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Greenwood v. City of Memphis

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

November 6, 2017

CHRISTINE GREENWOOD
v.
CITY OF MEMPHIS, ET AL.

          Session Date: September 18, 2017

         Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-002166-14 James F. Russell, Judge

         This is a case about an unleashed German shepherd. The dog belonged to Appellant's neighbor, who allowed the dog to remain unleashed in his yard. Appellant reported this to several employees of the City of Memphis, who ultimately determined that the dog was appropriately restrained in the neighbor's yard by an invisible electric fence. Appellant was unsatisfied with this determination and filed suit against the City and its employees for tort claims and violations of her constitutional rights. The trial court dismissed Appellant's suit for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. We affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed & Remanded

          Christine D. Greenwood, Memphis, Tennessee, Pro se.

          Philip E. Oliphant and Roane Waring, III, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellees, Toney Armstrong, Martha Gwyn, James Rogers, Glenn Andrews, Susan Jordan, and City of Memphis.

          Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin and Kenny Armstrong, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         Appellant, Christine Greenwood, began contacting Memphis Animal Services in August 2013 to report encounters between her family and her neighbor's unleashed dog. On October 10, 2013, Ms. Greenwood contacted the Memphis Police Department regarding the dog running at large, and the responding officer issued a warning to the neighbor to secure the dog on a leash. A similar incident occurred on October 30, 2013, and the responding officer issued a written citation to the neighbor for his unleashed dog. In December 2013, Ms. Greenwood again called 911 regarding the neighbor's dog, but the officers responding to the neighbor's house that day learned the neighbor had installed an invisible electric fence to contain the dog within his yard, which was a legal method of restraint pursuant to Memphis City Ordinance § 8-16-6(c)(3). After this discovery, the Memphis Police Department and Memphis Animal Services determined that the neighbor was in compliance with leash laws and regulations, and Ms. Greenwood was told that the matter had been resolved. Nevertheless, Ms. Greenwood persisted in her calls to city officials with concerns that the invisible fence may not work and fears that she and her family were in imminent danger. As Ms. Greenwood herself stated, her anxiety over the neighbor's dog and the invisible fence began to "consume" her.

         Ms. Greenwood subsequently initiated this lawsuit pro se against the City of Memphis (the "City") and five employees of the Memphis Police Department and Memphis Animal Services (collectively the "Employees") in Shelby County Circuit Court on May 14, 2014. In her complaint, Ms. Greenwood asserted that her neighbor allowed his German shepherd dog to roam unleashed in his yard and that the City's willingness to allow the dog to be restrained by only an invisible electric fence caused her emotional distress and violated her constitutional rights. To that end, Ms. Greenwood sought damages against the defendants based on the following:

Governmental Tort Liability Act, the Common Law of Tennessee, City of Memphis Ordinance Statutes, State of Tennessee Dog Leash Laws, Public and Private Nuisance laws, violation and deprivation of United States Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Act and Civil Rights Act; Discrimination Act, negligent deprivation and violation of right to enjoyment of life and liberty; negligen[t] deprivation and violation of right to enjoy property peacefully and quietly without dangerous interference; negligent deprivation and violation to private and public life without being in fear for life and safety, and fear for life and safety of family members; negligent deprivation and violation in failing to provide equal protection to all citizens; . . . negligent deprivation and violation of human rights; negligent deprivation and violation of due process rights, intentional discrimination, and all other applicable laws and protected rights deprived and violated.

         Based on Ms. Greenwood's constitutional claims, the City removed the case to federal district court on June 12, 2014. The procedural history of this case at the federal court stage is not entirely clear from the record. However, on May 1, 2015, the federal court ruled that all federal claims against both the Employees and the City were dismissed, finding that Ms. Greenwood failed to state a claim against any defendant for a violation of her constitutional rights. Further, the federal court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Ms. Greenwood's Tennessee state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) and remanded those claims back to Shelby County Circuit Court.

         On remand in circuit court, Ms. Greenwood filed an amended complaint on May 26, 2015, and continued to assert an array of state law claims against the defendants for "violation under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, the Common Law of Tennessee, Strict Liability Laws, City of Memphis Animal Ordinance Statutes, State of Tennessee Dog Leash Laws, Public and Private Nuisance Laws, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligence, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, Discrimination, Conspiracy, and Fraudulent Misrepresentation." On June 16, 2015, the City filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Greenwood's tort claims against the Employee defendants, averring that the Employees were not proper parties to these claims because where a governmental entity's immunity (such as the City's) is removed for an alleged negligent act of an employee (as it was in this case), Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-20-310(b) provides that the ...


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