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Rafferty v. Trumbull County

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

November 20, 2017

MICHELE L. RAFFERTY, et al., Plaintiffs,
TRUMBULL COUNTY, OHIO, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER [RESOLVING ECF NOS. 99, 103, 112, 113, & 115]

          Benita Y. Pearson United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court are two motions for summary judgment: (1) a motion from Defendant Charles Drennen (ECF No. 103), and (2) a motion from Defendants Trumbull County, Sheriff Thomas Altiere, and Lieutenant Eric Shay (ECF No. 99). Plaintiffs Michele Rafferty and Katie Sherman have responded. ECF Nos. 105 & 108. Defendants have filed replies. ECF Nos. 110 & 111. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant Drennen's Motion for Summary Judgment and grants the Trumbull County Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint.

         I. Background

         A. Allegations of Sexual Abuse

         Plaintiffs, Michele Rafferty and Katie Sherman, are two former inmates at the Trumbull County Jail. For a time, Plaintiffs resided in the same pod in the jail, and they allege that Defendant Charles Drennen, a corrections officer during their time at the Trumbull County Jail, "engaged in a pattern of sexual misconduct with female inmates." ECF No. 42 at PageID #: 225. While the amended complaint contains allegations that Drennen conducted inappropriate strip searches of Plaintiffs and would himself engage in masturbation (id.), the deposition testimony of Plaintiffs does not go so far. Instead, both Rafferty and Sherman testified that they never witnessed Drennen masturbate. ECF No. 102 at PageID #: 736 & ECF No. 101 at PageID #: 648. Additionally, both testified that Drennen never touched them inappropriately. ECF No. 102 at PageID #: 707 & ECF No. 101 at PageID #: 649. Rather, they both testified that while they were in their pod and Drennen was performing rounds during the midnight shift, Sherman exposed her breasts on three or four occasions and removed her shorts and masturbated while covered by a blanket on one or two occasions. ECF No. 101 at PageID #: 611 & ECF No. 102 at PageID #: 705. Sherman testified that she engaged in these actions because Drennen asked her to do so. ECF No. 102 at PageID#: 705. Sherman also testified that while Drennen never threatened her, she never refused to remove her clothing because she found Drennen intimidating. Id. at PageID #: 716. Rafferty testified that while she never heard Drennen threaten Sherman, causing her to expose herself under threat of discipline, she heard Drennen ask Sherman to expose herself or write him notes that would contain flirtatious and sexual content. ECF No. 101 at PageID #: 652.

         Additionally, Rafferty testified that nobody ever ordered her to watch Sherman expose herself, but the two had bunks right next to each other, so there "wasn't any way not to be a part of what was going on." Id. Drennen, on the other hand, testified that Sherman exposed her breasts to him on one occasion, but he chose not to report it, because of the potential for it to put him in "a bad light" and jeopardize his chances of receiving an assignment to work outside the jail 'on the road.' ECF No. 104-1 at PageID #: 777. Drennen also testified that he was aware that Sherman "liked [him], but [he] never, never gave that back." Id. at 782.

         B. Rafferty's Confrontation with Drennen

         Rafferty testified that, after Sherman was released from Trumbull County Jail, she and another inmate, Tania Cordwell, confronted Drennen about his behavior with Sherman and requested that he not engage in such behavior with other young girls that came into the jail. ECF No. 101 at 659-60. Rafferty testified that more inmates in her pod had intended to confront Drennen with her but, on the night they planned to do so, all other inmates besides Cordwell had already fallen asleep by the time Drennen had made his way to their pod. Id. Rafferty testified that, upon confronting Drennen, Drennen threatened her, demanding that she drop the issue or else he would make the rest of her stay uncomfortable, because he had already faced investigation for similar issues in the past. Id. at 595-96. Rafferty testified that she took Drennen's response as a direct threat and that she had concerns about reporting the issue. Id.

         Drennen decided to report Raffety's actions. ECF No. 104-1 at PageID #: 780. Drennen testified that Rafferty and another inmate-he thought it was an inmate named "Smerdell"-blackmailed him, threatening to expose a purported relationship between Drennen and Sherman unless he gave them cigarettes, a lighter, and razors. Id. Drennen also testified that he reported this incident to the acting assistant warden after consulting with two co-workers. Id. at 781.

         C. Internal Investigation

         After learning of the incident, Trumbull County conducted an investigation led by Major Stewart. Id. at PageID #: 783. The investigation included an interview of Drennen, and Drennen later testified that he told two lies during that interview: (1) he concealed that he and his wife were having marital problems related to financial issues and (2) he denied that Sherman had exposed her breasts to him. Id. Drennen was asked to take a polygraph test after the interview, but resigned before the polygraph was administered. Id.

         Major Stewart also interviewed Sherman. ECF No. 102 at PageID #: 721-22. Sherman testified that, during that interview, she lied to Major Stewart when she denied the allegations regarding exposing herself to Drennen at Drennen's request. Id. at PageID #: 723-24. Sherman testified that she lied because she did not want to relive the experience and it was awkward to have the discussion with a man her father's age. Id. at PageID #: 724-25.

         When deposed, Rafferty testified that, when Defendant Eric Shay interviewed her as part of the investigation, she reported Drennen's threat to her as well as Defendant's Drennen's "inappropriate ways". ECF No. 101 at PageID #: 661-63. Rafferty also testified that the Trumbull County Jail had a kite system in place to report complaints. ECF No. 101 at PageID #: 531. Kites were three sheet-forms, and once an inmate completed the form, all three sheets would go to the administration, but the inmate would eventually get a copy. Id. Rafferty testified that she never used a kite to complain about Drennen, because she was afraid of two possible outcomes: (1) that the officer from whom she requested the form would refuse to give her one or (2) that requesting the kite would create backlash. Id. at 532-33. Rafferty further testified that officers would sometimes deny inmates a kite because the officer did not want to be linked to the complaint, as the officer's name would appear on the form. Id. at 533.

         Sherman similarly testified that she never filed a complaint against Drennen, though she did ask Officer Nobbs for a kite form. ECF No. 102 at PageID #: 700. Sherman also testified that Officer Nobbs told her that she would speak with Sherman about the kite form, but never did so, so Sherman dropped the issue. Id.

         Rafferty testified that after Drennen reported the purported blackmail, she was denied toiletries, cleaning products, and feminine products from time-to-time. ECF No. 101 at PageID #: 601-02. She testified that she tried to report these incidents, but none of the corrections officers from whom she requested a kite gave her one, though she could not recall the names of which officers she asked or the exact number of officers from whom she requested a kite. Id. at PageID #: 601-602.

         Plaintiffs have brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, alleging Eighth and Fourth Amendment violations by Defendant Drennen, a Monell claim against the Trumbull County Defendants, and various state law claims against the Trumbull County Defendants.


         Summary judgment is appropriately granted when the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure of materials on file, and any affidavits show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Johnson v. Karnes, 398 F.3d 868, 873 (6th Cir. 2005). The moving party is not required to file affidavits or other similar materials negating a claim on which its opponent bears the burden of proof, so long as the movant relies upon the absence of the essential element in the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party must “show that the non-moving party has failed to establish an essential element of his case upon which he would bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial.” Guarino v. Brookfield Twp. Trustees, 980 F.2d 399, 403 (6th Cir. 1992).

         After the movant makes a properly supported motion, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate the existence of material facts in dispute. An opposing party may not simply rely on its pleadings; rather, it must “produce evidence that results in a conflict of material fact to be resolved by a jury.” Cox v. Ky. Dep't of Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 150 (6th Cir. 1995). A fact is “material” only if its resolution will affect the outcome of the lawsuit. In determining whether a factual issue is “genuine, ” the court must evaluate whether the evidence could persuade a reasonable factfinder that the non-moving party is entitled to a verdict. Id.

         To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must “show that there is doubt as to the material facts and that the record, taken as a whole, does not lead to a judgment for the movant.” Guarino, 980 F.2d at 403. In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party when deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co.,398 U.S. 144 (1970). The existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the ...

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