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Reelfoot Lake resort owners lose Round 2 of legal battle

Reelfoot Lake resort owners lose Round 2 of legal battle

Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2010 9:10 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

 

By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter Tennessee wildlife agencies won another legal victory Tuesday when a federal appeals court in Cincinnati ruled against the owners of a Reelfoot Lake resort. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier U.S. District Court decision that state wildlife agencies did not violate the civil rights of Natalie Hornbeak-Denton and her daughter, Anne Hornbeak, co-owners of Acorn Point Lodge. Retired U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the opinion for the panel. Although she retired from the high court in 2006, Justice O’Connor has served part-time as member of panels at the 2nd, 8th and 9th U.S. Courts of Appeals. The lawsuit involved a property dispute over 6.4 acres of shoreline at Reelfoot Lake. Named as defendants in the lawsuit were several officials of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission. The resort owners claim ownership of the land “and have taken various measures consistent with that claim such as excluding the public from the property and soliciting buyers for portions of it,” the lawsuit states. But Tennessee also claims ownership of the land. “Officers of TWRC and TWRA informed (them) of Tennessee’s ownership claim. They also threatened to bring a lawsuit against (them) if they continued to exert control over the disputed property,” the lawsuit further states. “(The owners) struck first and filed their own suit against TWRA, arguing their First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when TWRA officials threatened to file a lawsuit against them.” A U.S. District Court at Jackson adjudicated the lawsuit and upheld the state. The resort owners then filed an appeal with the federal appeals court in Cincinnati. “(They) have alleged nothing more than a run-of-the-mill property dispute where both sides assert conflicting claims to a single parcel of land,” the decision states. “They do not allege any bad faith on the part of TWRA in asserting its claims. (They) do not have a cognizable 14th Amendment due process claim because they have not been deprived of anything.” The resort owners are represented by Nashville attorneys Joe McCaleb and Joe Johnston. The state is represented by attorney Charles Barnett, a partner in the Jackson firm Barnett, Sprague & Cobb. Barnett said the firm is very pleased with the outcome, but it’s not over yet. There’s one more lawsuit to go. “We are not surprised at the decision by the appeals court,” he said. “We never believed there was any kind of violation of anybody’s rights. The State of Tennessee has the right to defend its own property, and that’s what we did. “This should end the federal litigation, but there is still a lawsuit concerning the property. It’s pending in Obion County Chancery Court. It’s set for trial in July.” Published in The Messenger 1.21.10

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