Attorney: We’re going to the end on latest Reelfoot Lake lawsuit
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Into the arena of word wars at U.S. District Court in Jackson comes yet another battle over Reelfoot Lake, the third in a 10-year period.
The first two lawsuits were settled out of court for big bucks. But not this one. Not this time, according to the attorney representing the interests of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
For the purpose of this story, the lawsuits are labeled as Nos. 1, 2 and 3.
Here is the basic data on the three lawsuits that were filed in the federal court:
• Lawsuit No. 3. Filed Nov. 13, 2006, “Natalie Hornbeak-Denton and Ann Hornbeak vs. Gary Myers et al,” names as defendants Gary Myers, executive director, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA); TWRA chief of real estate and forestry John C. Gregory; R.B. “Buddy” Baird, chairman of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission; and all other TWRC members.
TWRA manages Reelfoot Lake as a public trust; TWRC is the parent agency of TWRA.
Mrs. Hornbeak-Denton and her daughter, whose address is listed as St. Tammany Parrish, La., are co-owners of Acorn Point Lodge, a resort on the south shore of Reelfoot Lake.
The Hornbeak-Denton lawsuit propounds a familiar theme: A resort owner challenges state wildlife authorities, alleging violations of civil rights, property rights and riparian rights. Other familiar terms — “low water mark,” “buffer zone” and “Doherty grants” — make a return appearance.
In their lawsuit, the two women — or “plaintiffs,” in legal language — are represented by attorneys Joe W. McCaleb of Hendersonville and Joseph H. Johnston of Nashville.
A call to Mrs. Hornbeak-Denton was rebuffed. Attempts to contact McCaleb and Johnston were unsuccessful.
Myers and other TWRA/TWRC officials are represented by attorney Charles Barnett III of Jackson.
• Lawsuit No. 2. Filed Sept. 24, 1998, “Arnett vs. Myers” names as defendants Myers and several other TWRA officials, all members of TWRC and two officials of the state Department of Environment and Conservation. It was brought by Gary and Shelley Arnett, owners of Gary’s Guide Service, a hunting and fishing guide business operated from their home located on a one-acre plot on the southeastern shore of Reelfoot Lake. In 2005, the Arnetts settled out of court for $125,000.
• Lawsuit No. 1. Filed on Nov. 12, 1997, “Hamilton vs. Myers et al,” names as defendants Myers and 10 other TWRA officials and TWRC. It was brought by Jamie and Bonnie Hamilton, owners and operators of Hamilton’s Resort, a cabin and boat dock complex located on the northeast shore of Reelfoot Lake.
After adjudication at District and Appeals Court levels, the Hamiltons’ lawsuit was returned to Jackson for trial. In July 2005, the Hamiltons settled out of court for $1 million each in exchange for their resort property and 119 acres of shoreline property, about 50 acres of farm land and other considerations.
The nature of the case
The basic document, filed by McCaleb on Nov. 13, is titled, “Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief.” Although it declares Mrs. Hornbeak-Denton and Ann Hornbeak are co-plaintiffs, it consistently refers to only Mrs. Hornbeak-Denton. For example, it states she is co-owner of “certain undivided property” abutting Reelfoot Lake “with rights as a riparian property owner.”
According to the document, she alleges violation of her rights as provided by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution — including the right to criticize public officials and public policy.
She seeks a federal court injunction to restrain the defendants from interfering with her rights to freedom of speech and property rights as a riparian owner.
The lawsuit mentions money only in terms of “award of reasonable attorneys’ fees” and “litigation (expenses) as provided (for) under (federal law).”
The lawsuit is expected to go to trial by jury in late 2008.
On Dec. 3, Barnett filed a formal answer to the “charges.”
Barnett, who was attorney of record for TWRA and TWRC in Lawsuits No. 1 and 2, said this one will be different.
“We’re not settling any more cases. This one is going right to the end. It is my opinion that the public will prevail,” he said. “It’s a case for monetary gain disguised as a civil rights case.”
Published in The Messenger 12.12.07