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Hopkins wins Lawsuit against Marshall County Sheriff Lamb & Detective Nichols

Posted on Sunday, October 22, 2023 at 8:49 am

TRACY HARRIS – Staff Writer

Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023 was the final day of the jury trial in the case of Stephen Matthew Hopkins and Julie R. Hopkins v. Anthony “Tony” Nichols, in his individual and official capacity and Sheriff William “Billy” Lamb, in his individual and official capacity. The jury returned its verdict in The United States District Court Middle District of Tennessee at Columbia and the Hopkins’ were awarded $375,001 in compensatory damages, $100,000 in punitive damages against Anthony “Tony” Nichols, and $10,000 in punitive damages against William “Billy” Lamb.

The civil case came before the court for a trial by jury. The jury found in favor of the plaintiffs on their claims brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983 which deals with civil action for deprivation of rights. United States Code states: “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.”

The preliminary statement in the complaint shows the claim is for violations of the plaintiffs’ right to due process pursuant to the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments, unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth, and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth.

The “facts” of the case show that it all started back in 2018 when Nichols received a complaint about animal mistreatment at the Hopkins’ farm. An investigation began and Nichols visited the farm several times alone and with others- without a warrant. On July 13, 2018 “Sheriff Lamb, Detective Nichols and others arrived at the Plaintiff’s property and commenced the seizure of forty-nine (49) of the Plaintiff’s cattle.”

Six days after the seizure, Nichols took out 49 criminal warrants for animal cruelty/neglect/abuse. Eighteen days after the seizure, on July 18, 2018, Nichols got a search warrant and again on Aug. 1, 2018. The State filed two motions requesting a security bond to cover the cost of keeping up the seized animals. The first motion was heard in the General Sessions Court of Marshall County and was denied. The second one was resolved before the court even heard it.

The cattle were sold while the criminal proceedings were pending due to the cost of upkeep. The criminal cases were retired on the condition that Mr. Hopkins pay for their care and feeding from the proceeds of the sale. However, the sale did not cover the entire cost so the State agreed to pay the remaining balance.

The Hopkins’ sought damages for emotional distress, deprivation of constitutionally protected liberty interests, deprivation of property, and humiliation/damage to reputation, amongst other reasons.  They requested a jury try the case and were represented by Brazil Clark PLLC out of Nashville.