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Mayes v. Environmental Protection Agency

September 20, 2006

NORMAN C. MAYES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas A. Varlan United States District Judge

(VARLAN/SHIRLEY)

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This civil action is before the Court on several pretrial motions: the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 13] filed by defendants Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation ("TDEC"), Jane Roach, and Ryan Hyers (collectively the "state defendants"); the Motion for Partial Dismissal, for More Definite Statement, for Extension of Time to File Answer, and to Strike Jury Demand [Doc. 15] filed by defendants Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") and Stephen L. Johnson (collectively the "federal defendants"); and the Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Response to Reply [Doc. 23] filed by the federal defendants. The plaintiff has responded to two of the pending motions, the defendants have filed replies, and the motions are ripe for determination. After carefully considering the pending motions and related pleadings [Docs. 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22], the Court rules on the motions as set forth herein.

I. Facts and Procedural History

A brief description of the unusual procedural history of this case is worth noting to put the following issues in context. Plaintiff Norman Mayes sought judicial review of an Environmental Appeals Board ("EAB") final order affirming an administrative law judge's decision finding Mr. Mayes liable for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA") with respect to certain underground storage tanks on his property. Mr. Mayes filed a petition for review with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on May 31, 2005. The case was ultimately transferred to this Court from the D.C. Circuit on October 14, 2005 [Doc. 1]. The plaintiff was then ordered to file a complaint as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 7(a) [Doc. 4]. The complaint was filed February 20, 2006 [Doc. 7] asserting claims against the EPA and Administrator Johnson, as well as TDEC and two agents of TDEC, Ms. Roach and Mr. Hyers.

II. State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

The State Defendants have moved pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the claims against them on the grounds that: (1) plaintiff's § 1983 claim is barred by the statute of limitations; (2) the § 1983 claim has not accrued because plaintiff cannot show the EPA proceeding has been resolved in his favor; and (3) all money damage claims against TDEC are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and because TDEC is not a "person" subject to suit under § 1983. [Doc. 13.]

The state defendants first argue that the § 1983 claim against Roach and Hyers is barred by the one-year statute of limitations contained in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1). Because the plaintiff's claim against Roach and Hyers accrued at the time of the searches in February, March, April, and November 2000, defendants argue the claim filed on February 20, 2006 is time-barred. [Doc. 14.]

The plaintiff responds that he is willing to dismiss the § 1983 claim and the Fourth Amendment claim "with the exception of the Fourth Amendment issues as they relate to the unlawful search and seizure of the Plaintiff's property and the suppression of evidence collected there from as previously raised before the administrative law judge and the appeals that have followed from the administrative law judge's decision." [Doc. 18.] The plaintiff does not respond to the state defendants' statute of limitations argument. The state defendants subsequently objected to the dismissal of any claims against them without prejudice. [Doc. 20.] The plaintiff then requested "direction from the Court regarding how the Court will procedurally treat this matter." [Doc. 21 at 2.]

It is clear that the one-year statute of limitations in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(a)(1) applies to § 1983 claims. See Hughes v. Vanderbilt Univ., 215 F.3d 543, 547 (6th Cir. 2000) ("[i]n all actions brought under § 1983 alleging a violation of civil rights or personal injuries, the state statute of limitations governing actions for personal injuries is to be applied.") (quoting Berndt v. Tennessee, 796 F.2d 879, 883 (6th Cir. 1986)). The statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of his action, that is, when he should have discovered it through the exercise of reasonable diligence. Id. at 548 (citing Sevier v. Turner, 742 F.2d 262, 273 (6th Cir. 1984)). The Sixth Circuit has further instructed that in determining when a § 1983 cause of action accrues, the courts should look to "what event should have alerted the typical lay person to protect his or her rights." Id. (quoting Dixon v. Anderson, 928 F.2d 212, 215 (6th Cir. 1991).

In the present case, plaintiff alleges that the unlawful searches occurred at the latest in November 2000 [Doc. 7 at ¶ 12]. Plaintiff was certainly aware of the alleged injury because he challenged the validity of the searches during litigation of the administrative complaint before the EPA by filing a motion in limine on May 13, 2003 to suppress evidence obtained from the searches on. [See AR*fn1 at # 27.] That motion was denied by the administrative law judge on June 5, 2003. [AR at #41.] Thus, at the latest, plaintiff's § 1983 claim against Ms. Roach and Mr. Hyer accrued as of June 5, 2003 and the claim was not asserted until the complaint was filed on February 20, 2006, well beyond the one-year limitations period. Accordingly, plaintiff's § 1983 claim against defendants Roach and Hyer will be dismissed as time-barred.

The state defendants next argue that the § 1983 claim against TDEC, as an agency of the State of Tennessee, is barred by the Eleventh Amendment because it has not waived its sovereign immunity. The plaintiff has not responded to this argument. It is clear that "neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are 'persons' under § 1983." Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). Accordingly, because plaintiff cannot pursue a § 1983 claim against TDEC, the state defendants' motion to dismiss [Doc. 13] will be granted and the § 1983 claim against TDEC will be dismissed. It appearing to the Court that the only claims asserted against defendants TDEC, Roach, and Hyers are the § 1983 claims, these defendants will be dismissed from this case with prejudice.

III. Federal Defendants' Motion for Partial Dismissal, for More Definite Statement, for Extension of Time to File Answer, and to Strike Jury Demand

The federal defendants have filed a motion seeking multiple forms of relief: (1) for the dismissal of plaintiff's Fourth Amendment and ยง 1983 claims; (2) for a more definite statement of plaintiff's remaining claims; (3) to strike the plaintiff's jury demand; and (4) for an extension of time to file their ...


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