United Pet Supply, Inc. v. City of Chattanooga

September 9, 2014

Obtained partial reversal for defendants in interlocutory appeal challenging denial of qualified immunity in 42 U.S.C. 1983 action.

Article reference - https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCOURTS-ca6-13-0518...


KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge. In June 2010, Animal Care Trust (“McKamey”), a private non-profit corporation that contracted with the City of Chattanooga to provide animal-welfare services, received complaints of neglect and unsanitary conditions at a mall pet store owned by United Pet Supply, Inc. (“Pet Supply”). McKamey employees Karen Walsh and Marvin Nicholson, Jr. went to the store to investigate and discovered animals in unpleasant conditions, without water, and with no working air conditioner in the store. Walsh and Nicholson, aided by McKamey employee Paula Hurn, proceeded to remove the animals and various business records from the store and to revoke the store’s pet-dealer permit. Pet Supply then brought the instant § 1983 suit in federal district court against the City of Chattanooga; McKamey; and McKamey employees Karen Walsh, Marvin Nicholson, Jr., and Paula Hurn in their individual and official capacities. Pet Supply alleged that the removal of its animals and revocation of its pet-dealer permit without a prior hearing violated procedural due process and that the warrantless seizure of its animals and business records violated the Fourth Amendment. Walsh, Nicholson, Hurn, and McKamey asserted qualified immunity as a defense to all claims.

We conclude that Hurn, acting as a private animal-welfare officer, may not assert qualified immunity as a defense against suit in her personal capacity because there is no history of immunity for animal-welfare officers and allowing her to assert qualified immunity is not consistent with the purpose of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, Walsh and Nicholson, acting both as private animal-welfare officers and as specially-commissioned police officers of the City of Chattanooga, may assert qualified immunity as a defense against suit in their personal capacities. With respect to entitlement to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity in the procedural due-process claims: Walsh and Nicholson are entitled to summary judgment on the claim based on the seizure of the animals, Nicholson is entitled to summary judgment on the claim based on the seizure of the permit, and Walsh is denied summary judgment on the claim based on the seizure of the permit. Regarding entitlement to summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment claims: Walsh and Nicholson are entitled to summary judgment on the claim based on the seizure of the animals, Nicholson is entitled to summary judgment on the claim based on the seizure of the business records, and Walsh is denied summary judgment on the claim based on the seizure of the business records.

Because qualified immunity is not an available defense to an official-capacity suit, we conclude that Walsh, Nicholson, Hurn, and McKamey may not assert qualified immunity as a defense against suit in their official capacities.

For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM in part and REVERSE in part the district court’s entry of summary judgment, and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. - MORE HERE

Grant Konvalinka & Harrison, P.C., serves clients in Tennessee cities such as Chattanooga, Cleveland, East Ridge, Red Bank, Jasper, Collegedale, Athens, Decatur, Altamont, McMinnville, Manchester, Dunlap, Winchester, Fayetteville, Soddy-Daisy, Etowah, Dayton, Charleston, Tullahoma, Fort Oglethorpe, Dalton, Chatsworth, Calhoun, Summerville, Lafayette, Ringgold, Chattanooga Valley, Chickamauga, Tunnel Hill and Trenton.

Counties: Hamilton County, Bradley County, McMinn County, Sequatchie County, Grundy County, Franklin County, Coffee County, Warren County, Dade County, Catoosa County.

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