(RNS) The civil racketeering lawsuit against former Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll and former executive elder Sutton Turner has been dismissed before a judge had the chance to consider the case.
The reason: Neither Driscoll nor Turner ever was served with the suit, brought by four former members of the now-defunct Seattle church.
The suit had accused the two of “a continuing pattern of racketeering activity”—namely, soliciting donations for specific purposes and then using that money for other things. It was filed in February by Brian Jacobsen, Connie Jacobsen, Ryan Kildea and Arica Kildea.
Driscoll and Turner motioned for dismissal when they weren’t served, which is required within 90 days in Washington, and the Jacobsens and Kildeas agreed, responding they didn’t have enough money to serve the defendants.
The suit was dismissed without prejudice by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart on Thursday (Aug. 25), meaning it could be refiled and brought back to court.
“I am grateful to God for the dismissal of these false and malicious allegations,” Driscoll said in a written statement.
“I remain steadfast and committed to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am forever humbled and thankful for the prayer and tremendous support of family, friends and fellow pastors.”
The judge, however, did not grant defendants’ requests for sanctions and attorneys’ fees of $4,240 pursuant to the court’s inherent authority. In filing the suit, plaintiffs had not “acted in bad faith, recklessly or with an improper purpose,” according to his decision.
“The plaintiffs will be considering our options for moving forward with this lawsuit,” Brian Jacobsen said in an email to RNS. “We are ready to refile, if someone stepped up and offered to fund it. We will also be considering class action and contingent fee possibilities.”
The plaintiffs’ online fundraising campaign on GoFundMe had raised $34,660—about half of its goal.
Mars Hill’s 15 campuses closed in December 2014. Driscoll had resigned from the church months earlier amid allegations that included plagiarism, abusive behavior and critical comments he made about feminism and homosexuality under a pseudonym on a church message board.
The pastor since has launched The Trinity Church in Phoenix, Ariz.
The Trinity Church has been meeting since Easter and publicly launched on Aug. 7. It recently bought the historic mid-century modern church building where it has been meeting and will host Pastors School with Jimmy Evans—with the tagline “building healthy churches”—in November.
Turner said in a blog post Thursday he plans to meet with people on his next trip to Seattle, and he will not respond to the plaintiffs with a countersuit.
“To many, it would appear that the final chapter of Mars Hill’s history is now closed, and for the most part they would be correct,” he said. “However, I am still learning and healing from the experience, and I hope to help others do the same.”