Reelfoot lawsuit dismissed
Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 8:33 pm
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
Co-owners of a Reelfoot Lake lodge have lost Round 1 in their federal lawsuit against state wildlife officials.
On Oct. 24, 2007, Natalie Hornbeak-Denton and her daughter, Ann Hornbeak, filed an action in U.S. District Court in Jackson against members of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission.
They claim certain acts by state wildlife officials violated their civil rights as guaranteed by the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
They sued to restrain defendants from interfering with freedom of speech and property rights as riparian owners. They sought injunctive — “cease and desist” — and not further clarified “declaratory relief.”
Attorneys in the lawsuit were Joe W. McCaleb of Hendersonville for the plaintiffs (they who filed the lawsuit), and Charles Barnett of Jackson for the defendants.
The two women are co-owners of Acorn Point Lodge, which is located alongside Lake Drive on the south shore of Reelfoot Lake. Their property accesses Reelfoot Lake.
On Oct. 17, federal judge Daniel Breen dismissed the lawsuit “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
“I am very happy with judge Breen’s decision,” Barnett said.
Whether there will be a Round 2 in this legal issue — meaning an appeal by plaintiffs to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati — remains to be seen. The Messenger’s call to his office was not returned.
Natalie Hornbeak-Denton said she is co-owner “in fee simple” of “certain undivided property” abutting Reelfoot Lake “with rights as a riparian property owner.”
The “certain undivided property” allegedly extends 171 feet into the lake at one point and 35 feet into the lake at another point. The property was part of a land-grant from the State of North Carolina issued to Col. George Doherty on July 10, 1788, — thus, the term, “Doherty land grants.”
She asserted the land has been in their family since 1907. The claim is purportedly supported by a warranty deed recorded in the Obion County Registrar’s Office.
She avers defendants or their representatives harassed her and threatened legal action in retaliation for her asserting her property rights.
The court document includes this paragraph:
“In October 2006, the plaintiffs attempted to sell portions of the lakefront property. Shortly thereafter, John Gregory, TWRA chief of real estate and forestry, sent (them) a letter affirming that the State has authority to charge a permit fee. Gregory’s letter also claimed that the State of Tennessee actually owned the lakefront property in question.
“He further warned that if she were to proceed with any action which affects state property, TWRA is prepared to proceed with any necessary legal actions in order to protect it.
“Gregory then advised Hornbeak-Denton to tell the potential buyers that the lakefront property actually belonged to the state. …
“On May 4, 2007, Hornbeak-Denton posted private property signs along the disputed lakefront lot. She also recorded one-year real property licenses to all owners of adjoining lots in the subdivision.”
Mrs. Hornbeak-Denton also asserts that ownership of the property is established by physical possession and by “constructing and maintaining boat docks which extend into Reelfoot Lake, contracting to sell portions of that property, as well as granting licenses to other adjacent property owners to have access to Reelfoot Lake through their lakeshore property.”