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Love v. Coats

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

June 30, 2015

FRANK C. LOVE, Plaintiff,
v.
JONATHON COATS, Defendant.

ORDER

SUSAN WEBBER WRIGHT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Frank C. Love ("Love") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Jonathon Coats, sued in his individual capacity.[1] Before the Court is Coats's motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting qualified immunity [ECF Nos. 14, 15], Love's response in opposition [ECF Nos. 20, 21], and Coats's reply [ECF No. 22]. After careful consideration, and for reasons that follow, Coats's motion is granted. Love's claims brought pursuant to § 1983 are dismissed with prejudice, and Love's supplemental state law claims are dismissed without prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3)("The district courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim... if... the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction....").

I.

During the events in question, Coats worked as a wildlife officer for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission ("AGFC"), and Love owned approximately 820 acres in Jackson County, Arkansas. Love charges that Coats employed unconstitutional methods in an attempt to catch him committing a wildlife violation on his property and "get [him] arrested as retribution for previous complaints [he] had made against the [AGFC]."[2]

The following information is taken from the complaint and Coats's investigative report, which is attached to the complaint and cited and quoted in that pleading. On September 23, 2013, Coats placed covert surveillance cameras on Love's property, and on September 30 and October 12, 2013, he returned to check and adjust the cameras. According to Coats's incident report, on October 21, 2013, an anonymous caller informed him that early the next morning, during muzzleloader deer season, Love would arrive at his own hunting grounds in a silver truck, and he would hunt deer with a 7MM Magnum rifle.

The next morning, Coats watched Love's property, and at 6:29 a.m., he observed a silver truck pull into the entrance. After a brief period, Coats followed through the same entrance, and he spotted the silver truck, which was parked and unoccupied. Coats observed an all-terrain vehicle in the bed of the truck, and through the window, he saw several hunting items, including a box labeled 7MM REM Magnum, a blaze orange sweatshirt, and a deer skinning tool. Dense vegetation prevented Coats from seeing Love, and he waited.

At 8:41 a.m., Coats heard a rifle shot, and he watched the silver truck, anticipating that Love would return with a harvested deer. At 9:02 a.m., Coats saw Love walking toward the truck with a rifle in hand. Before Love reached his vehicle, a small buck exited a tree line. Love raised his binoculars toward the deer, and possibly spotted Coats, who was positioned directly behind the deer. Love walked briskly to his truck, placed his rifle and binoculars in the cab, and approached Coats, who was wearing a AGFC uniform with the words "WILDLIFE OFFICER" in bold white letters across the front and back of his vest.

Coats identified himself to Love. Love appeared angry, and he told Coats that he was trespassing and ordered him to leave. Coats told Love that he heard a shot fire, and he would not leave until he finished his investigation. Love responded that he fired a shot in the course of hunting a wild hog. Coats asked Love for his hunting license, and Love refused to comply for the stated reason that he was merely hog hunting. Coats then asked Love to hand over his driver's license, which Love was either unable or unwilling to do.

Coats asked Love whether he hit the hog, and Love responded that he missed by sixty yards. Coats inspected Love's rifle and observed that it was equipped with a powerful scope. Coats arrested Love for suspicion of hunting and handcuffed him. Upon Coats's request, a sheriff's deputy arrived at the scene, uncuffed Love's hands, and transported him to the county jail. Coats also called a towing service to take Love's truck, and he searched and inventoried the vehicle after the towing service arrived at the scene.

With the assistance of additional wildlife officers and a K-9 unit, Coats searched Love's property for the deer that had appeared earlier. The officers found a tree stand and a 7MM REM casing, which smelled of gun powder, at the base of the tree. The officers also spotted numerous fresh deer tracks, but they did not locate a deer or blood, nor did they see any signs of hogs on the property.

After his arrest, Love was released and charged with violating three AGFC regulations: (1) hunting wildlife in closed season, in violation of AGFC Code No. 05.01; (2) bearing a prohibited firearm during muzzleloader season, in violation of AGFC Code No. 06.03; and (3) refusing inspection by a wildlife officer, in violation of AGFC Code No. 05.28.[3] Love pleaded not guilty to the aforementioned charges, which proceeded to a bench trial in the Jackson County District Court on January 8, 2014. On February 20, 2014, the district judge entered a letter opinion, finding Love not guilty of hunting out of season and bearing a prohibited firearm but finding him guilty as charged for refusing inspection by a wildlife officer.

Love appealed his conviction for refusing inspection to the Jackson County Circuit Court, and he filed a motion for an order directing the AGFC to reveal the identity of the confidential informant referenced in Coats's investigative report. Before a hearing could be held on the motion, AGFC offered to dismiss the remaining charge against Love, provided that he enter a release agreement. Love declined to sign a release. During a hearing held June 16, 2014, the AGFC acknowledged that it had no information regarding the identity, address, or phone number of the confidential informant. After the hearing, the State nolle prossed the remaining charge against Love, without requiring that he sign a release.

On December 5, 2014, Love commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, charging that Coats deprived him of due process and subjected him to a series of unreasonable searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Love also brings supplemental claims under state law, charging Coats with unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, ...


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