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Hartman v. Register

March 26, 2007

CURT HARTMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KAREN REGISTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra S. Beckwith, Chief Judge United States District Court

ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Karen Register's motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. No. 5), motion to dismiss amended complaint (Doc. No. 9) and motion to dismiss second amended complaint (Doc. No. 22); Defendants Clear Channel Communications, Inc. and Richard A. Jaffe's motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 11), motion to dismiss second amended complaint (Doc. No. 23), and motion to strike (Doc. No. 23), and Plaintiff Curt Hartman's motion to strike or, alternatively, for leave to file a surreply memorandum (Doc. No. 17). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant Register's motion to dismiss the complaint and the amended complaint are MOOT; Defendant Register's motion to dismiss the second amended complaint is GRANTED IN PART AND MOOT IN PART; Defendants Clear Channel Communications, Inc. and Richard A. Jaffe's motion to dismiss and motion to strike are MOOT; Defendants Clear Channel Communications, Inc. and Richard A. Jaffe's motion to dismiss the second amended complaint is well-taken and is GRANTED; Plaintiff Curt Hartman's motion to strike is MOOT. The end result of this order is that Plaintiff's claim versus Defendant Register pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Plaintiff's federal claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the John Doe Defendants is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law causes of action. Accordingly, those claims are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

I. Background

A seeming innocuous detail concerning whether a township resident spoke in person at the May 11, 2004 meeting of the Pierce Township, Ohio Board of Trustees was accurately recorded in the official minutes of the meeting has led to accusations of tampering and the filing of this federal lawsuit. For purposes of the pending motions, the Court assumes that the allegations in the second amended complaint are true.

In May 2004, Plaintiff Curt Hartman was the chairman of the Pierce Township Board of Trustees. Second Amended Complaint ¶ 13. Larry Fisse, who apparently was a resident of the township, was on the agenda for the May 11, 2004 Board of Trustees meeting to discuss issues and concerns regarding Cleveland Lane. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff announced at the meeting, however, that Mr. Fisse was unable to attend personally but that he had previously discussed with Mr. Fisse his concerns about Cleveland Lane. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff, therefore, provided the Board with a detailed report of the issues raised by Fisse. Id.

Defendant Karen Register was the Pierce Township clerk at this time and was responsible for preparing an initial draft of the minutes of the May 11, 2004 meeting. Id. ¶ 14. The draft minutes prepared by Register soon after the meeting failed to include any mention of Plaintiff's report on the issues raised by Mr. Fisse concerning Cleveland Lane. Id. ¶ 15. Subsequently, on May 18, 2004, Register altered the draft minutes to reflect an unspecified issue that Mr. Fisse had raised previously, but not the Cleveland Lane issue. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20. Register also altered the minutes so that they indicated that Mr. Fisse was present in person at the May 11, 2004 meeting. Id. ¶ 17. At around 8:10 p.m. on May 18, 2004, Register circulated the draft minutes of the meeting to the three members of the Board of Trustees via email. Id. ¶ 22.

The next relevant meeting of the Board of Trustees was on July 13, 2004. Id. ¶ 26. During the meeting, Plaintiff suggested postponing consideration of approval of the minutes of the May 11, 2004 meeting. Id. Although he did not state so publicly at the time, Plaintiff wished to postpone consideration of the minutes because they were inaccurate. Id. ¶ 29. Over initial objections by Register and one other board member, consideration of the minutes was deferred. Id. ¶¶ 29-31.

The accuracy of the May 11, 2004 minutes arose again at the August 10, 2004 meeting. During this meeting Register made a speech in which she became "accusatory towards other individuals, in general, and Plaintiff, in particular, regarding the inaccuracies of the [May 11, 2004 minutes]." Id. ¶ 36. The Board, however, approved and adopted the May 11, 2004 minutes at this meeting. Id. ¶ 37.

The complaint next alleges that on other previous occasions of meetings of the Board of Trustees Plaintiff had been critical of the accuracy of draft minutes prepared by Register. Id. ¶ 38. Plaintiff had also been critical of Register's performance of her duties as township clerk. Id.

At the January 11, 2005 meeting of the Board of Trustees, Plaintiff voted against approving the minutes of the October 12, 2004 meeting. Id. ¶ 39. Plaintiff publicly stated that he voted against approval of the minutes because he believed that they did not fairly and accurately reflect the decisions of the Board. Id. ¶ 40.

Register spoke again at the February 8, 2005 meeting of the Board of Trustees. On this occasion, Register announced that she had not typed the information in the May 11, 2004 minutes which indicated that Mr. Fisse was present at the meeting. Moreover, Register falsely accused Plaintiff of altering the minutes. Id. ¶ 43. Register also falsely accused Plaintiff of surreptitiously using her township computer to alter the minutes of the May 11, 2004 meeting. Id. ¶ 48. Register charged Plaintiff with "an apparent break in on my computer and tampering with township minutes" and "falsification of the unapproved minutes." Id. ¶ 50. Register also alleged that Plaintiff took these actions for the purpose of hindering her in the performance of her official duties. Id. ¶ 52. Further, Register stated that she had been informed by the Clermont County Prosecutor's Office that the actions which she accused Plaintiff of taking were against the law, thus implying that Plaintiff had committed a criminal violation. Id. ¶ 54. Although Register did not accuse Plaintiff by name, she intended that it "be clearly understood by individuals in attendance at the meeting . . . that she was directly accusing Plaintiff of undertaking the aforementioned actions (including accusing Plaintiff of engaging in criminal conduct), even though such actions never actually occurred or was [sic] undertaken by Defendant Register herself." Id. ¶ 55. Register arranged for her allegedly false accusations against Plaintiff to be published in a local newspaper, The Community Journal Clermont. Id. ¶ 61.

Plaintiff alleges that Register made the alleged false and defamatory statements about him in retaliation for his vote against approving the minutes of the October 12, 2004 meeting. Id. ¶ 62. Plaintiff also claims that Register made her alleged false and defamatory statements about him in retaliation for his criticism of her performance of her duties as township clerk. Id. ¶ 76. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that Register made the allegedly false and defamatory statements about him in order to infringe on his free speech rights relative to his own prospective campaign to run against Register as township clerk. Id. ¶ 87. Plaintiff claims that as a result of Register's alleged retaliation against him, he has been subjected to hate, ridicule, odium, contempt, and loss of reputation and goodwill, and has been chilled in the exercise of his First Amendment rights. Id. ¶¶ 95, 97-147.

The second amended complaint alleges an alternative set of facts concerning the events of the February 8, 2005 Board of Trustees meeting as it relates to Defendants Jaffe and Clear Channel Communications. Under the alternative version of the events, Register did not intend to accuse Plaintiff of misconduct concerning the alteration of the May 11, 2004 minutes. Nor did she intend for it to be understood that she was accusing Plaintiff of misconduct. Nevertheless, Jaffe, who is a reporter for Channel 12, a television station owned by Clear Channel, reported on the February 9, 2006 news that:

The Pierce Township clerk is accusing a trustee of illegally altering the minutes of a township meeting from last May. Pierce Township Clerk Karen Register claims that Trustee Curt Hartman broke into her computer to make the changes. She also says changes were made to the handwritten meeting minutes. At last night's trustee meeting, Register asked trustees to vote on asking the police department to open a criminal investigation. It was approved two to one, with Hartman casting the lone vote against.

Id. ¶ 166. Channel 12 also published the same story on its website, www.wkrc.com, beginning about 6:30 p.m. on February 9, 2005. Id. ¶ 167. Plaintiff alleges that all of the facts reported in Jaffe's report are ...


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