ELIZABETHTON — A motion was filed in Carter County Circuit Court this week to dismiss the lawsuit filed against Carter County and Mayor Leon Humphrey. The lawsuit had been filed by Carter County Planning Director Chris Schuettler and his wife, Melanie Schuettler, alleging malicious prosecution and abuse of process.
Schuettler filed the lawsuit after he had been charged with theft in relation to allegedly being in North Carolina at the time he was on the payclock. The charges were based in part on phone records that showed him in North Carolina. Schuettler said in his lawsuit that those were actually roaming charges on calls placed in the mountainous eastern sections of Carter County when he was on the job. The charge was dismissed after a grand jury issued a no true bill.
The county’s attorney, Jeffrey M. Ward, of the Greeneville law firm of Milligan and Cole, argued that state law gives the county immunity in most cases. Ward said the law lifts the immunity for governments in certain acts of negligence but not for intentional acts.
Ward said Schuettler’s claims are based on intentional acts by Mayor Humphrey. Schuettler says in his lawsuit that the mayor presented “misleading information about Mr. Schuettler’s military leave and cellular phone records to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the comptroller of the state of Tennessee.”
Ward said these claims are “based upon intentional acts and does not assert any claims based upon negligence.”
On the charge of malicious prosecution, Ward said it was the TBI, not the mayor, who initiated the criminal charges against Schuettler.
Ward said “Tennessee Courts have concluded that a person is not liable for malicious prosecution where the person provides information to the appropriate law enforcement authorities and then those authorities control the investigation and elect to bring charges against the plaintiff.”
The charge of abuse of process was also not proven in Schuettler’s suit, Ward said. In order to prove abuse of process, Ward said Schuettler would have to prove the mayor “used the criminal process for some improper purpose. However, the complaint makes no factual allegations.”
Ward said Schuettler does not make any claims that Humphrey did anything with the criminal process after it had been initiated.
“There is no allegation that Mayor Humphrey even participated in the criminal prosecution after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation initiated a warrant for Mr. Schuettler’s arrest. Thus, the plaintiffs fail to establish a basis for a claim of abuse of process,” Ward said.