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Birchwood Conservancy v. Webb

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

December 4, 2014

JEREMY WEBB, et al., Defendants.


KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Sheriff Tony Hampton and Deputy Sheriff Ben Jones (DE 130) and the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Jeremy Webb (DE 172).

The plaintiff asserts constitutional claims against Sheriff Hampton and Deputy Jones, arguing that its constitutional rights when a neighbor shot two of its goats. A threshold issue on the constitutional claims is whether the deputy can be held liable for the acts of the neighbor. Because Deputy Jones did not assist in, coerce or significantly encourage the goat shooting, neither he nor Sheriff Hampton may be held liable for any constitutional violation.

The plaintiff asserts state-law claims against its neighbor, Jeremy Webb, who shot the goats. The critical issue for that claim is whether the plaintiff can prove any damages that it suffered as a result of the shooting. Because the plaintiff concedes it cannot prove the only damages alleged in its complaint and the Court has ruled that it may not now allege other kinds of damages, the plaintiff's claims against Webb must be dismissed.

I. Background

In its complaint, Birchwood states that it operates a non-profit research facility in Georgetown, Kentucky (DE 1). According to Birchwood, its facility is used for research in Animal Genetic Resource Biodiversity and it works with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Environmental Programme, and Convention on Biological Diversity to aid developing nations and women farmer stakeholders build capacity through sustainable agriculture.

Birchwood alleges that on November 8, 2011, a herd of experimental goats escaped Birchwood's facility through a breach in the fence line and wandered onto Defendant Jeremy Webb's neighboring farm. Webb then called the Scott County Sheriff's Department and complained that his neighbor's goats had entered his property. Defendant Deputy Ben Jones responded to the call and arrived at Webb's property.

Jones confirmed that there were approximately 30 goats on Webb's property and, according to Birchwood, discussed with Webb "the legal issues of exterminating a couple of the goats as a deterrent to future instances of letting their animals run at large." Birchwood then alleges that, as Deputy Jones was leaving the farm, he heard gunshots. Upon returning to Webb, Deputy Jones discovered that Webb had shot and killed two of the goats. Webb does not deny that he shot the goats.

According to Birchwood, these two goats were no ordinary goats. Rather, Birchwood alleges that the two goats killed by Webb were rare hybrid goats which were participants in the World Heritage Animal Genetic Repository global conservation initiative in collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Interlaken Declaration Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resource Conservation.

Birchwood asserts claims against three defendants: Webb, Deputy Jones, and Sheriff Tony Hampton, who is the Sheriff of Scott County, Kentucky. As to Webb, Birchwood asserts state-law claims for breach of "a duty to refrain from inflicting wanton or willful injury" on the goats and a claim for conversion.

As to Deputy Jones, Birchwood asserts a constitutional claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Deputy Jones either gave his approval or encouraged Webb to shoot the goats and that, in doing so, violated Birchwood's Fourth Amendment and due process rights.

As to Sheriff Hampton, Birchwood asserts that he is liable for Deputy Jones' constitutional violation under KRS § 70.040, a state statute providing that "[t]he sheriff shall be liable for the acts or omissions of his deputies; except that, the office of sheriff, and not the individual holder thereof, shall be liable under this section." KRS § 70.040. The Court has construed the complaint to assert claims made against Sheriff Hampton only in his official capacity as the Scott County Sheriff and not in his individual capacity. (DE 194, Opinion at 6.)

II. Analysis

A. Constitutional claims

Birchwood asserts constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Jones. Section 1983 provides a cause of action against any person who, while acting "under color" of state law, deprives an individual of federally guaranteed rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. There is no question Jones was acting under color of state law when he arrived at Webb's property on the date that Webb shot the ...

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