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MEC, Inc. v. Lowndes County Board of Supervisors

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

January 2, 2018



         Presently before the Court is the Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 38]. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion should be granted and the Plaintiffs claims dismissed.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Since 2008, the Plaintiff MEC, Inc. d/b/a/ The Pony, has operated an adult entertainment club (known as The Pony) on Highway 45 Alternate North in Lowndes County. On August 15, 2013, the Defendant Lowndes County Board of Supervisors ("the Board of Supervisors") passed an ordinance known as the Nightclubs and Nightclub Promoter Ordinance ("the Ordinance") that restricts, inter alia, the operating hours of nightclubs[1] in Lowndes County. See Ordinance, Doc. No. 37-2. The Ordinance further provides that nightclubs may apply for a "restaurant exemption" to the Ordinance's restricted hours provision, which, if approved by the Board of Supervisors, will permit qualifying establishments to maintain longer operating hours than nightclubs are allowed under the Ordinance. Id.

         On February 10, 2015, the Plaintiff applied to the Board of Supervisors for a restaurant exemption under the Ordinance. See Plaintiffs Amended Compl., Doc. No. 35, at ¶ 6. Following a September 10, 2015, hearing in front of the Board's Nightclub Regulation Committee ("the Committee"), the Committee unanimously recommended that the Plaintiffs request for an exemption be denied. See Denial of Exemption, Doc. No. 37-7. The Plaintiff appealed that recommendation to the full Board of Supervisors, which held public hearings on the Plaintiffs request on November 13, 2015, and again on December 7, 2015. See Transcript of Proceedings and Minutes of Proceedings, Doc. No. 37-7. Following the December 7, 2015, public hearing, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to deny an exemption to the Plaintiff, stating in its written Order that the Committee and the Board were "not satisfied the business was in fact a bona-fide restaurant and separate from the nightclub operation." See Board Order, Doc. No. 37-6; and Minutes of Proceedings, Doc. No. 37-7.

         The Plaintiff then timely appealed the Board of Supervisors' Order to the Circuit Court of Lowndes County on December 16, 2015, via a Bill of Exceptions (subsequently amended on June 30, 2016), in which the Plaintiff appealed the denial of its application for a restaurant exemption and alleged that the Ordinance was unconstitutional and that its provisions amounted to a "taking" of the Plaintiffs property rights (the same claims as asserted in the case sub judice). That court held a hearing on the appeal on July 21, 2016, and on January 6, 2017, issued an Order that denied and dismissed with prejudice the Plaintiffs appeal on the merits, specifically holding both that there was no "taking" of the Plaintiffs property or deprivation of its due process rights, and that the Board of Supervisors' decision was not arbitrary or capricious. See Circuit Court Order, Doc. No. 37-8. The Plaintiff did not appeal the Circuit Court of Lowndes County's Order to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

         This litigation followed, with the Plaintiff filing its Amended Complaint on May 25, 2017, asserting that the Ordinance's provisions resulted in an unlawful taking of the Plaintiffs property and that the Defendants' conduct has violated the Plaintiffs due process rights. Plaintiff seeks, inter alia, compensatory and punitive damages as well as an immediate restaurant exemption under the Ordinance. See Plaintiffs Amended Compl., Doc. No. 35, at pp. 3-5. Defendants now move for summary judgment as to the Plaintiffs claims.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         This Court grants summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Weaver v. CCA Indus., Inc., 529 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2008). The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Id. at 477 U.S. 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Under Rule 56(a), the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to "go beyond the pleadings and by . . . affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' " Id. at 477 U.S. 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Little field v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist, 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001); Willis v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995). When the parties dispute the facts, the Court must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non- moving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (internal citations omitted). "However, a nonmovant may not overcome the summary judgment standard with conclusional allegations, unsupported assertions, or presentation of only a scintilla of evidence." McClure v. Boles, 490 Fed.Appx. 666, 667 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007)).

         III. Analysis and Discussion

         The Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate on all claims asserted in the case sub judice because, inter alia, the claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Specifically, the Defendants argue that application of the doctrine ofres judicata is proper because the claims and issues to be litigated in the case sub judice were previously litigated and dismissed with prejudice by the Circuit Court of Lowndes County.

         A. Res Judicata

         Because the judgment at issue was issued by the Circuit Court of Lowndes County, which is a state court, the Court must look to Mississippi law in applying the doctrine of res judicata. 28 U.S.C. § 1738; see Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 481-482, 102 S.Ct. 1883, 1897, 72 L.Ed.2d 262 (1982) ("It has long been established that § 1738 does not allow federal courts to employ their own rules of res judicata in determining the effect of state judgments. Rather, it goes beyond the common law and commands a federal court to accept the rules chosen by the State from which the judgment is taken."); see also Marrese v. Am. Acad, of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 470 U.S. 373, 380, 105 S.Ct. 1327, 1331-32, 84 L.Ed.2d 274 (1985); Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 96, 101 S.Ct. 411, 415, 66 L.Ed.2d 308 (1980); Griffin v. Am. Zurich Ins. Co., 697 Fed.Appx. 793, 797 (5th Cir. 2017), as revised (June 8, 2017); Cox v. Nueces Cty., 839 F.3d 418, 421 & n.3 (5th Cir. 2016).

         Accordingly, the Court refers to Mississippi law, which states that res judicata applies to judgments that are "final and on the merits, " and provides that "when a court of competent jurisdiction enters a final judgment on the merits of an action, the parties or their privies are precluded from re-litigating claims that were decided or could have been raised in that action." Anderson v. LaVere,895 So.2d 828, 833 (Miss. 2004) (emphasis added); Dean v. Mississippi Bd. Of Bar Admissions, 394 Fed.App'x 172, 175 (5th ...

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