published Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Possible appeal could delay lawsuit trial

McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center employees unload animals taken from The Pet Company at Hamilton Place Mall.
McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center employees unload animals taken from The Pet Company at Hamilton Place Mall.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Rulings this week by a federal judge could trigger an appeal that would delay a scheduled Monday trial in the $10 million lawsuit against McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center and Chattanooga.

Lawyers for both sides met with U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier on Wednesday afternoon to finalize details of the pending civil trial. Collier ruled on multiple questions this week that limited much of what jurors will decide in the trial.

One of Collier's rulings denied an argument by McKamey lawyers David Harrison and Mark Litchford to give their clients "qualified immunity," which protects government officials from being sued individually for violating a person's constitutional rights.

If they file the appeal, the Monday trial will have to be rescheduled, pending the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

In June 2011, United Pet Supply Inc. filed the lawsuit against Chattanooga, McKamey and its employees -- Director of Operations Paula Hurn, Executive Director Karen Walsh and Marvin Nicholson Jr.

The company claimed McKamey, its employees and the city violated its civil rights when they seized animals and records from the Pet Company store at Hamilton Place mall.

On June 15, 2010, Hurn, Walsh and Nicholson "raided the pet shop's store premises without a warrant," according to court documents.

McKamey officials claimed animal deaths and dangerous conditions at the store prompted the seizure.

City Court Judge Sherry Paty ruled that the city did not give the store proper notice or time to fix problems that officials spotted during seven visits between March 2 and April 28, 2010.

While the City Court case proceeded, Mayor Ron Littlefield emailed Paty, asking that she not leave the city "holding the bag for" the $45,000 in expenses of caring for the animals in custody.

A special judge ultimately ruled that the animals be returned to the pet store.

Littlefield is expected to testify in the federal trial.

The Pet Company closed after the events. Its Windsor, N.Y.-based parent company, United Pet Supply, claims both McKamey and the city's actions caused the store to close.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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