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Call v. Leathold

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

February 27, 2018

SHANE LEATHOLD, et al., Defendants.



         Pro se Plaintiff Jonathan Alan Call filed this civil rights action against Crawford County Municipal Court Judge Shane Leathold, Crawford County Jail Administrator Kent Rachel, Crawford County Sheriff Scott Kent, Bucyrus City Prosecutor Rob Radcliff, and Crawford County Municipal Court Bailiff Tony Stover. In the Complaint, Plaintiff challenges aspects of his conviction for a probation violation and the conditions in the Crawford County Jail. He seeks injunctive and monetary relief.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff's Complaint can be divided into parts. The first part contains challenges to his criminal proceedings in the Crawford County Municipal Court pertaining to a probation violation. The second part contains complaints about the general conditions of confinement in the Crawford County Jail.

         With respect to his criminal proceedings, he contends jail personnel tricked him into waiving his Miranda rights and his speedy trial rights. He states the Judge asked incriminating question at his arraignment by asking him how he pled to the probation violation charges. He contends the Judge set a cash bond instead of a recognizance bond and sentenced him to the maximum term allowed by law. He thinks his sentence for a probation violation was excessive and violated the Eighth Amendment.

         Plaintiff also complains in general terms about the conditions of confinement in the jail. He indicates the law library is inadequate. He alleges the grievance system is ineffective and lacks a proper appeals process. He alleges jail personnel do not regularly clean the vents. He contends the jail roof leaks, allowing mold and asphalt to seep into cells. He states the jail is overcrowded, and inmates charged with felonies are sometimes housed in areas where inmates charged with misdemeanors are housed. Finally, he alleges that the jail does not have a sterile environment for detainees who use Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (“CPAP”) machines. He claims these detainees are housed in two-man holding cells with the toilet just feet from the CPAP machine.

         Plaintiff requests that this Court monitor the Crawford County Municipal Court arraignments and review probation procedures, order the jail to correct the conditions described above, and award him monetary damages.

         II. Standard of Review

         Although pro se pleadings are liberally construed, Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (per curiam); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), 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 on 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 it lacks “plausibility in the Complaint.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007).

         A pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). The factual allegations in the pleading must be sufficient to raise the right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the Complaint are true. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The Plaintiff is not required to include detailed factual allegations, but must provide more than “an unadorned, the Defendant unlawfully harmed me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading that offers legal conclusions or a simple recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not meet this pleading standard. Id. In reviewing a Complaint, the Court must construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. Bibbo v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 151 F.3d 559, 561 (6th Cir. 1998).

         III. Analysis

         As an initial matter, Plaintiff cannot challenge his conviction or sentence in a civil rights action. In order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 Plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486 (1994). A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983. Therefore, when a person convicted of a crime seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the Court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the Plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence. If it would, the claim must be dismissed unless the Plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated. If, however, the Court determines the Plaintiff's claim, even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding criminal judgment against him, the action should be allowed to proceed, in the absence of some other bar to the suit.

         In this case, Plaintiff claims he was denied speedy trial and Miranda rights. He also contends the Judge asked incriminating questions at his arraignment in terms of whether he was guilty or not guilty, and gave him an excessive sentence. If these claims are found to have merit, they would call into question Plaintiff's conviction on the probation violation and his sentence. He therefore cannot assert them in a civil rights action unless his conviction or sentence has been set aside. He does not allege that either of these events has occurred. The claims regarding the criminal proceedings cannot proceed.

         Furthermore, even if the claims asserted against Judge Leathold were not barred by Heck, they could not proceed. Judicial officers are absolutely immune from civil suits for money damages. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9 (1991); Barnes v. Winchell, 105 F.3d 1111, 1115 (6th Cir. 1997). They are accorded this broad protection to ensure that the independent and impartial exercise of their judgment in a case is not impaired by the exposure to damages by dissatisfied litigants. Barnes, 105 F.3d at 1115. For this reason, absolute immunity is overcome only in two situations: (1) when the conduct alleged is performed at a time when the Defendant is not acting as a judge; or (2) when the conduct alleged, although judicial in nature, is taken in complete absence of all subject matter jurisdiction of the court over which he or she presides. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11-12; Barnes, 105 F.3d at 1116. Stump, 435 U.S. at 356-57. A judge will not be deprived of immunity even if the action he or she took was performed in error, done maliciously, or was in excess of his or her ...

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