United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
W. PHILLIPS, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
William Straser and the City of Athens, Tennessee (“the
City”), have been engaged in an ongoing dispute
regarding the location of the carport attached to his house.
As set forth in his initial complaint, plaintiff claims that
his constitutional rights to equal protection under the Fifth
and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been
violated by the City, Gene McConkey, the Building Inspector
for the City of Athens, and Chris Trew, the Athens City
Attorney [Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 22-28].
defendants filed a motion for summary judgment as to all
claims with a supporting memorandum, exhibits, and
depositions excerpts [Docs. 24, 25]. The plaintiff has
responded in opposition to the motion for summary judgment
[Doc. 30], and he has also moved to amend his complaint
[Docs. 29, 34] to assert only a claim for declaratory relief
against Mr. Trew. The defendants have opposed the motion to
amend [Doc. 33] and replied in support of summary judgment
sifting through the back-and-forth of these pleadings, it
appears that plaintiff concedes that summary judgment is
appropriate as to his claims against the City and Mr.
McConkey [Doc. 30 at p.1]. The plaintiff also agrees to the
dismissal of any claim for damages [Id.; Doc. 29 at
p. 2], but seeks to amend his complaint to proceed on a sole
claim for declaratory and injunctive relief against Mr.
Trew. The defendants contend that the proposed
amendment is futile and brought in bad faith. Thus, the Court
must consider whether plaintiff's proposed claim against
Mr. Trew would survive a motion to dismiss.
City has a zoning ordinance that requires a front 30-foot
property line setback [Docs. 1-11, 24-2]. In 2009, plaintiff
spoke with two City employees in the Community Development
Department to discuss his plans to pour a new driveway and
put up a carport [Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 7, 8]. The City
employees did not inform plaintiff of any setback
requirements and he proceeded with his construction in late
2009 [Id. at ¶¶ 7-9]. Plaintiff estimates
that his carport is approximately 17 feet from the roadway
[Doc. 24-4 at p. 27].
2016, a Muslim neighbor, Mr. Jatoi, was cited for violating
the Athens zoning ordinance as to the location of his carport
and Mr. Jatoi accused the City of selectively targeting him
because of his race and/or religion [Doc. 1 at ¶¶
10-13]. Mr. Jatoi applied for a variance, but his request was
denied and the City successfully prosecuted his ordinance
citation. Plaintiff claims he had no knowledge of the
citation of Mr. Jatoi's carport or Mr. Jatoi's
accusation that he was prosecuted because of his religion
in May 2011 and continuing sporadically through February
2017, plaintiff received four letters from the City notifying
him that the carport was in violation of the 30-foot setback
and it would need to be relocated or removed [Doc. 24-2]. In
April 2017, plaintiff received a citation from the Athens
Police Department [Doc. 1-11]. After receiving the citation,
plaintiff hired attorney Randy Rogers to assist him in
resolving the matter with the City [Doc. 1 at ¶ 17].
During a telephone call between Mr. Rogers and Mr. Trew, Mr.
Trew stated that he would not ask the City to dismiss the
citation because he believed that plaintiff's carport was
in violation and also because he did not want to be accused
of giving plaintiff preferential treatment [Doc. 24-6 at pp.
5-6]. Plaintiff recalls Mr. Trew stating that the City
“had trouble with a Muslim” [Doc. 24-4 at p. 24]
and this was the first time he learned of the dispute between
Mr. Jatoi and the City.
City of Athens Police Department issued plaintiff a citation
on April 25, 2017, asserting that his carport was in
violation of the City's zoning ordinance [Doc. 1-11]. The
Athens Municipal Court ruled in favor of the City and
plaintiff has appealed the decision to the Circuit Court for
McMinn County, Tennessee, where it is currently pending [Doc.
25 at p. 3].
primarily on the conversation between Mr. Trew and Mr.
Rogers, plaintiff believes he has been discriminatorily
targeted because of his religion, Christian [Doc. 1 at ¶
17; Doc. 24-4 at p. 31]. Alternatively stated, plaintiff
believes that his constitutional rights have been violated so
the City can prove that it did not discriminate against Mr.
Jatoi because he is Muslim: “they jumped me to even it
up with a Muslim” [Doc. 24-4 at p. 25].
Standard of Review
previously noted in this case, leave to amend should be
freely given “when justice so requires.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). In deciding whether to grant a motion
to amend, courts should consider undue delay in filing, lack
of notice to the opposing party, bad faith by the moving
party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous
amendments, undue prejudice to the opposing party, and
futility of amendment. Brumbalough v. Camelot Care
Centers, Inc., 427 F.3d 996, 1001 (6th Cir. 2005). A
proposed amendment is futile if it would not survive a motion
to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Williams v. City
of Cleveland, 771 F.3d 945, 949 (6th Cir. 2014). For
purposes of the instant motion, the Court will consider the
evidence submitted in support of summary judgment.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).
Judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure is proper “if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that
no genuine issues of material fact exist. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Moore v.
Philip Morris Cos., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993). All
facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Burchett v.
Kiefer, 310 F.3d 937, 942 (6th Cir. 2002). “Once
the moving party presents evidence sufficient to support a
motion under Rule 56, the nonmoving party is not entitled to
a trial merely on the basis of allegations.” Curtis
Through Curtis v. Universal Match Corp., 778 F.Supp.
1421, 1423 (E.D. Tenn. 1991) (citing Celotex, 477
U.S. 317). To establish a genuine issue as to the existence
of a particular element, the non-moving party must point to
evidence in the record upon which a reasonable finder of fact
could find in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The genuine issue must
also be material; that is, it must involve facts that might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.
Court's function at the point of summary judgment is
limited to determining whether sufficient evidence has been
presented to make the issue of fact a proper question for the
factfinder. Id. at 250. The Court does not weigh the
evidence or determine the truth of the matter. Id.
at 249. Nor does the Court search the record “to
establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886
F.2d 1472, 1479- 80 (6th Cir. 1989). Thus, “the inquiry
performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether
there is a need for a trial-whether, in other words, there
are any genuine ...