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Beech v. City of Franklin

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 16, 2018

FLOYD BEECH and MARION BEECH, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF FRANKLIN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALETA A. TRAUGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The City of Franklin, Tennessee (“City”) has filed a Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 7), to which Floyd and Marion Beech have filed a Response (Docket No. 9), and the City has filed a Reply (Docket No. 11). The City has also filed a Motion for Sanctions (Docket No. 8), to which the Beeches have filed a Response (Docket No. 10). For the reasons herein, the court will grant the Motion to Dismiss and deny the Motion for Sanctions.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

         This is the second federal lawsuit and third lawsuit that the Beeches have filed based on the City of Franklin's failure to stop Calvin Malone, who is not a defendant in this case, from operating a barbershop out of his home at or near the corner of Park Street and 11th Avenue South in Franklin (“Malone Property”). The Beeches formerly owned a home at the same corner, across the street from the Malone Property (“Former Beech Property”). The Malone Property has a street address and approved driveway outlet on Park Street, and the Former Beech Property has a street address and approved driveway outlet on 11th Avenue. Although they no longer own the Former Beech Property, the Beeches continue to own other 11th Avenue property. (Docket No. 1 ¶¶ 3-5.)

         The Malone Property and Former Beech Property have historically been zoned GR [General Residential] and are now located within the City's R-6 Historic Core Residential district. (Id. ¶ 6.) The Beeches claim that Malone's operation of a home barbershop on a general residential/historic core residential property is unlawful. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) At some point, Malone added to his property a concrete parking area that extended to an outlet onto 11th Avenue. The Beeches maintain that the parking area and 11th Avenue outlet are, like the barbershop, unlawful. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) The Beeches have identified some additional alleged violations related to the operation of Malone's business in a residential area, including improper signage, use of improper outdoor lighting, and the lack of an applicable permit. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         The Beeches have repeatedly urged the City to enforce its zoning laws against Malone, and, while those efforts have yielded some minor successes-such as a notice of violation against Malone in 2010 and the City's forcing Malone to remove a portion of his parking area- the Beeches' efforts have not been enough to induce the City to end or significantly curtail Malone's operation of the barbershop or his maintenance of an unauthorized outlet onto 11th Avenue. (Id. ¶¶ 30-37, 41.)

         Unable to convince the City to take their preferred course of action, the Beeches resorted to the courts-the plural, in this instance, being quite literal. The details of the prior litigation between the parties are summarized by the Sixth Circuit in Beech v. City of Franklin, Tennessee, 687 Fed.Appx. 454, 455-56 (6th Cir. 2017) (“Beech I”). On November 5, 2012, the Beeches filed a suit for abatement of a nuisance and a writ of mandamus in Williamson County Chancery Court, naming both the City and Malone as defendants. Id. at 455. They sought damages from Malone, an injunction requiring Malone to shut down his home barbershop, and a writ of mandamus requiring the City to enforce its laws in the Beeches' preferred manner. Id. On August 7, 2014, the Beeches moved to amend their complaint in that case to request damages from the City and to include allegations that the city unconstitutionally denied them due process and equal protection. Id. The Beeches did not, however, request just compensation for an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment. Id. The Chancery Court did not permit the Beeches to amend their complaint and granted summary judgment to Malone and the City. Id.

         On June 12, 2015, the Beeches filed their first complaint in this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming only the City as a defendant. Beech v. City of Franklin, Tenn., No. 3:15-cv-00657, Docket No. 1 (M.D. Tenn. June 12, 2015). That complaint purported to plead one count, under the heading “CONTINUING VIOLATION BY THE CITY OF FRANKLIN OF PETITIONERS' CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW AND TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW.” That count, however, cited three alleged constitutional violations. First, the Beeches alleged that the City, by failing to “properly, regularly, even-handedly and impartially enforce” its laws, had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. ¶ 61. The Beeches next alleged that the City, through the same conduct, denied the Beeches' “federal rights guaranteed under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Id. ¶ 62. Finally, the Beeches alleged that the City's “actions constituted a deliberate taking, under color of law, in violation of the [Beeches'] federal rights guaranteed under the [Fifth] Amendment.” Id. ¶ 63.

         On August 8, 2016, Judge Todd J. Campbell granted summary judgment to the City, citing several alternative grounds, namely that the Beeches' claims were time-barred; they had failed to establish an unconstitutional policy, practice or custom; they had failed to establish that Malone's barbershop was unlawful under the relevant zoning laws; they had failed to establish any economic impact of the City's toleration of Malone's business; and the City was immune to liability under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Beech v. City of Franklin, Tenn., No. 3:15-cv-00657, Docket No. 42 at 4-6 (M.D. Tenn. June 12, 2015).

         The Beeches appealed. Instead of ruling on the grounds for summary judgment that Judge Campbell had identified, the Sixth Circuit concluded that the Beeches' claims were not ripe because (1) their takings claim was unripe pursuant to Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), because the Beeches had not sought compensation through Tennessee's procedures and (2) their due process and equal protection claims were “ancillary to the takings claim.” Beech, 67 Fed.Appx. at 456 (citing Peters v. Fair, 427 F.3d 1035, 1037 (6th Cir. 2005); Bigelow v. Mich. Dep't of Nat. Res., 970 F.2d 154, 158-59 (6th Cir. 1992)). The Sixth Circuit remanded the case to this court with instructions to dismiss, which the court did on May 18, 2017. Beech v. City of Franklin, Tenn., No. 3:15-cv-00657, Docket No. 51 (M.D. Tenn. May 18, 2017).

         The Beeches filed their Complaint in this case on August 11, 2017. (Docket No. 1.) The Complaint is mostly identical to the prior federal complaint. The Beeches again plead one count under § 1983 for “CONTINUING VIOLATION BY THE CITY OF FRANKLIN OF PETITIONERS' CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS TO EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW AND TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW.” (Id. at 22.) That count again cites three constitutional provisions: first the Equal Protection Clause, then the Due Process Clause, then the Takings Clause, recycling the prior complaint's language for each. (Id. ¶¶ 62-64.) The only meaningful differences between the new complaint and the prior complaint that either the court or the parties have been able to identify are that (1) the Beeches now purport, in the caption, to be asserting their claims both on their own behalf and on the behalf of all other similarly situated persons; and (2) the Beeches have added some historical, political, and demographic background information about the City and their neighborhood's place within it. (Id. ¶ 2.) The new information provides an account of why the City's alleged decision to enforce its zoning laws more stringently in some neighborhoods than in others should be understood in the context of the broader history and current realities of race relations in Franklin. (Id.)

         The City moved to dismiss the Beeches' claims on September 6, 2017. (Docket No. 7.) The next day, the City filed a motion seeking Rule 11 sanctions against the Beeches and their counsel, Scott Williams. (Docket No. 8.) Specifically, the City asks the court to award the City reasonable expenses and attorney's fees that it has incurred in this suit and enjoin the Beeches and Williams from filing any additional suits against the City arising from the same core facts. (Id. at 6-7.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the court will “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007); Inge v. Rock Fin. Corp., 281 F.3d 613, 619 (6th Cir. 2002). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that a plaintiff provide “a short and plain statement of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). The court must determine only whether “the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to ...


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