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Bauer v. City of Rossford

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

March 30, 2017

Louis T. Bauer, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
City of Rossford, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JACK ZOUHARY U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Introduction

         This case resembles a game of whack-a-mole. After a year of litigation and an adverse summary judgment ruling, Plaintiffs now seek to amend their Complaint a second time to raise an entirely new legal theory (Docs. 33-34, 41). An overview of the procedural history of this case is helpful to an understanding of whether another leave to amend is appropriate.

         Background

         Original Complaint. Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in March 2016 -- more than a year ago (Doc. 1). The thrust of the Complaint was that the City of Rossford illegally destroyed Plaintiffs' property, based on a demolition order that, in turn, was based on an invalid settlement agreement (id.). Bauer was allegedly arrested for “protesting the demolition of his own house, ” and police officers told him they would “accompany him to City Council Chambers” if he decided to go to the City Council meeting that evening (id. at ¶¶ 27-28). According to Bauer, this “prevent[ed] him (again) from being heard regarding the wrongful demolition of his property and den[ied] him his First Amendment and Due Process rights” (id. at ¶ 28).

         The Complaint enumerated five claims against the City for: (1) an illegal taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment; (2) deprivation of procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) violation of the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures; (4) demolition of property without notice under Ohio law; and (5) wrongful demolition (id. at ¶¶ 31-53). The wrongful demolition claim was also brought against the City's contractor, Competitive Hauling, Inc. (id. at ¶¶ 51-53).

         The City answered in April 2016, and this Court held a status conference in June. At that conference, the City argued there was no legal basis for the Complaint's first, fourth, and fifth claims. This Court ordered counsel to exchange authorities concerning the arguments raised by the City (Doc. 6). A few weeks later, Plaintiffs requested leave to amend the Complaint to address the City's arguments. That request was granted (Doc. 10). Plaintiffs also acknowledged that the facts relevant to their Amended Complaint were not in dispute. Both parties then agreed to submit the legal issues for this Court to decide on cross motions for summary judgment.

         Amended Complaint. The Amended Complaint lists the City as the only Defendant, and it enumerates claims for violation of: (1) procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment; and (3) the freedom of speech under the First Amendment (Doc. 11 at ¶¶ 29-40). With respect to the Fourth Amendment claim, the Amended Complaint states -- in conclusory fashion -- that “the actions and inactions of the City as alleged herein constitute a denial of Plaintiffs' right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures, and are contrary to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution” (id. at ¶ 34). Plaintiffs explained the theory underlying that claim as follows: “[T]here was no valid order for the demolition. In addition, there was no valid settlement agreement to provide a basis for the demolition and the related police presence to enforce it. As such, the police officers were essentially sent to enforce an invalid civil settlement agreement” (id. at ¶ 25). Notably, the Amended Complaint makes no mention of the term “probable cause.” And to the extent a lack of probable cause for arrest is implied, the only factual basis alleged is the purportedly invalid demolition order.

         Summary Judgment. On August 11, the parties jointly submitted Stipulations of Fact to be used by this Court in deciding cross motions for summary judgment (Doc. 13). In a status conference with this Court (Doc. 14), the parties also agreed that the threshold issue of the settlement agreement's validity would likely be case dispositive. The parties briefed summary judgment motions (Docs. 15-17, 19-21), and this Court held a record hearing on October 14 (Doc. 22). At this Court's request, the parties submitted additional briefing on an issue raised by Plaintiffs (Docs. 23-24). On November 4, this Court granted the City's Motion and denied Plaintiffs' Motion, holding both that the settlement agreement was valid and that Plaintiffs' due process claim failed in any event (Doc. 25).

         Following the summary judgment ruling, this Court held another status conference. At that conference, Plaintiffs requested two weeks to evaluate what remained of their First and Fourth Amendment claims in light of this Court's ruling. That request was granted, and this Court scheduled a further status conference for the following month (Doc. 26). At that time, despite having nearly a month to consider the implications of this Court's ruling, Plaintiffs still were unable to articulate a basis for proceeding with their First and Fourth Amendment claims. Instead, they sought further discovery to supplement the record and more time to consult with a criminal lawyer to determine the viability of a Fourth Amendment claim. This Court granted Plaintiffs an additional three weeks (id.).

         Proposed New Complaint. On December 27, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Supplement Record, asking to re-open discovery and briefing on the issues resolved by summary judgment (Doc. 27). This Court denied Plaintiffs' Motion and gave Plaintiffs two weeks to advise whether they had any remaining claims (Doc. 30). At a status conference on January 18, 2017, Plaintiffs reported they reviewed some legal authority suggesting the police may not enforce a civil contract, and they stated their intention to proceed with their Fourth Amendment claims on that basis. This Court ordered counsel to exchange the relevant authorities and discuss the merits of moving forward.

         The following week, Plaintiffs requested leave to depose the arresting officers to assist in determining the validity of their Fourth Amendment claim (Doc. 31). Over the City's objection, this Court granted Plaintiffs' request (id.). Following those depositions, Plaintiffs announced they wanted to proceed with their Fourth Amendment claim on a new basis: the officers lacked probable cause to arrest Bauer. This Court pointed out that the pending Complaint makes no reference to “probable cause.” Accordingly, this Court suggested Plaintiffs may not have adequately pled that as a basis for holding the City liable (Doc. 32). Plaintiffs requested and were given until March 10 to seek leave to amend to cure any deficiencies in their Amended Complaint (id.).

         Plaintiffs then filed a proposed Second Amended Complaint that -- for the first time --mentions probable cause (Doc. 34-1). Plaintiffs argue there is no need to amend because their First Amended Complaint adequately pleads First and Fourth Amendment claims. Alternatively, to the extent this Court disagrees, they seek leave to amend (Docs. 33-34). The City opposes the Motion (Doc. 41), arguing: (1) the officers had probable cause to arrest Bauer; (2) Plaintiffs were previously afforded an opportunity to amend; (3) Plaintiffs have caused undue delay and appear to have dilatory motives; (4) the City did not have notice of Plaintiffs' probable cause argument; ...


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