PITTSFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ A man is suing a Roman Catholic priest for the right to plant flowers at relatives' graves in a church cemetery, a lawyer said Tuesday.

The lawsuit, which includes a request for $40,000 in emotional distress payments and other damages, is the latest development in an uproar over rules by the Rev. David Farland for decorating the St. Joseph's Church cemetery.

Richard Kohlenberger, of nearby Lee, ''has a reasonable expectation of being able to pay his respects to his family members as he has for over 53 years,'' said his attorney, Michael Considine. He filed the lawsuit Friday in Berkshire County Superior Court.

Kohlenberger's father, mother, sister and grandmother are buried in the 285-acre cemetery, which opened in the 1850s.

The dispute broke out in April when the priest ordered the cemetery's maintenance crew to begin removing families' decorations at headstones, carting away flowers, and yanking out bricks, picket fences and other borders for plantings.

Farland said the 10-member summer crew was taking too long to care for the lawns because they were forced to cut around the plantings.

''We found that the problem was that our people were tied up mowing grass,'' he said.

''Then we had a number of people who would put up inappropriate decorations for the cemetery: balloons, pumpkins, all kinds of stuff,'' he added.

Farland contended that he is simply fulfilling his obligation as manager of the cemetery. ''You're telling people that long after they're able to care for their graves, you'll continue to do that for them,'' he said.

The cemetery restrictions, while on the books, had gone unenforced for years, Farland said. He refused to comment on the lawsuit.

Kohlenberger also declined to comment, said his wife, Georgette.

Kohlenberger and his family ''had meticulously maintained their burial lot'' and had gained a de facto contractual right to keep doing so, his attorney said.

''It is really a question of dignity, and reverence toward loved ones takes many shapes and size,'' he said.