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Harris v. United States

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

August 21, 2017

KEELAN HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER [RESOLVING ECF NOS. 34, 40, 41, 42, 44, 45]

          BENITA Y. PEARSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel (ECF No. 34), Motion to Amend his Complaint (ECF No. 40) and Motion to Extend Time to Serve (ECF No. 45); Defendants Marilou Burns, Steven Grimm, Ralph Hanson, Glen Johnson, J.L. Norwood, Bill Story, and Harrell Watts' (the “Federal Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 41); Defendants Thomas M. Baronzzi, Anthony J. Dattillio, James A. Fredericka, and Emily Clark Weston's (the “County Defendants”) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 42); and Defendants Mike DeWine and John Kasich's (“State Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 44). For the following reasons, the Court denies Plaintiffs' Motions and grant Defendants' Motions.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Keelan Harris, a prisoner at FCI Elkton, sought to marry his then-fiancée, Marcela Bedoya. ECF No. 1 at PageID #: 3, ¶ 21. Although he properly initiated FCI Elkton's internal marriage procedures, he was informed that he could not obtain a marriage license. Id. at PageID #: 3-4, ¶¶ 21-27. Pursuant to Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.05, parties seeking a marriage license must “personally appear in the probate court within the county where either resides, or, if neither is a resident of this state, where the marriage is expected to be solemnized.” Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.05. The local clerk of courts would not send an employee to the prison to issue a license and the prison declined Plaintiff's request for an escorted trip to the probate court. ECF No. 1 at PageID#: 4-5, ¶¶ 28-42. Because there was no other way for a prisoner to satisfy the personal-appearance requirement, Plaintiff was unable to obtain a marriage license.

         Plaintiff sought relief through the prison's grievance process, and wrote letters to state and federal officials seeking assistance. ECF No. 1 at PageID#: 4-5, ¶¶ 28-42. When Plaintiff's grievances, and their appeals, were denied, Plaintiff brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various state and federal officials and employees contending that Defendants violated his constitutional right to be married. ECF No. 1 at PageID #: 7-8, ¶¶ 47-57. Plaintiff seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. Id. at PageID #: 12-13, ¶¶ 80-87.

         The Court reviewed Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A). After dismissing Plaintiff's claims against the United States, United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Charles Samuel Jr., the Court permitted Plaintiff's action to proceed against all other Defendants. ECF No. 7 at PageID #: 140.

         The Court appointed pro bono counsel to represent Plaintiff. ECF No. 11. Because the Columbiana County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas had recently acquired videoconference technology, Plaintiff's counsel and Defendants were able to devise a program by which inmates could obtain marriage licenses via video conference. Defendant Judge Thomas M. Baronzzi, who had previously denied Plaintiff's request to appear via video conference, vacated his order and granted Plaintiff's request in light of the court's new technological acquisition. ECF No. 36-1 at PageID #: 336. The Federal and County Defendants confirmed that the video conference connection was successfully tested, FCI Elkton updated its Institution Supplement on Marriage accordingly, and the updated Supplement was issued to prisoners. ECF Nos. 46, 54.

         Plaintiff notified the Court that he no longer intended to wed. ECF No. 38. Plaintiff moved to amend his Complaint and extend time to serve. ECF Nos. 40, 45. The Federal Defendants and State Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. ECF Nos. 41, 44. The County Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings. ECF No. 42.

         II. Claims for Declaratory and Injunctive Claims Against All Defendants

         All Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims for injunctive and declaratory relief are moot, and, therefore, the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. ECF No. 41-1 at PageID #: 362-64; ECF No. 42-1 at PageID #: 374-76; ECF No. 44 at PageID #: 412-14. For the following reasons, the Court grants the Motions to Dismiss and the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings regarding Plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) allows dismissal of claims for “lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). “Article III, § 2, of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to ‘Cases' and ‘Controversies, ' which restricts the authority of federal courts to resolving ‘the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies.'” Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S.Ct. 1523, 1528 (2013) (quoting Valley Forge Christian College v. Ams. United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471 (1982)). Otherwise put, federal courts do not have jurisdiction over cases that are “moot, ” meaning those in which the plaintiff no longer has a legally cognizable interest in the outcome of the action. Id.; McPherson v. Michigan High Sch. Athletic Ass'n, Inc., 119 F.3d 453, 458 (6th Cir. 1997) (en banc). A controversy must exist throughout the course of litigation. Alvarez v. Smith, 558 U.S. 87, 92 (2009). “If an intervening circumstance deprives the plaintiff of a ‘personal stake in the outcome of the lawsuit, ' at any point during litigation, the action can no longer proceed and must be dismissed as moot.” Symczyk, 133 S.Ct. at 1528 (quoting Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477-78 (1990)).

         “The test for mootness is whether the relief sought would, if granted, make a difference to the legal interests of the parties.” Bowman v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 350 F.3d 537, 550 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting McPherson, 119 F.3d at 458). A reviewing court will determine not whether the complained-of activity has ceased, but whether it can be properly remedied by the court. Coal. for Gov't Procurement v. Fed. Prison Indus., Inc., 365 F.3d 435, 458 (6th Cir. 2004). “[A] case is moot only where no effective relief for the alleged violation can be given.” Id.

         Plaintiff seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction ordering Defendants to issue a marriage license to Plaintiff and his fiancée, assist Plaintiff in obtaining a marriage license and completing the marriage ceremony, as well as a declaration that Ohio Rev. Code § 3101.05(A)‘s “personal appearance” requirement is unconstitutional. ECF No. 1 at PageID #: 12, ¶¶ 80-82. Because Plaintiff no longer intends to wed, the Court is unable to issue any declaratory or injunctive relief that would affect Plaintiff or provide him with relief. Such an order would be purely advisory.

         Although Plaintiff no longer intends to wed, he argues that his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief are not moot because the intent not to marry is a direct result of Defendants' actions; Plaintiff may decide to marry in the future, and Defendants could deny his marriage or any inmate's marriage based on any perceived “security concerns” they see fit; and Plaintiff's injury is “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” ECF No. 40. These arguments are either inapplicable to this case or insufficient to overcome the mootness of Plaintiff's claims.

         First, that Plaintiff's decision not to marry was influenced by Defendants' actions is of no matter to the case's mootness. Because Plaintiff does not intend to marry, ordering Defendants to allow Plaintiff to marry will not afford him any relief. To the extent Plaintiff argues that the case falls within the “voluntary cessation” exception to mootness, this argument is without merit. Ordinarily, a defendant's voluntary cessation of an illegal activity is insufficient to render litigation moot. Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Svcs., 528 U.S. 167, 169 (2000) (citing City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 289 (1982)). “[I]f it did, the courts would be compelled to leave ‘[t]he defendant . . . free to return to his old ways.'” Id. (citing City of Mesquite, 455 U.S. at 289, n.10). In this instance, it is not Defendants' voluntary conduct, but Plaintiff's decision not to marry, that moots the case.

         Plaintiff's arguments that he might decide to marry in the future, and that a future marriage application might be denied based on “security concerns, ” is too speculative a harm to permit Plaintiff's case to move forward. “[T]o satisfy Article III's standing requirements, a plaintiff must show (1) it has suffered an ‘injury in fact' that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical . . . .” Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 181. Plaintiff's harm assumes a series of events-that he decides to remarry, that he applies for a marriage license while still in prison, and that Defendants illegally deny his marriage license-that are too hypothetical and speculative to create the type of “actual controversy” over which this Court would have jurisdiction. Similarly, the Court does not have jurisdiction over Plaintiff's argument that other inmates' marriage requests might be denied. “Generally, [a litigant] must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties.” Kowalski v. Tesmer, 543 U.S. 125, 129 (2004) (citing Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975)). In the event that another inmate is denied the right to marry, that inmate will have to bring his own suit, unless Plaintiff can demonstrate some stake in that litigation or a basis for third-party standing. Id. at 130 (permitting third-party standing only when the party asserting the right has a “close” relationship with the person who possesses the right, and the possessor's ability to protect his own interest is hindered).

         Finally, Plaintiff's argument that the case is of the type “capable of repetition, yet evading review” is without merit. In order to satisfy this exception to the mootness doctrine, a plaintiff must show “(1) the challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully litigated prior to its cessation or expiration; and (2) there was a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party would be subjected to the same action again.” Chirco v. Gateway Oaks, L.L.C., 384 F.3d 307, 309 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147, 148 (1975)).

         Because Plaintiff's injury fails on the first prong, there is no need to consider the second prong. Plaintiff's injury is that he was prohibited from marrying, in violation of his right to marry. In the event Plaintiff is barred from securing a marriage license again, there is nothing about this injury that is so inherently brief that it could not wait out the course of litigation. For example, if not for Plaintiff and his fiancée's decision not to marry, they would still remain affianced to this day, and could remain engaged until the Court renders its judgment. In contrast, a woman's pregnancy, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 125 (1973) or a trial court's order banning news media access to a specific trial, Nebraska Press Ass'n v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539, 546-47 (1975) will not outlast even the fastest litigation, no matter what the plaintiff does to keep the case from becoming moot. Accordingly, Plaintiff's injury does not fall within this exception to the mootness doctrine.

         For these reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief are moot, and dismisses, without prejudice, any claims for declaratory and injunctive relief for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, only Plaintiff's claims for monetary relief remain.

         III. Claims for Monetary Relief Against Federal Defendants and Plaintiff's Motion to Extend Time to Serve

         The Federal Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them, in their official and individual capacities, for lack of personal jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). The party resisting a Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss bears the burden of demonstrating that personal jurisdiction exists. Air Prods. and Controls, Inc. v. Safetech Intern., Inc., 503 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 2007). If the court rules on the motion to dismiss without an evidentiary hearing, the resisting party need only make a prima facie showing that jurisdiction exists. CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 1996).

         Any claims for monetary relief against the Federal Defendants are dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction, as Plaintiff has failed to properly serve the Federal Defendants. A plaintiff filing a Bivens claim against a federal officer in her individual capacity must perfect service on the United States and personal service on each defendant within 90 days of filing the complaint. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(i)(3); 4(m). Lack of proper service is a jurisdictional defect, and “without such personal service, a district court is without jurisdiction to render judgment against the defendant.” Harris v. City of Cleveland, 7 F. App'x 452, 456 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Friedman v. Estate of Presser, 929 F.2d 1151, 1157 (6th Cir. 1991) and Ecclesiastical Order of Ism of Am, Inc. v. Chasin, 845 F.2d 113, 116 (6th Cir. 1988)). Unless the plaintiff can show good cause as to why service was not perfected, the case must be dismissed. Abel v. Harp, 122 F. App'x 248, 250 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Byrd v. Stone, 94 F.3d 217, 219 (6th Cir. 1996)).

         A. Service on Defendants Burns and Hanson

         Plaintiff failed to properly serve Defendants Burns and Hanson individually. To perfect personal service on a United States officer, the plaintiff must comply with Rule 4(i)(3) by serving the United States and serving the officer under Rule 4(e), (f), or (g). Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(i)(3). Rule 4(f) and 4(g) concern service on officers in a foreign country and on minors or incompetent persons, neither of which is applicable in this case. Accordingly, only service pursuant to Rule 4(e) is relevant. Rule 4(e) instructs:

(e) Serving an Individual Within a Judicial District of the United States. Unless federal law provides otherwise, an individual-other than a minor, an incompetent person, or a person whose waiver has been filed-may be served in a judicial district of the United States by:
(1) following state law for serving a summons in an action brought in courts of general jurisdiction in the state where the district court is ...

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