Lawsuit Over Memorial Plaques Dismissed

A lawsuit against Evergreen Cemetery over its placement of four memorial plaques at the Jonestown mass grave was dismissed in April 2014, and an appeal of the decision was rejected the following September.

The suit, filed in May 2011 by the Guyana Tribute Foundation shortly after the plaques were installed, claimed that the foundation already had a contract to erect a memorial on the site, and that Evergreen’s decision to negotiate with the Jonestown Memorial Fund for another memorial represented a breach of the contract. Evergreen had replied that the foundation did not have a contract for a monument at the site and, by extension, could not dictate what may or may not be done there.

The Guyana Tribute Foundation is headed by Dr. Jynona Norwood, who has led memorial services at the gravesite in the Oakland cemetery every year on November 18 since 1979.

In the first weeks after the lawsuit was filed in mid-May 2011, Norwood sought an immediate injunction against further work on the site and – when that failed, in large part because the work was complete – sought an injunction against a dedication service planned for May 29. The second request failed as well, and the service went forward.

Despite the early setbacks, Norwood continued to press for a court order for the removal of the plaques or – barring that – removal of the name of Temple leader Jim Jones from the listing on the stones.

After numerous court dates in the intervening three years, Judge Robert McGuiness dismissed the case on April 23, 2014, ruling that “Plaintiffs failed to allege any cognizable cause(s) of action against Defendants … [I]t is not clear how or why Defendants defrauded Plaintiffs especially since it is not clear what benefits defendants would have gained from such fraud.”

The Guyana Tribute Foundation appealed the ruling, but on September 26, an appellate court upheld the original decision.