Constitutional Law

This summary also appears under Animal Law

 

Issues: Claims under § 1983 for alleged violation of procedural due process and the Fourth Amendment related to the removal of the plaintiff-pet store's animals and revocation of its pet-dealer permit; Filarsky v. Delia; "Qualified immunity"; Wyatt v. Cole; Malley v. Briggs; Richardson v. McKnight; McCullum v. Tepe; "No history of immunity for animal-welfare officers"; Kauffman v. Pennsylvania Soc'y for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ED PA); Whether granting qualified immunity to defendant-Hurn was "consistent with the purpose of § 1983"; Brentwood Acad. v. Tennessee Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n; Rosewood Servs., Inc., v. Sunflower Diversified Servs., Inc. (10th Cir.); Immunity for "official capacity" actions; Kentucky v. Graham; Matthews v. Jones; Pusey v. City of Youngstown; Whether the seizure violated due process; Mathews v. Eldridge; Zinermon v. Burch; Whether the permit revocation without a prior hearing violated a "clearly established" due process right; Armstrong v. Manzo; Barry v. Barchi; Michigan v. DeFillippo; Leonard v. Robinson; Fourth Amendment claims based on the warrantless seizure of plaintiff's animals and business records; Soldal v. Cook Cnty.; United States v. Jacobsen; Coolidge v. New Hampshire; Kovacic v. Cuyahoga Cnty. Dep't of Children & Family Servs.; The "plain-view" doctrine; Minnesota v. Dickerson; The "exigent-circumstances" doctrine; United States v. Plavcak

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit

Case Name: United Pet Supply Inc. v. City of Chattanooga, TN

e-Journal Number: 58136

Judge(s): Moore, Guy, and Batchelder

 

An individual acting as a private animal-welfare officer (defendant-Hurn) could not assert qualified immunity as a defense against the plaintiff's § 1983 claims against her in her personal capacity "because there is no history of immunity for animal-welfare officers and allowing her to assert qualified immunity was not consistent with the purpose of" § 1983. Defendant-McKamey is a private, nonprofit corporation that contracts with the defendant-City of Chattanooga to provide animal-welfare services. Its employees, defendants-Walsh and Nicholson, were commissioned as special police officers for the City. However, Hurn, its director of operations, was not. They entered the plaintiff's pet store after receiving complaints of neglect and unsanitary conditions. Finding "animals in unpleasant conditions, without water, and with no working air conditioner in the store" they removed the animals and plaintiff's business records, and revoked the store's pet-dealer permit. The court held that "Walsh and Nicholson, acting both as private animal-welfare officers and as specially-commissioned police officers" could assert qualified immunity as a defense against suit in their personal capacities. However, as to Hurn, the court applied the analysis in McCallum and concluded that this was "a very close case but because there is no history of immunity and the most important immunity-producing concern - preventing unwarranted timidity - counsels against permitting the assertion of qualified immunity," Hurn could not assert qualified immunity. Also, "[t]he district court's suggestion that McKamey could assert qualified immunity as a defense to an official-capacity suit was in error." As to whether Walsh and Nicholson violated a clearly established constitutional right, applying the Mathews balancing test, the court concluded that the seizure of the animals did not violate due process and they were entitled to summary judgment on this claim. Nicholson was entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff's claim that revocation of its pet-dealer permit without a hearing violated due process because plaintiff did not allege that he played any role in the permit revocation. However, Walsh was not entitled to summary judgment on the permit-seizure claim because "no reasonable officer could believe that revoking this permit without providing any opportunity for a hearing was constitutional." They were entitled to summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim based on the seizure of the animals - "exigent circumstances justified the warrantless seizure of the animals." Nicholson was entitled to summary judgment on the claim based on the seizure of the business records because plaintiff did not allege that he removed the records. However, Walsh was denied summary judgment on this claim "because no reasonable officer could conclude that the plain-view doctrine or exigent circumstances justified the warrantless seizure of the business records." Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

 

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