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News v. Lansky

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

March 10, 2017

MAPLE HEIGHTS NEWS, et al., Plaintiffs,
JEFFREY A. LANSKY, et al., Defendants.


          CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court upon the Motion (ECF DKT #39) of Defendant, Jeffrey A. Lansky, for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted as to Plaintiffs' federal claims. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the pendent state law claims.


         On January 12, 2015, Plaintiffs filed the instant Complaint against certain public officials of the City of Maple Heights for, inter alia, violation of their First Amendment rights and Plaintiff William C. Brownlee's right of privacy.

         Lansky served as the Mayor of the City of Maple Heights from December 1, 2007 through December 31, 2015. Brownlee was elected as a City Councilman in Maple Heights in November, 2013, taking office on January 1, 2014. Brownlee publishes a “news media reporting service” on the internet, under the name, Maple Heights News. Brownlee has been a vocal critic of Lansky's administration, particularly on budgetary issues. Brownlee made audiovisual recordings of City Council meetings and re-published them to the community on the Maple Heights News website.

         At the May 21, 2014 City Council Meeting, the renewal of a waste collection contract came up for discussion. The Council President spoke at length regarding the issue. Brownlee voiced opposition. The Law Director attempted to rebut Brownlee's comments. Then, the Council President “call[ed] the roll for adoption.” Brownlee raised a “point of order, ” contending debate had been prematurely terminated. The Council President declared Brownlee out of order and proceeded to a vote. When Brownlee repeated his “point of order, ” the Council President directed the Police Chief to escort Brownlee out of the meeting. When Lansky noted that Brownlee “forgot his camera, ” the Law Director terminated the audiovisual recording and delivered the camera to Brownlee. (The parties dispute whether or not Lansky directed the Law Director to remove the camera; but there is no dispute that the video camera was shut off and removed from the meeting room). The City made an audio recording of the entire May 21, 2014 proceeding. (Lansky Motion Exhibit A, Brownlee Deposition at 67-68).

         In July of 2013, when Brownlee was running for his City Council seat, Lansky received an anonymous paper in the U.S. Mail indicating that Brownlee had not filed or paid his municipal income taxes. Later, at a January 15, 2014 City Council Caucus Meeting concerning a switch from the Regional Income Tax Agency (“RITA”) to another agency, Lansky questioned Brownlee about whether Brownlee had paid his City income taxes. On January 21, 2014, Brownlee sent Lansky an email, explaining that he and his wife were working with the Assistant Finance Director to “sort out any confusion about our taxes.”

         During the course of the November 2014 election campaign, Lansky and Lansky for Mayor published a political flyer declaring that “Brownlee did not file and paid no city income taxes for years 2011-2013.” At a subsequent City Council Meeting on December 17, 2014, Lansky said: “I'm very offended by Councilman Brownlee's comments because, you know, he's someone who's unemployed and doesn't even work and lived here for three years and didn't even file or pay taxes.”

         Plaintiffs bring two constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First, Plaintiffs claim that Lansky violated their First Amendment rights by directing or encouraging the Law Director to turn off and remove Brownlee's video camera during the May 21, 2014 Council Meeting. Plaintiffs insist that the public and the media have the right to meaningful and effective access to government proceedings, including the right to record public meetings. Second, Brownlee claims that Lansky violated his due process rights and his federal right to privacy by obtaining and disclosing his taxpayer information at Council meetings and in the Lansky for Mayor mailings. Plaintiffs also bring several state law claims for invasion of privacy and defamation. Lansky has asserted a Counterclaim against Brownlee for defamation.

         Defendant Lansky, individually and in his capacity as Mayor, now moves for summary judgment in his favor on all Counts in Plaintiffs' Complaint.


         Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 Standard of Review

         Summary judgment shall be granted only if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The burden is on the moving party to conclusively show no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Lansing Dairy. Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994). The moving party must either point to “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or show “that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). A court considering a motion for summary judgment must view the facts and all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Once the movant presents evidence to meet its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on its pleadings, but must come forward with some significant probative evidence to support its claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Lansing Dairy, 39 F.3d at 1347.

         This Court does not have the responsibility to search the record sua sponte for genuine issues of material fact. Betkerur v. Aultman Hospital Ass 'n., 78 F.3d 1079, 1087 (6th Cir. 1996); Guarino v. Brookfield Township Trustees, 980 F.2d 399, 404-06 (6th Cir. 1992). The burden falls upon the nonmoving party to “designate specific facts or evidence in dispute, ” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986); and if the nonmoving party fails to make the necessary showing on an element upon which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Whether summary judgment is appropriate depends upon “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it ...

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