Teen loses suit against WVSF

BUCKHANNON – A 14-year-old who brought a lawsuit against the West Virginia Strawberry Festival was unsuccessful this week in her attempt to reclaim her Teen Queen crown.

Courtney Trader, of Buckhannon, won the title during the March 22 pageant in Buckhannon, but was stripped of her crown by the WVSF Association on April 18 based on a contractual violation.

On April 28, Trader and her mother, Shelley Trader, filed a civil lawsuit asking for an injunction, damages and a temporary restraining order that would prevent the WVSF from crowning or entering into a contract with a new Teen Queen.

Judge Kurt Hall ruled against those motions in Upshur County Circuit Court Tuesday.

Hall explained to The Inter-Mountain Wednesday what he considered before making his decision.

“If I grant the remedy, does it harm the responder?” Hall said. “And I believe that it would. They already re-crowned a different girl. I don’t have the authority to un-crown the different girl. What you would end up with is two people wearing the title.”

On April 26, during the WVSF Queen’s Ball, Dominique Collins was crowned Teen Queen, two days before the Traders’ lawsuit was filed.

Hall said for the motions to be granted, the plaintiff would have to prove her loss of title created irreparable harm.

“I concluded that I don’t believe that the loss of pageantry – the title and everything that goes with it – rises to the level of legal irreparable harm,” Hall said Wednesday. “There’s no kind of scholarship associated with winning the title. It was more or less a title.”

According to the lawsuit, on March 22, Courtney Trader entered into the “official Teen Queen contract” after winning the crown. Then, on April 18, she received a letter from the WVSF stripping her of that title. The letter was included in the civil suit file.

“It has come to our attention that you are in violation of #7 and #10 of your contract with the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Association, your title is now void (sic),” the letter stated.

The court filings included the signed contract. The violation listed in the letter as number seven refers to a line item in the contract which states that Courtney Trader, who signed the contract, agreed not to be photographed as the Teen Queen, either with or without the crown and banner, for any publication without written consent from the festival.

The lawsuit states Courtney Trader was “verbally told” she violated this paragraph of the contract by posing for a picture in her sash and crown.

The contract violation referred to as number 10 in the letter states that Courtney Trader had not and would not engage in any activities that would be “embarrassing to me and/or the festival.”

The suit states Courtney Trader and her mother “were verbally told that the violation of Paragraph 10 was a re-tweet that C.T. had tweeted of a curse word.”

The lawsuit contends Courtney Trader and her mother spoke with WVSF officials and were assured the situation had been resolved in a satisfactory manner. However, the lawsuit states, “upon information and belief, Plaintiffs believe that the underlying reason C.T. was stripped of her crown has to do with supposed inappropriate pictures that the Board heard may have been taken of C.T. Their belief is based on comments that board members have been (making) to family and friends.”

The suit also claims the loss of the title has resulted in the harassment of Courtney Trader at school.

“The Board’s actions have caused emotional distress to C.T. in that the information has already been provided to the public and C.T. has been a victim of harassment at the high school as evidenced by verbal comments and written notes,” the filing states. “Additionally, the information regarding her name and the contract being voided has been published in the local paper.”

In court the WVSF, represented by attorney Daya Wright of Buckhannon, claimed Trader broke two of the 11 agreements in her contract.

Hall said the Traders, represented by Buckhannon attorney Christina Flanigan, argued the loss of the title resulted in the harassment of Courtney Trader by her peers at school.

“There was a contract involved… that’s what the Strawberry Festival is operating on,” Hall said Wednesday. “They believe she breached the contract.”

“To me, it doesn’t really matter what the breach of contract was,” Hall said. “It said in the letter she violated one rule that dealt with not being photographed in your regalia.”

“If you win the pageant, you get to have the title and that’s your part of the bargain,” Hall said, “but the Strawberry Festival is entitled to having someone to adequately represent them. If I granted their position, the Strawberry Festival would be forced to have somebody represent them that they didn’t want (to be representing them).”