A non-profit organization that rehabilitates orphaned and abused animals has won a jury verdict of over $360,000 against a North Carolina town that passed an ordinance to force the group to move its animals out of their homes. The group also secured a judge’s ruling that the ordinance was unconstitutional as applied to them, the group’s attorneys report.
In 1999, the Town of Beech Mountain leased to Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary a 0.84-acre parcel of land owned by the town in a wilderness area near a rainwater runoff that drains into Buckeye Lake, the town’s primary water source. As permitted by the lease, Genesis built a rescue center on the land to house animals, including endangered birds, and used the land to host educational activities.
Ten years later, after an unsuccessful effort to buy out the lease, the town passed an ordinance stating that no animals could be caged or housed within 200 feet of any stream that drains into Buckeye Lake, eliminating Genesis’ ability to keep animals on the land.
The town brought an ejectment action against the group in 2012, and Genesis filed counterclaims. A judge dismissed the town’s claims against Genesis, and allowed Genesis to proceed to a jury trial on its claim that the town violated its substantive due process rights. On Sept 24 of this year, the Watauga County jury returned a verdict that the town had violated Genesis’ rights and awarding the group over $211,000 in damages.
Superior Court Judge J. Thomas Davis later awarded the group over $149,000 in costs and attorneys’ fees and held that the ordinance was unconstitutional as applied to the group. The town has appealed the case to the state’s Court of Appeals.
Charles Brady of Clement Law Office in Boone, one of the group’s attorneys, said that he had never understood why the town had suddenly passed the ordinance after Genesis had been housing animals on the land for so many years.
“It is very puzzling about the ‘Why?’ question to us, because of the value that Genesis presented and gave to the community,” Brady said. He also said that the award would defray the cost to Genesis of rebuilding the cages and habitats that the town had ordered the group to take down. If Genesis had lost the case at trial, it would have been the “death knell” for the group.
The town’s attorney, Stacy Eggers IV, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
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VERDICT REPORT – DUE PROCESS VIOLATIONS
Case name: Town of Beech Mountain v. Genesis Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc.
Case number: 12-CVS-287
Court: Watauga County Superior Court
Name of Judge: J. Thomas Davis
Date of verdict: Sept. 23
Amount: $361,071 for defendant, plus interest and a bench ruling that the ordinance was unconstitutional as applied to the defendant
Attorneys for defendant: Charles A. Brady III and Charles E. Clement, Clement Law Office in Boone
Attorneys for plaintiff: Stacy C. Eggers IV of Boone and Patrick Flanagan of Charlotte
Has the defendant been successful in collecting the judgment? Not at this time