The Toy Box, LLC et al v. The City of Prichard, Alabama
ORDER, GRANTING 36 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, and DISMISSING action with prejudice. Signed by Senior Judge Callie V. S. Granade on 11/09/2017. (mab)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
NATHANIEL BRACY d/b/a THE
TOY BOX and GULF COAST
AMUSEMENT SERVICES, LLC,
THE CITY OF PRICHARD,
ALABAMA, A MUNICIPAL
CIVIL NO. 1:16-cv-00434-CG-M
This matter is before the Court on Defendant City of Prichard’s Motion
for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support (Docs. 36 & 37),
Plaintiffs Nathanial Bracy d/b/a The Toy Box and Gulf Coast Amusement
Services, LLC’s Response and supporting documents (Docs. 43, 44, 45 & 47),
and Defendant’s Reply (Doc. 49). For the reasons stated below, Defendant’s
motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.
This case arises from allegations that the City of Prichard violated the
Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution
when it denied business licenses to operate Plaintiffs’ two separate
nightclubs. One establishment, The Toy Box, was owned by Nathaniel Bracy
(“Bracy”). (Doc. 43, p. 2 ¶ 6). The other establishment, Suga’s, was managed
by Tommie Holmes (“Holmes”), a member of Gulf Coast Amusement Services,
LLC (“Gulf Coast”). (Doc. 37, p .1). Bracy and Holmes acted as business
partners in operating both clubs. (Doc. 47, p. 4).
A. The Toy Box
In 2011, Bracy began assisting in the operation of Club Seduction, a
nightclub located in Prichard. (Doc. 43, p. 2 ¶ 4). Bracy was not the owner of
Club Seduction. (Doc. 43, p. 1 ¶ 2).
In May 2012, Club Seduction d/b/a The Toy Box filed an application for
a business license renewal. (Doc. 43, p. 2 ¶ 6). Bracy was listed as the owner
of the business on the renewal application. (Doc. 43, p. 2 ¶ 6). Though Bracy
listed himself as the owner on the renewal application, Bracy had not filed a
change of ownership form with Defendant prior to filing the renewal
application. (Doc. 37, p. 8). Additionally, at the time Bracy filed the renewal
application listing himself as the owner, Defendant had yet to receive a new
application for a business license in connection with Club Seduction or The
Toy Box. Id. While Bracy notes the renewal application gave notice that Club
Seduction was operating under a new name, The Toy Box, and with a new
owner, Nathaniel Bracy, (Doc. 43, p. 2 ¶ 6), Defendant viewed Bracy’s
business license renewal as being issued to the former owners, the Smiths,
since Bracy had not filed a change of ownership form before he filed the
renewal application. (Doc. 37, p. 8).
In March 2013, Defendant issued Bracy a citation for operating the
business without a license. (Doc. 43, p. 4 ¶ 13). Following the issuance of the
citation, Bracy requested that he be placed on the City Council agenda to
request a business license for The Toy Box. (Doc. 43, p. 4 ¶ 14). Bracy
presented his request for the business license on April 4, 2013. (Doc. 43, p. 4
¶ 15). On April 10, 2013, former City Attorney Jerome Carter (“Carter”)
prepared a report recommending that Bracy’s request for the business license
be denied. (Doc. 43, p. 4-5 ¶ 16). On April 11, 2013, Bracy’s request for the
business license in connection with the Toy Box came before the City Council
again, and the City Council unanimously denied the request based upon
Carter’s recommendation. (Doc. 43, p. 5 ¶¶ 18-19). Bracy did not file an
appeal. (Doc. 43, p. 5 ¶ 20).
B. Gulf Coast d/b/a Suga’s
The Toy Box shut down some time in 2013, and the business
transferred to Suga’s. (Doc. 49-1, pp. 3-4) Mr. Holmes1, who had worked at
The Toy Box, testified that he visited Prichard City Hall in 2014 to obtain a
business license for Suga’s. (Doc. 43, p. 6-7 ¶ 25). According to Holmes, he
spoke with Racquel Jones (“Jones”), former City of Prichard Business License
Investigator, during January, March, and May of 2014 regarding a business
license in connection with Suga’s. (Doc. 37, p. 10). However, Jones does not
remember ever conversing with Holmes about Suga’s business license. Id.
Bracy testified that he was a silent partner in Suga’s and that Holmes was
one of the owners (Doc. 49-1, p. 3).
Jones searched the records of the City of Prichard and has been unable to
locate any business application made by Holmes in connection with Suga’s.
(Doc. 43, p. 7 ¶ 26). Additionally, Jones is not aware of any requests made by
Holmes to appear before the Prichard City Council to request a business
license be issued to Suga’s. (Doc. 43, p. 7 ¶ 27). Furthermore, Jones is not
aware of any appeal of any denial of a request for a business license by
Holmes for Suga’s. (Doc. 43, p. 7 ¶ 27). Suga’s ceased operation on August 14,
2014. (Doc. 49-2, pp. 8-9).
Plaintiffs filed their Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief on
August 15, 2016. (Doc. 1).
II. Standard of Review for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment should be granted only if “there is no issue as to
any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears “the
initial burden to show the district court, by reference to materials on file, that
there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial.”
Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). Once the
moving party has satisfied its responsibility, the burden shifts to the
nonmoving party to show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id.
“If the nonmoving party fails to make ‘a sufficient showing on an essential
element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof,’ the
moving party is entitled to summary judgment.” Id. (quoting Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986) (footnote omitted)). “In reviewing whether the
nonmoving party has met its burden, the court must stop short of weighing
the evidence and making credibility determination of the truth of the matter.
Instead, evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen,
965 F.2d 994, 999 (11th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and quotations
omitted). The mere existence, however, of any factual dispute will not
necessarily compel denial of a motion for summary judgment; rather, only
material factual disputes preclude entry of summary judgment. Lofton v.
Secretary of Dep‘t of Children and Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir.
Defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis that no genuine
issue of material fact exists as to Plaintiffs’ claims arising under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 (“§ 1983”). (Doc. 37). Defendant proffers six grounds for summary
judgment. (Doc. 37). The Court goes no further in its analysis than the first
proffered ground, as it is dispositive. Defendant contends Plaintiffs’ claims
are time-barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations under §
A. Statute of Limitations Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
In § 1983 federal law suits, “federal courts are to borrow the ‘general’
or ‘residual’ statute of limitations for personal injuries provided under the
law of the state where the court hearing the case sits.” Lufkin v. McCallum,
956 F.2d 1104, 1106 (11th Cir. 1992) (quoting Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235,
236, 249-50 (1989)). Personal injury actions in Alabama “must be brought
within two years.” Ala. Code § 6-2-38(l). Therefore, the statute of limitations
for § 1983 actions in Alabama is “two years from when the claim accrues.”
Brown v. Fountain, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110559 at *15-16 (Ala. S.D. July
13, 2017) (citations omitted); Ala. Code § 6-2-38(l).
Defendant and Plaintiffs agree that the applicable statute of
limitations period is two years. (Doc. 37, p. 13; Doc. 47, p .9). The Complaint
was filed on August 15, 2016. (Doc. 1). In order the claims to fall within the
applicable statute of limitations, they must not have accrued prior to August
Defendant contends “none of the actions of which Plaintiffs allege in
their Complaint occurred within two years preceding the filing of the
Complaint.” (Doc. 37, p. 13). In the Complaint, Plaintiffs claim Defendant
violated their rights “as made actionable by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, when the
municipality repeatedly denied the dance clubs’ application to renew their
licenses to operate.” (Doc. 1, p. 1).
The Court finds that any actions Defendant took with regard to Bracy
and the Toy Box occurred in 2013. The City Council originally entertained
Mr. Bracy’s request for a business license on April 4, 2013, and after tabling
the request until the next Council meeting, ultimately voted to deny Bracy’s
request on April 11, 2013. (See Doc. 37, Exhibits 4, 4-F, 4-H). Bracy never
filed an appeal of the City’s decision within the time allowed under the
Business License Ordinance. (Doc. 37, Exhibit 4). Accordingly, Plaintiffs’
action in regards to Bracy and The Toy Box accrued in April 2013, which is
not within the two years preceding the filing of the Complaint.
The Court further finds that any actions Defendant took in regard to
Holmes’ and Suga’s license is barred by the two-year statute of limitations.
Former City Business License Investigator Jones does not recall conversing
with Holmes about a business license in connection with Suga’s. Id. Jones
has not been able to locate a business license application or any requests for
appeal related to Holmes and Suga’s. Id. Holmes, however, testified he was in
contact with Jones in January, March, and May of 2014 about his inability to
obtain a business license. Id. As Defendant argues, “[r]egardless of which
version of events is given credence,” Defendant’s actions in regards to Holmes
and Suga’s occurred more than two years before the filing of the Complaint
Plaintiffs argue their injuries did not accrue at the time Defendant
denied them licenses, but rather when Plaintiffs learned that Plaintiff was
“repeatedly renewing the licenses of other businesses that engage in the same
or very similar activities.” (Doc. 47, p. 10). According to Plaintiffs, their injury
did not accrue until the fall of 2014 when they learned another location,
Rainbow Lounge, was engaged in exotic dancing and other activities that
were prohibited at The Toy Box. (Doc. 12, p. 47). Plaintiffs argue, “It appears
that the City of Prichard has failed to invoke this ordinance against any
business with the exception of The Toy Box.” Id.
In § 1983 claims, the action does not accrue “until the plaintiff knows
or has reason to know that he has been injured. Nor will a [§] 1983 action
accrue until the plaintiff is aware or should have been aware who has
inflicted the injury.” Mullinax v. McElhenney, 817 F.2d 711, 716 (11th Cir.
1987) (citations omitted). “The cause of action accrues even though the full
extent of the injury is not then known or predictable.” Wallace v. Kato, 549
U.S. 384, 391 (2007). Furthermore, “[i]n suits for deprivation of property
under section 1983, ‘the same considerations that render a claim premature
prevent accrual of a claim for limitations purposes, and the claim does not
accrue until the relevant governmental authorities have made a final decision
on the fate of the property.” Corn v. City of Lauderdale Lakes, 904 F.2d 585,
588 (11th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted).
It is undisputed that Defendant denied Plaintiffs’ request for a
business license in connection with the Toy Box on April 11, 2013. (Doc. 43, p.
5 ¶ 19). On that day, Plaintiffs knew or had reason to know that they had
been injured, and Plaintiffs should have been aware that it was Defendant
who inflicted the injury when Defendant denied their request for The Toy
Box’s business license. Plaintiffs’ argument that they did not know of their
injury until until the fall of 2014 is belied by the evidence: Bracy’s deposition
testimony established that in 2013 he was aware of and discussed with
Defendant’s mayor the fact that the Rainbow Lounge was conducting a
similar business across the street from The Toy Box. (Doc. 49, Exhibit A, pp.
79-80). The Court concludes Plaintiffs’ cause of action in regard to the
business license for The Toy Box accrued in 2013. Since more than two years
elapsed between the date and the filing of Plaintiffs’ Complaint, the action
was and is time-barred.
Defendant and Plaintiffs dispute the facts surrounding Defendant’s
refusal to issue a business license to Plaintiffs in connection with Suga’s. The
Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs and draws
all justifiable inferences in their favor. Tipton, 965 F.2d at 999. Holmes
visited City Hall in January 2014 to renew his business license for Suga’s.
(Doc. 44-2, p. 2 ¶ 4). Holmes was directed to Jones who was responsible for
issuing business licenses in Prichard. (Doc. 44-2, p. 2 ¶ 5). Jones informed
Holmes “the business license was in the name of Mr. Reid and, therefore,
[Mr. Reid] would have to be the one to renew the license […].” (Doc. 44-2, p. 2
¶ 6). Jones also informed Holmes he needed to provide Defendant with
paperwork showing that he was the new owner of Gulf Coast. Id. Holmes
visited City Hall again in March 2014 and May 2014. (Doc. 44-2, p. 2 ¶ 7).
Holmes provided the proper paper work, but Jones maintained that he could
not get a license “until Mr. Reid visited City Hall to have his named removed
from the business.” Id. Thus, Holmes, Mr. Reid, and Bracy visited City Hall
in an attempt to clarify the ownership status of Gulf Coast. (Doc. 44-2, p. 2 ¶
9). Plaintiffs argue Holmes “did everything he was asked to do by Mrs. Jones
and she still refused to allow him to apply for a business license.” (Doc. 47, p.
This Court finds that Plaintiffs’ argument that their action did not
accrue until they found out Defendant was “repeatedly renewing the licenses
of other businesses that engage in the same or very similar activities” to be
without merit. The proffered evidence demonstrates that there was only one
other business of a similar nature that was being licensed, the Rainbow Club,
not several, and that Plaintiffs were already aware of the Rainbow Club’s
operations in 2013. (Doc. 49, Exhibit A, pp. 79-80). Plaintiffs’ cause of action
accrued, at the latest, in May 2014 when Defendant refused to allow Holmes
to apply for the business license. Plaintiffs knew or had reason to know that
they had been injured, and Plaintiffs should have been aware that it was
Defendant who inflicted the injury when Defendant did not allow Plaintiffs to
apply for a business license. Plaintiffs’ cause of action accrued in May 2014
even though the full extent of their injury may not have been known until the
fall of 2014. See Wallace, 549 U.S. at 391. If Plaintiffs’ “true injury” does not
accrue until they realize Defendant’s “arbitrary and selective enforcement”
(Doc. 47, p. 10), “the statute would begin to run only after a plaintiff became
satisfied that he had been harmed enough.” Wallace, 549 U.S. at 391.
Therefore, this Court concludes Plaintiffs’ cause of action in regards to the
business license for Holmes and Gulf Coast d/b/a Suga’s accrued in May 2014.
Since more than two years elapsed between the date and the filing of the
Complaint, the action was and is time-barred.
For the reasons stated above, Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED , and this action is DISMISSED with prejudice.
DONE and ORDERED this 9th day of November, 2017.
/s/ Callie V. S. Granade
SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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