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Black v. Falvey

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

January 22, 2018




         Pro se plaintiff Lawrence Edward Black filed this action as a “Complaint Writ of Prohibition” against Canton Municipal Court Judges Mary Falvey and Richard Kubilus. In the pleading, plaintiff alleges the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals erred by upholding the orders and judgment of the Canton Municipal Court pertaining to his criminal conviction. He asks this Court to order the Canton Municipal Court to vacate its judgment, and reimburse him for costs he incurred during litigation.

         A. Background

         The City of Canton Zoning Department sent plaintiff a letter on March 1, 2017, advising him that a camper was parked illegally on the grass of a vacant lot that he owned next to his house on Maple Avenue NE in Canton, Ohio. (See Doc. No. 1-2.) Zoning ordinances number 1129.16(a) and (h) required the camper to be parked on a parking type surface, such as a driveway or garage, and to display current license plates. Plaintiff went to the zoning inspector, explained that the ground was too wet from recent rain to move the camper, and promised to move it when the ground firmed up. Canton police checked on the property in May and discovered the camper was still parked on the vacant lot. Plaintiff told the zoning inspector he would hire a towing company to move the camper.

         On June 2, 2017, the zoning inspector filed a criminal complaint against plaintiff in the Canton Municipal Court for improper storage of a vehicle.[1] He was served with the summons and complaint on the same day. Plaintiff moved the camper later that day and notified the zoning inspector that he had done so. It appears plaintiff believed this would resolve the matter and result in the automatic dismissal of the criminal charges. Plaintiff did not appear for his arraignment on June 8, 2017, and Judge Falvey issued a warrant for his arrest. Plaintiff was arrested on July 9, 2017, and was held in the Stark County Jail in lieu of bond. He was arraigned on July 10, 2017 and released on his own recognizance. Trial was set for July 31, 2017.

         Judge Falvey recused herself from the case on July 25, 2017, and Judge Kubilus was appointed to preside over plaintiff's case. Plaintiff appeared without counsel for trial, pleaded no contest, and was found guilty of violating Ohio Rev. Code § 1129.16 (M4). (Doc. No. 1-4 (Judgment Entry).) He was sentenced to pay a $50.00 fine and serve 30 days in jail, with all but one day suspended on condition of good behavior for two years. The court credited him with one day of jail time served toward his sentence, and ordered him to serve 15 hours of community service in lieu of his jail sentence by September 1, 2017. Plaintiff was also ordered to comply with all zoning requirements with respect to the camper and to show proof of compliance to the court. The court scheduled a compliance hearing for September 1, 2017.

         Plaintiff filed a petition for a writ of prohibition with the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals against McKinley Township, the City of Canton, and Stark County. The Court of Appeals dismissed the petition.

         According to the docket of the Canton Municipal Court, plaintiff did not appear for community service as required by his sentence, and the court issued a bench warrant for his arrest on September 6, 2017. It appears the warrant is still outstanding. Plaintiff also did not pay the fine, and the court referred that matter to the credit bureau of Stark County for collection.

         Plaintiff has now filed this action asking this Court to overturn the decision of the Canton Municipal Court, vacate his conviction, and relieve him of his sentence. He contends the Municipal Court judge lacked judicial authority to continue his prosecution, which he claims is a violation of the constitutional provision against ex post facto laws. Plaintiff also requests an award of monetary damages to compensate him damages that he sustained as a result of state court proceedings.

         B. Standard of Review

         The Court must construe plaintiff's pro se pleading liberally. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (per curiam) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). Nevertheless, the Court is required to dismiss an in forma pauperis action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989); Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196 (6th Cir. 1990); Sistrunk v. City of Strongsville, 99 F.3d 194, 197 (6th Cir. 1996).

         A claim lacks an arguable basis in law or fact when it is premised upon an indisputably meritless legal theory or when the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. A cause of action fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when the complaint lacks plausibility. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007).[2]

          C. Analysis

         This Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to grant the relief plaintiff requests. The Canton Municipal Court is not a “lower court” to the United States District Court, as plaintiff suggests. United States district courts do not have jurisdiction to overturn state court decisions, even if the request to reverse a state court judgment is based upon an allegation that the state court's action was unconstitutional. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 292 (2005). Federal appellate review of state court judgments can only occur in the United States Supreme Court, by appeal or by writ of certiorari. Id. Under this principle, generally referred to as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a party losing his case in state court may not seek appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district court. ...

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