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Smith-Utley v. City of Toledo

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

March 29, 2018

Darnell A. Smith-Utley, Plaintiff
v.
City of Toledo, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Jeffrey J. Helmick United States District Judge.

         Background and History

         Pro se Plaintiff Darnell A. Smith-Utley filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Toledo, Toledo Police Chief George Kral, Toledo Police Officers John Does #1 and #2, the United States Attorney General and the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that the Defendants denied him substantive due process and interfered with familial relations when the officers arrested him on an outstanding warrant at a traffic stop. He does not specify the relief he seeks.

         Plaintiff also filed an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. No. 2). That Application is granted.

         Plaintiff alleges he was stopped by Toledo police officers as he was heading home from work on November 24, 2015. The officers indicated he failed to stop at a stop sign. Plaintiff states he did not have his driver's license with him at the time, so the officers placed him in the back of the police car. He provided officers with his name and social security number. When the officers entered that information into the computer, they discovered Plaintiff had two outstanding warrants from the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas. In fact, Plaintiff had been indicted on charges of burglary and receiving stolen property on July 16, 2015, and on two counts of receiving stolen property on September 18, 2015. Plaintiff failed to appear in court for both of his arraignments and both trial judges issued a capias for his arrest. Plaintiff attempted to convince the officers of his innocence, but they arrested him on the outstanding warrants. He claims he asked the officers if he could summon his girlfriend to take possession of his car. Plaintiff indicates that there was some confusion about the ownership of the car. He states he purchased it from his mother but could not get license plates for the car because his mother was incarcerated, so he used plates from another vehicle. The officers told him it would have to be towed.

         Plaintiff's Causes of Action

         Although Plaintiff's Complaint lists two causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, both are asserted denials of substantive due process. First, he asserts the City of Toledo, Police Chief Kral and the John Doe Officers violated his right to substantive due process by interfering with his right to travel. Second, he contends all of the Defendants interfered with his familial relations with his child. He states he accrued a large amount of child support and his child's mother will not allow him to see his child unless he pays support. Plaintiff alleges his arrest caused him to lose his job, making it more difficult for him to pay child support.

         Standard of Review

         Although I must construe pro se pleadings liberally, Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (per curiam); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), I am 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 Aplausibility in the Complaint.@ Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007).

         A pleading must contain a Ashort 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. Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555. The Plaintiff is not required to include detailed factual allegations, but must provide more than Aan 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, I 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).

         Analysis

         Although they are named as Defendants, the Toledo Police Chief, the United States Attorney General, and the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio have no apparent connection to the facts of this case. Plaintiff cannot establish the liability of any Defendant absent a clear showing that the Defendant was personally involved in the activities which form the basis of the alleged unconstitutional behavior. Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371 (1976); Mullins v. Hainesworth, No. 95-3186, 1995 WL 559381 (6th Cir. Sept. 20, 1995). These three Defendants are not mentioned in the body of the Complaint and Plaintiff gives no indication of why they are included in this lawsuit. He fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against Police Chief Kral, the Attorney General, or the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

         Similarly, the City of Toledo cannot be held liable unless its own conduct in some way violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. As a rule, local governments may not be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by employees or agents under a respondeat superior theory of liability. See Monell v. Department of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). “Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under §1983.” Id. at 694. A municipality can therefore be held liable when it unconstitutionally “implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted by that body's officers.” Id. at 690; DePiero v. City of Macedonia, 180 F.3d 770, 786 (6th Cir. 1999). Plaintiff must identify the municipal policy or custom in question, connect the policy to the municipality, and show that his particular ...


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