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State ex rel. Armstrong v. Stow-Munroe Falls Csd Board of Education

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

September 25, 2013

STATE OF OHIO, ex rel. RODNEY ARMSTRONG, Plaintiff,
v.
STOW-MUNROE FALLS CSD BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SARA LIOI, District Judge.

Before the Court are the following motions, both of which are fully briefed: (1) plaintiff/relator Rodney Armstrong's ("plaintiff" or "Armstrong") motion to dismiss amended counterclaim (Doc. No. 6);[1] and (2) defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. 10).[2] For the reasons discussed herein, both motions are denied as moot. Further, the Court sua sponte remands this entire action to the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, abstaining with respect to any First Amendment claim and declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over all of the state law claims.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 11, 2002, defendant Stow-Munroe Falls CSD Board of Education ("the Board") held an executive session. (Compl., Doc. No. 1-1, ¶ 9; Am. Answer, Doc. No. 5, ¶ 9.) During the session, the Board, which included plaintiff (Compl. ¶ 8; Am. Answer ¶ 8), learned of an investigation that was underway, and sensitive information was revealed regarding that investigation. (Compl. ¶ 10; Am. Answer ¶ 10.) Board members were instructed not to disclose that information outside of the executive session. (Compl. ¶ 11; Am. Answer ¶ 11.) Plaintiff alleges that this instruction was improper (Compl. ¶ 11), and allegation that defendants deny (Am. Answer ¶ 11).

Allegedly in response to concerns that the investigation and the ramifications of the specific conduct under investigation would not see the light of day, (Compl. ¶¶ 13-14), Armstrong wrote a letter to the Superintendent of Instruction for the Ohio Department of Education, which contained some of the information discussed during the executive session (Compl. ¶ 15; Am. Answer ¶ 15).

On August 13, 2012, the Board held another executive session, this time to discuss the discipline of a public official. (Compl. ¶ 18; Am. Answer ¶ 20.) Armstrong alleges that he was the public official in question and that his disclosure to the Superintendent of Instruction was the subject of the meeting. (Compl. ¶ 20.) At this executive session, Armstrong announced that the session did not comply with Ohio law and left the proceedings. (Compl. ¶ 19; Am. Answer ¶ 19.)

Also on August 13, 2012, several members of the Board sent Armstrong a letter[3] stating that Armstrong "must immediately cease and desist from disclosing confidential [Stow-Munroe Falls City School] District information." (Compl. ¶¶ 21-22; Am. Answer ¶¶ 21-22.) The letter also warned Armstrong that further disclosures could result in exclusion from executive sessions, noted the potential adverse consequences to the school district from further disclosures, and announced that the Board was considering legal action against Armstrong. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-24; Am. Answer ¶¶ 22-24.)

On August 27, 2012, Armstrong brought suit in the Summit County Court of Common Pleas against the Board and five Board members: Fred Bonacci, Catherine Bulgrin, Karen Powers, Richard Spangler, and Karen Wright. The complaint sets forth five counts against some or all of the defendants, including state law claims alleging improperly convened executive sessions (count one), failure to record minutes of public meetings (count two), issuing an improper formal reprimand against Armstrong (count three), and defamation (count five), as well as one federal claim that defendants violated Armstrong's First Amendment right to free speech (count four). The complaint seeks: (1) an injunction ordering compliance with Ohio statutes relative to public meetings; (2) specific monetary forfeitures and attorney's fees under those Ohio statutes; and (3) attorney's fees and compensatory and punitive damages for defamation. There is no request for any relief relative to a First Amendment violation.

On the strength of the First Amendment free speech claim in count four, defendants removed the case to this Court on August 31, 2012. Defendants then filed an answer and counterclaim on September 10, 2012 (Doc. No. 4), which was amended on September 28, 2012 (Doc. No. 5). The counterclaim, brought only by the Board, not the individual members, contains two state law claims: that Armstrong's disclosures violated the Board's bylaws and policies, as well as Ohio Rev. Code § 102.03(B); and, that Armstrong breached his fiduciary duties as a Board member with respect to confidential information obtained through executive session. The Board seeks several different forms of relief: a declaratory judgment that Armstrong may not disclose confidential information; a declaratory judgment that Armstrong breached his fiduciary duties as a public official; preliminary and permanent injunctions enjoining Armstrong from further disclosures and breaches; damages, costs, and expenses, including attorney's fees; and whatever other relief the Court deems proper.

Armstrong filed his motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 6) in response to the Board's counterclaim. Several months later, defendants filed their motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. No. 10.)

II. ANALYSIS

Here, plaintiff set forth four state law claims, along with a single First Amendment free speech claim[4] upon which defendants based their removal petition. Once defendants had gained access to this Court via removal, they then filed their own two state law counterclaims for breach of certain obligations set forth in Ohio statutes.

The parties agree that the statutory basis for this Court's jurisdiction over all of the state law claims is supplemental jurisdiction, set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Section 1367(c) provides that district courts may decline to ...


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