Hueble v. SCDNR

In 2003, William Hueble purchased 220 acres of farming and hunting property in Greenwood County. At the time of closing, the seller informed Hueble that Respondent Eric Vaughn, a corporal for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), had a personal deer stand on the property and had hunted there in the past. The seller indicated it would be a "good idea" to allow Vaughn continued access. Hueble declined the suggestion. During 2004, Hueble received a call from the seller informing him that Vaughn had recently been on the property and left four wheeler tracks. The seller again suggested that it would be in Hueble's "best interest" to allow Vaughn to hunt on the property, and provided Vaughn's phone number to Hueble. Hueble once again declined the suggestion and did not contact Vaughn. Hueble then acquired additional land and invested substantial sums of money to improve and maintain his property for hunting dove. More than one month prior to the opening day of dove season, Hueble believed the field was non-baited and in compliance with all regulations and guidelines. On opening day, Hueble's friends and family joined him for the first hunt of the season. Shortly into the hunt, Vaughn and other DNR officers entered Hueble's property unannounced. Vaughn and the DNR officers gathered the hunters together and began threatening them with fines and confiscation of property for baiting the dove field. Vaughn dug into Hueble's property with a knife blade to produce seeds and claimed that one seed constituted baiting a field. During this interaction, Hueble learned Vaughn was the DNR officer the seller had mentioned. Ultimately, Hueble was the only hunter charged by DNR with baiting the field. Hueble ultimately pled no contest to the baiting charge, believing this would resolve Vaughn's animosity. Hueble was accused of baiting at the start of turkey season too. Based on these encounters with Vaughn, Hueble believed that Vaughn had a "vendetta" against him and that Vaughn's supervisor was fully aware of the alleged threats he was making against Hueble. Because of these concerns, Hueble initiated a complaint with Vaughn's supervisor at DNR. However, the supervisor responded with allegations of Hueble's illegal activity based upon Vaughn's version of the events. Hueble filed a complaint against DNR and Vaughn. He obtained a Rule 68, SCRCP, judgment of $5,100 in his favor at the close of litigation. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Hueble was a prevailing party within the meaning of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2006), and was therefore entitled to attorneys' fees. The Court held that he was, and reversed the lower courts' holdings to the contrary, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Hueble v. SCDNR" on Justia Law