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Tinker v. Knox County

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

March 14, 2017

SARA TINKER, Plaintiff,
v.
KNOX COUNTY, TENNESSEE and FRANKIE BYRNE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This section 1983 matter is before the Court on Defendant Frankie Byrne's Motion to Dismiss, [Doc. 9], the case in her individual and official capacities pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The plaintiff has responded, [Doc. 11], and the matter is ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         The Court must take the allegations in the Complaint as true. The plaintiff is a Knox County resident, and Defendant Byrne is employed by Knox County as an Animal Control Officer. Knox County Ordinance section 6-34 limits the number of dogs that may be housed in a Knox County residence. It also imposes a duty upon the Animal Control Officers to provide advanced notice to citizens, allowing the citizens the opportunity to remedy any alleged overcrowding. In addition, the Ordinance allows a citizen to produce a veterinarian recommendation to obtain an exception to the Ordinance. The Ordinance states in pertinent part: . . . .

(c) If it is determined that a person is in violation of this section, such person shall be allowed 30 days from the notice of violation to correct such violation. . . . .
(e) If all dogs and/or cats have been vaccinated and inoculated against disease as recommended by a veterinarian and such veterinarian will attest that such dogs and/or cats are properly cared for, the animal control division may exempt any restriction as specified in this section.

         Defendant Byrne obtained a search warrant for the plaintiff's property on the basis that the plaintiff was keeping more dogs on the property than were allowed. On March 24, 2015, Defendant Byrne served the search warrant upon the plaintiff at 2003 Marshy Swamp Point, Knoxville, Tennessee, without any prior notice. On that day, the county seized the animals and then kept them at the local animal shelter. The county's veterinarian examined the animals and determined that they were in good health and properly kept. Subsequently, however, the county charged the plaintiff with violating Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-202, the animal cruelty statute. Then, on March 27, 2015, the county condemned the plaintiff's property, and she was forced to move. The charges were eventually dropped, and the plaintiff paid the animal shelter $1, 700 to retrieve her dogs.

         The plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that prior to March 24, 2015, she obtained a letter from her animals' veterinarian, Dr. Patrick Hackett, who affirmed that the plaintiff had met conditions for exception to Ordinance 6-34. The plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Byrne knew the plaintiff had obtained this letter, but did not include this information in her application for a search warrant.

         II. Standard of Review

         Dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) eliminates a pleading or portion thereof that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Moreover, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires the complaint to contain a “short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) requires the Court to construe the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all the complaint's factual allegations as true. Meador v. Cabinet for Human Res., 902 F.2d 474, 475 (6th Cir. 1990). The Court may not grant a motion to dismiss based upon a disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations. Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196, 1199 (6th Cir. 1990). The Court must liberally construe the complaint in favor of the party opposing the motion. Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 377 (6th Cir. 1995). However, the plaintiff must allege facts that, if accepted as true, are sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), and to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” id. at 570; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, this Court need not “‘accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)); see also Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678. Lastly, this Court may consider documents central to the plaintiff's claims to which the complaint refers and incorporates as exhibits. Amini v. Oberlin College, 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001).

         III. Analysis

         The defendant moves to dismiss all Counts against her in her individual and official capacities. This Court will address each issue in turn.

         A. Official Capacity

         The defendant argues that the suit against her in her official capacity is redundant because plaintiff has sued Knox County, Tennessee. It is clearly established that official capacity suits are, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the governmental entity. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). The Sixth Circuit has directed district courts that official capacity suits should be dismissed where the same claims are also brought against the county. Jackson v. Shelby County ...


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