ("PrimeTime" ) began an investigation of Tilton. PrimeTime's investigation was aided by Ole Anthony and others affiliated with the Trinity Foundation, Inc., a non-profit corporation founded by Anthony for the purpose of supporting Christ centered communication projects. Anthony is passionately opposed to some televangelists, including Tilton.

On November 21, 1991, PrimeTime broadcast a report concerning three televangelists, including Tilton, that was highly critical of Tilton and his fund-raising practices. A week later, PrimeTime broadcast a brief update reporting reactions to the November 21 broadcast. On July 9, 1992, the original November 21 program was rebroadcast, with certain minor changes, together with a follow-up report. PrimeTime's ratings, which had been low, significantly improved following the Tilton broadcast.

The theme of the broadcasts was that Tilton personally acquired millions of dollars of donations sent to the Church, and that he never prayed over thousands of prayer requests.

Page 121

PrimeTime's claim that Tilton failed to pray over the prayer requests derived from prayer requests purportedly found during "trash sweeps" conducted by persons affiliated with the Trinity Foundation at the direction of ABC representatives.

The Church disputes PrimeTime's claim that prayer requests where thrown away before the promised prayers by Tilton. As evidence, the Church points to its sophisticated document and financial accounting system which accounts for every piece of mail received and its contents. This system involves a bank and a mail-handling contractor, and the Church asserts that it can establish that none of the prayer requests reportedly found in the trash could have been found...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP