Bank settles lawsuit against Celebration Church founders over $700K debt
Six months after suing Celebration Church founders Stovall and Kerri Weems and several companies they control for defaulting on more than $700,000 in loans, First Citizens Bank revealed that they've reached a settlement with the former megachurch leaders.
The couple, who founded Celebration Church in 1998 and resigned as leaders in April 2022, were sued by the bank in May 2021 for defaulting on $716,123.14 in loans.
Last month, however, an attorney for the bank filed notice at the Duval County Courthouse in Florida stating that they were voluntarily dismissing the suit “as a result of [an] amicable settlement.”
The couple, who have been mired in legal fights since being ousted from their roles as leaders of the 12,000-member Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, are still involved with two other lawsuits yet to be resolved.
A hearing regarding a defamation lawsuit the couple filed against Celebration Church and its board of trustees is still pending while the church is seeking to remove the couple from a Black Hammock Island home they purchased as a parsonage.
The megachurch founders filed their defamation lawsuit following the release of an internal investigation commissioned by the church that painted them as abusive leaders who exploited church staff and finances until they were forced to resign.
“The single word used most frequently to describe Stovall Weems was ‘narcissist.’ Nearly every witness we interviewed used that specific word,” a 22-page report on the investigation produced by the Nelson Mullins law firm said.
According to the report, the Weemses’ leadership had been “inconsistent and unbiblical" since at least 2019. Investigators allege that Stovall Weems’ leadership was “marked by rampant spiritual and emotional abuse, including manipulation, a profound sense of self-importance and selfishness, superiority and entitlement, overbearing and unreasonable demands on employees’ time, a lack of accountability or humility, and demands of absolute loyalty.”
Last October, however, the Weemses' defamation case was dismissed by a judge who pointed out that the “church autonomy doctrine, or ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, is rooted in both the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the United States Constitution and ensures that the highest ecclesiastical authorities, as opposed to the secular courts, have the final say on ecclesiastical matters.”
A new version of the defamation case was later allowed to be filed in court offering the couple another chance to argue their case.
Celebration Church is also going after the Weemses in another lawsuit demanding that the couple vacate a million-dollar waterfront home owned by the church since they completely resigned from all work with the church in April 2022.
Church officials argued in the lawsuit filed on June 1 that on June 6, 2021, Stovall Weems purchased the disputed home located at 16073 Shellcracker Road on behalf of the church and Weems Group, LLC, which he managed himself. The purchase was made without authorization from the church’s board. Redfin reports that the home, which has an estimated value of $1,412,024, was last sold for $1,286,900
“The Weemses remain in possession of the … property despite Stovall Weems’ resignation of employment, the Weemses’ refusal to pay rent and the church’s demands that the Weemses vacate the premises,” the lawsuit says.
Lawyers for the Weemses and the church are expected to present their arguments on the property dispute before Duval County Judge Mose Floyd on Jan. 23, while a hearing on the defamation case is expected to proceed on Jan. 24.
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