A federal judge has dismissed The Pony’s lawsuit against Lowndes County.
Judge Glen H. Davidson, in a ruling issued Tuesday, dismissed the gentlemen’s club’s suit against the county with prejudice — meaning The Pony cannot bring another suit against the county about the same matter.
The Pony sued the county after unsuccessfully attempting to seek an exemption from 2013 nightclub ordinance that requires nightclubs to close by 1 a.m. and their premises to be cleared by all but non-essential staff by 1:30 a.m. The Pony sought an exemption that would allow the club to operate until 3 a.m. as a restaurant, though the club would continue to feature dancers until 3 a.m.
Supervisors denied the request on a 3-2 vote at the board’s Dec. 7, 2015 meeting. The Pony appealed the decision to the Lowndes County Circuit Court on Dec. 16, 2015, and later to the U.S. District Court of Northern Mississippi.
In his opinion, Davidson noted that the Lowndes County Circuit Court, which dismissed The Pony’s appeal on Jan. 6 2017, had already spoken to the issue.
“That litigation involved the same subject matter that gave rise to (The Pony’s) claims in the case … and (The Pony) was afforded a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claims it has asserted in this matter, both before the Board of Supervisors and in the Circuit Court of Lowndes County, thereby fulfilling the requirement for a final judgment on the merits,” Davidson wrote.
Because of that, he added, the Lowndes County Circuit Court’s January 2017 order acted as a final judgment on the merits for the case.
The Pony filed an amended complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi’s Aberdeen division on May 25, 2017.
In the complaint, as in the appeal to Lowndes County Circuit Court, The Pony argued that it suffered “large revenue losses and property damages that amount to a taking of property rights” by Lowndes County.
However, Davidson cited the circuit court decision which found “there has been no ‘taking’ of (The Pony’s) property” and that “the decision of the Board of Supervisors was not arbitrary or capricious.”
Attorney Corky Smith, who represented the county in its case before the circuit court, said an attorney from the county’s insurance company represented the county in the federal case. However, Smith said he and County Attorney Tim Hudson tracked the case.
Smith said he felt Davidson correctly found the federal case is a matter of res judicata, which means a case it has been properly handled by one court can’t then be pursued in another court.
“It’s a fancy way of saying that you don’t get two bites at the same apple,” Smith said. “They had originally filed a federal court action. It was dismissed because it was untimely, meaning a lot of times you have to exhaust state court remedy before you can go to federal court.
“This was the second bite at that,” Smith added. “I thought the court ruled correctly in making that decision. I thought it was well-reasoned.”
Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders said supervisors will discuss the federal court decision at the board’s Jan. 16 meeting. He declined to comment on the case specifically until after the meeting. However, he said he always felt the board was justified in its decision.
“We knew from the very beginning we were on good, solid ground,” Sanders said.
Starkville attorney Jeffrey Hosford, who represented The Pony, declined to comment to The Dispatch.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.