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Haire v. Anderson County

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

March 26, 2018

SCOTT HAIRE, Plaintiff,



         The question has often been asked, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” The Court declines to rule on this question today, instead considering which came first, the alleged nuisance from agricultural activity on plaintiff's private property or the alleged malicious prosecution by Anderson County officials in seeking an injunction for plaintiff's poultry activities. Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiff's § 1983 and Tennessee state law claims or, in the alternative, for a judgment on the pleadings [Doc. 35].[1] Plaintiff responded in opposition [Doc. 38], and defendants replied [Doc. 39]. For the following reasons, the Court will grant defendants' motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is a resident of Anderson County, Tennessee, who raises chickens and breeds them to “show quality standards” [Doc. 31 ¶¶ 1, 11]. He lives on a property that is fenced in, and he has cages where he keeps his chickens [Id. ¶ 11]. In June 2013, Steve Page, an official from the Anderson County Public Works Office visited plaintiff's property after receiving complaints from his neighbors about noise and odor [Id. ¶ 12]. In October 2013, this same official was told that agricultural activities are exempt from zoning resolutions and that the official had no jurisdiction over plaintiff's agricultural activities [Id.]. After the official's visit, however, plaintiff cleaned up the property and removed several roosters [Id. ¶ 14].

         Plaintiff's neighbors continued seeking assistance from county and state departments, as well as county commissioners [Id. ¶¶ 16-17]. After the neighbors complained, defendant Yeager, Law Director for Anderson County, Tennessee, threatened legal action against plaintiff, claiming that his activities constituted a “public nuisance” [Id. ¶ 18]. In response, plaintiff reduced his flock of chickens from approximately seventy to thirty chickens and built a fence [Id. ¶ 19]. Page returned to plaintiff's property and reported that he did not smell any offending odors and that plaintiff had constructed a fence since his last visit [Id. ¶ 21].

         Around March 11, 2015, at an Anderson County Commission public session, plaintiff's neighbors and defendant Yeager asserted that plaintiff's activities constituted a “public nuisance” and needed to be referred to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (“TDEC”) [Id. ¶ 28]. Defendant Scott, a member of the Anderson County Commission from District Seven, visited plaintiff's property and confirmed that poultry livestock was in a fenced backyard, but she reported that she did not smell any known odors [Id. ¶ 29]. Defendant Scott claimed that she was certified as a “Property Maintenance and Housing Inspector, Building Safety Professional, ” so she visited plaintiff's property five or six times, ultimately determining that the activities on plaintiff's property constituted a public nuisance [Id. ¶ 34]. Defendant Yeager, on behalf of defendant Anderson County, then initiated a lawsuit against plaintiff, claiming a public nuisance [Id. ¶ 32].

         Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment in the Chancery Court for Anderson County based on defendant Yeager's failure to identify evidence in support of the lawsuit's allegations [Id. ¶ 36]. In her deposition, defendant Scott admitted that her inspector certifications had lapsed but that she had still continued to inspect plaintiff's property [Id. ¶ 37]. While on the property, she had not conducted any scientific analysis, and she admitted to not knowing the difference between a public and a private nuisance [Id.]. Defendant Yeager filed a notice of non-suit, which was denied, and plaintiff's summary judgment was granted [Id. ¶¶ 41-42]. Plaintiff, his feathers ruffled by this alleged fowl play, filed this action asserting a violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a malicious prosecution claim under Tennessee state law.

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) sets out a liberal pleading standard, Smith v. City of Salem, 378 F.3d 566, 576 n.1 (6th Cir. 2004), requiring only “‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the [opposing party] fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, '” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but a party's “obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions.” Id. at 555. “[A] formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do”; neither will “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement'”; nor “an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557).

         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept all factual allegations as true, draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, and determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will [ultimately] . . . be a context-specific task that requires th[is Court] to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         To the extent that defendants are requesting a judgment on the pleadings, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides: “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” The standard of review applicable to a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is the same as that for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), and the Court likewise may not consider matters outside the pleadings. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Ziegler v. IBP Hog Mkt., Inc., 249 F.3d 509, 511-12 (6th Cir. 2001). “All well pleaded material allegations of the non-moving party's pleadings are taken as true and allegations of the moving party that have been denied are taken as false.” S. Ohio Bank v. Merryl Lynch Pierce Finner & Smith, Inc., 479 F.2d 478, 480 (6th Cir. 1973). The motion should be granted “when no material issue of fact exists and the party making the motion is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” United States v. Moriarty, 8 F.3d 329, 332 (6th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

         III. Analysis A. § 1983 Claim

         Plaintiff first asserts a § 1983 claim against defendants [Doc. 31]. Plaintiff argues that defendants' civil lawsuit interfered with plaintiff's use of his property and violated his constitutional rights generally [Id. ¶¶ 48-50; Doc. 38 p. 4]. The Court will first address the malicious prosecution claim before turning to the general § 1983 claim.

         Defendants argue that plaintiff has failed to state a malicious prosecution claim under § 1983. Defendants argue that a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim only relates to criminal prosecutions, and because plaintiff has agreed that defendants initiated a civil action against plaintiff, plaintiff has failed to plead a § 1983 claim. Plaintiff responds that the state law elements for a malicious prosecution claim can be incorporated into a federal malicious prosecution claim under § 1983. Plaintiff argues ...

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