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Rucker v. Heekin

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

January 10, 2018

JUDGE TOM HEEKIN, et. al, Defendants.


          Stephanie K. Bowman United States Magistrate Judge

         By separate Order issued this date, Plaintiff has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The complaint itself is now before the Court for a sua sponte review to determine whether the complaint, or any portion of it, should be dismissed because it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends that the complaint be dismissed.

         I. General Screening Authority

         Congress has authorized federal courts to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint if satisfied that the action is frivolous or malicious. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). A complaint may be dismissed as frivolous when the plaintiff cannot make any claim with a rational or arguable basis in fact or law. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328-29 (1989); see also Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196, 1198 (6th Cir. 1990). An action has no arguable legal basis when the defendant is immune from suit or when plaintiff claims a violation of a legal interest which clearly does not exist. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. An action has no arguable factual basis when the allegations are delusional or rise to the level of the irrational or “wholly incredible.” Denton, 504 U.S. at 32; Lawler, 898 F.2d at 1199. The Court need not accept as true factual allegations that are “fantastic or delusional” in reviewing a complaint for frivolousness. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 471 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 328).

         Congress has also authorized the sua sponte dismissal of complaints which fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (e)(2)(B)(ii). Although a plaintiff's pro se complaint must be “liberally construed” and “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” the complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citation and quotation omitted)). The complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010)(“dismissal standard articulated in Iqbal and Twombly governs dismissals for failure to state a claim” under §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and 1915A(b)(1)).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true, but need not “accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” it must provide “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Id. at 557.

         II. Analysis

         A. Allegations Of Complaint

         Plaintiff Rucker's pro se complaint identifies five individual Defendants and two sets of agency/John or Jane Doe Defendants: (1) Judge Tom Heekin c/o Judge John A. West; (2) Judge Steven E. Martin; (3) Hamilton County Sex Offender Unit/Administrator Ernest Lee; (4) Hamilton County Prosecutor Scott Heenan; (5) Hamilton County Prosecutor Claye Thorpe; (6) Cincinnati Adult Parole Authority Regional Supervisor, Staff and Agents; and (7) Hamilton County Sheriffs Registration Divisions Staff, supervisors, and agents. Plaintiff's complaint spans 27 pages, and seeks declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief relating to alleged violations of Plaintiff's civil rights, and alleged violation of the prohibition against double jeopardy. As a basis for federal court jurisdiction, Plaintiff cites 42 U.S.C. §12203, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 242.

         Plaintiff is a former prisoner convicted in state court of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, who completed his sentence and was released from incarceration on or about January 3, 2015. In 2012, while Plaintiff was still incarcerated, the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed Plaintiff's initial conviction but held that the trial court had incorrectly classified Plaintiff as a “Tier III sex offender under Ohio's version of the Adam Walsh Act.” Therefore, the Court of Appeals remanded for the trial court “‘to amend its judgment entry to reflect that Rucker is a Tier II sex offender.'” State v. Rucker, 2016 WL 4063866 (Ohio Ct. App., July 27, 2016) (quoting State v. Rucker, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-110082, 2012-Ohio-185). The trial court failed to carry out the order on remand to amend its judgment prior to Rucker's release from prison. Id.

         Having failed to obtain the reclassification prior to his release in accordance with the 2012 remand, Rucker filed a pro se motion for “re-sentencing” and/or to dismiss his sex offender classification after his release; appointed counsel subsequently filed an amended motion. The trial court overruled the amended motion, finding that postrelease control had been properly imposed and stating that the “classification will be modified under a separate entry to Tier II.” Id. Once again, however, the trial court failed to enter an order actually modifying the classification to Tier II. Id. Through counsel, Plaintiff appealed a second time.

         In its July 2016 opinion, the Ohio Court of Appeals overruled Plaintiff's first two assignments of error but partially granted relief. The court first rejected Rucker's contention that he had not been properly notified that he would be subject to five years of mandatory postrelease control, holding that the sentencing transcript demonstrated sufficient notification. Id. at *2. The Ohio Court of Appeals also rejected Rucker's contention that the trial court had erred by changing his sentence after his release, when it had no authority to resentence him. The appellate court denied this second assignment of error because, even though the trial court indicated its intention to modify Plaintiff's classification by stating that “Rucker's classification will be modified under a separate entry to Tier II, ” the court had never actually journalized any such entry, and “has never entered an order modifying Rucker's sex-offender classification to Tier II.” Id. (emphasis added). Despite the partial rejection of Rucker's claims, the Ohio Court of Appeals specifically reversed “that portion of the trial court's entry overruling Rucker's motion for resentencing that states that the trial court was bound by our [prior] order of remand to classify Rucker as a Tier II sex offender, and …remand[ed] this cause to the trial court for it to determine whether it has authority to notify Rucker of and imposed upon him Tier II sex-offender registration requirements.” Id. at *3. The Ohio Supreme Court denied further discretionary review. See State v. Rucker, 2017-Ohio-573, 148 Ohio St.3d 1411, 69 N.E.3d 751 (Ohio Feb. 22, 2017).

         Plaintiff's federal complaint includes several allegations relating to proceedings in the trial court after the last remand from the Ohio Court of Appeals, including references to exhibits that relate to post-remand motions filed in April and May of 2017. Plaintiff also refers to a September 7, 2017 notice of appeal to “district court, ” suggesting that he has filed a third appeal to the Ohio Court of Appeals, since no ongoing proceedings relating to the same allegations exist in this federal district court. Unfortunately, Plaintiff failed to attach any exhibits to the complaint filed in this Court. Thus, in order to conduct meaningful review of the complaint, the undersigned has reviewed electronic copies of records maintained by the Hamilton County Clerk of Court to ascertain the status of related ongoing state court proceedings, denoted by Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Case No. B095355.[1]

         Having completed that review, I conclude that Plaintiff's case should be dismissed based upon Younger abstention and/or the Rooker Feldman doctrine, a lack of subject matter jurisdiction under three of the statutes cited by Plaintiff, and for failure to state a claim against any identified Defendant under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         B. Dismissal Recommended ...

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