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Heid v. Mohr

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

June 17, 2019

RAY SCOTT HEID, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GARY MOHR, et al., Defendants.

          Algenon L. Marbley Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ELIZABETH A. PRESTON DEAVERS CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs, state inmates who are proceeding without the assistance of counsel, bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the Court upon consideration of Defendants Gary Mohr, Roger Wilson, Trevor Clark, Matt Gillum, Scott Gobels, Eric Graves, D.J. Norris, and Jennifer Williams' Motion to Dismiss[1] (ECF No. 41) and Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition (ECF No. 56). Defendants did not file a Reply. For the following reasons, it is RECOMMENDED that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 41) be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND OF THE INSTANT ACTION

         Plaintiffs are inmates at Ohio correctional facilities. Plaintiffs initiated this action by filing a Complaint on April 9, 2018. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint on June 15, 2018 (ECF No. 19) and their Second Amended Complaint on November 30, 2018 (ECF No. 37). Plaintiffs bring civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs identify as “Christian Separatists” and allege that Ohio prison officials are denying them access to religious literature in violation of the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). On December 14, 2018, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 41.) Plaintiffs filed their Response in Opposition on February 1, 2019. (ECF No. 56.)

         II. ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND

         In 2009, Plaintiff Damron commenced a civil action in this Court against the then-Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (“ODRC”) Religious Services Director in which, amongst others, he advanced claims under the RLUIPA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. Damron v. Jackson, No. 2:09-cv-050, 2011 WL 4402767 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 21, 2011). In the 2009 action, the Court entered summary judgment against all plaintiffs except Plaintiff Damron. Id. (see ECF No. 327.) The Court eventually dismissed the case for mootness because Plaintiff Damron acknowledged that he had received the materials at issue in the remaining claims of his lawsuit. Id. (see ECF No. 347.)

         On August 26, 2015, Plaintiff Damron, Plaintiff Heid, and other plaintiffs commenced a civil action in this Court seeking to bring claims for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, First Amendment, § 1985(3), and RLUIPA. The Christian Separatist Church Society of Ohio; the Wife of Christ, Prosopopoeia et al. v. The Ohio Department of Rehab. & Corr. et al., No. 2:15-cv-2757 (S.D. Ohio) (“2757 action”). On May 5, 2016, upon adoption of an October 1, 2015 Report and Recommendation, the Court dismissed Plaintiff Damron's claims as barred by the doctrine of res judicata and otherwise found that the remaining plaintiffs, including Plaintiff Heid, could proceed under their First Amendment and RLUIPA claims. (May 5, 2016 Order, No. 2:15-cv-2757, ECF No. 12 at 7-8.) On March 17, 2017, upon adoption of a January 30, 2017 Report and Recommendation, the Court dismissed the remaining plaintiffs' claims under the First Amendment, leaving only the RLUIPA claim. (March 17, 2017 Order, No. 2:15-cv-2757, ECF No. 42.) On March 30, 2018, the Court granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (March 30, 2018 Order, No. 2:15-cv-2757, ECF No. 110.) The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of this Court on February 13, 2019. The Christian Separatist Church Society of Ohio; the Wife of Christ, Prosopopoeia et al. v. The Ohio Department of Rehab. & Corr. et al., No. 18-3404. Plaintiffs filed another action in 2017. In the 2017 case, plaintiffs brought claims identical to the ones brought in the 2009 action. (February 26, 2018 Order, No. 2:17-cv-337, ECF No. 16 at pg. 2.) The Court dismissed plaintiffs' claims for failure to assert any new material facts that would cure any weaknesses in their previous claims. (Id. at pg. 8-9.) An appeal of the 2017 action is currently pending in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Damron v. Dodrill, et al., No. 18-3281.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendants bring their motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, alleging that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must satisfy the basic federal pleading requirements set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Thus, Rule 8(a) “imposes legal and factual demands on the authors of complaints.” 16630 Southfield Ltd., P'ship v. Flagstar Bank, F.S.B., 727 F.3d 502, 503 (6th Cir. 2013).

         Although this pleading standard does not require “‘detailed factual allegations,' . . . [a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, '” is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint will not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Instead, to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter . . . to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Facial plausibility is established “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “The plausibility of an inference depends on a host of considerations, including common sense and the strength of competing explanations for the defendant's conduct.” Flagstar Bank, 727 F.3d at 504 (citations omitted).

         In addition, the Court holds pro se complaints “‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Garrett v. Belmont Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't., No. 08-3978, 2010 WL 1252923, at *2 (6th Cir. April 1, 2010) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). This lenient treatment, however, has limits; “‘courts should not have to guess at the nature of the claim asserted.'” Frengler v. Gen. Motors, 482 Fed.Appx. 975, 976-77 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Statute of Limitations

         Defendants argue that the statute of limitations for a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action arising in Ohio expired before Plaintiffs brought some of their instant claims, and therefore those claims must be dismissed. (ECF No. 41, at pg. 7-8.) “The statute of limitations applicable to claims arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is the two-year statute of limitations[.]” Wilder v. Collins, No. 2:12-cv-0064, 2012 WL 786855, at *2 (S.D. Ohio March 9, 2012) (citing Browning v. Pendleton, 869 F.2d 989, 992 (6th Cir. 1989)). “Although the date of accrual for a § 1983 claim is a matter of federal law, state tolling principles apply to determine the timelines of claims.” Id. (quoting Davis v. Clark County Bd. of Com'rs, No. 2:12-cv-0064, 2010 WL 333651, at *12 (S.D. Ohio Jan. 21, 2010)). In general,

equitable tolling applies only when a litigant's failure to meet a legally-mandated deadline unavoidably arose from circumstances beyond that litigant's control. Graham-Humphreys v. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Inc., 209 F.3d 552, 561 (6th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). “Absent compelling equitable considerations, a court should not extend limitations by even a single day.” Id. at 561. Additionally, “neither ‘excusable neglect' nor ignorance of the law are sufficient to invoke equitable tolling.” See Rose v. Dole, 945 F.2d 1331, 1335 (6th Cir. 1991) (“It is well-settled that ignorance of the law alone is not sufficient to warrant equitable tolling”); Harris v. Hutchinson, 209 F.3d 325, 329-30 (4th Cir. 2000) (equitable tolling should apply only where petitioner is prevented from asserting his claim by wrongful conduct of the respondent or where extraordinary circumstances beyond the petitioner's control make it impossible to file the claim on time).
There are five factors to consider when determining the appropriateness of tolling a statute of limitations: “1) lack of notice of the filing requirement; 2) lack of constructive knowledge of the filing requirement; 3) diligence in pursuing one's rights; 4) absence of prejudice to the defendant; and 5) the plaintiff's reasonableness in remaining ignorant of the particular legal requirement.” Truitt v. Cnty. of Wayne, 148 F.3d 644, 648 (6th Cir. 1998).

Davis, 2010 WL 333651 at *12.

         Here, Plaintiffs make the following allegation in their Complaint that any delay in filing their claims was not due to their own failure or negligence, but rather

is a result of a legal misrepresentation made by the Defendants. Plaintiffs were advised by Trevor Clark, Asst. Chief Counsel, Division of Legal Services, that these claims were to be added to No. 2:15-CV-2757. Because of that misrepresentation, the Plaintiffs asserted their rights in the wrong forum(s) which caused the delay of the filing of this action. Plaintiffs attempted to amend these claims “2757” as well as making an attempt to supplement these claims in that case. Furthermore, after those attempts were denied, the Plaintiffs continued to pursue prosecution of these claims by filing an appeal, known as No. 17-4213.
Reasonably relying on the Defendants' Legal Services Department, specifically Defendant Clark's misrepresentation, fraudulently concealed the fact that these claims were to be filed as a separate action. As a result, some of the claims of this Complaint are seemingly filed beyond the statute of limitations under 42 U.S.C. 1983's purview. Unquestionably, the Defendants' action has caused an issue of equitable estoppel, where not for the misrepresentation Plaintiffs' claims would have been filed in a timely and appropriate manner.

(ECF No. 37, at pg. 17-18.) Defendants response to this allegation in their Motion to Dismiss is simply that it would have been a conflict of interest for Defendant Clerk to provide plaintiffs with legal information if plaintiffs had a pending lawsuit against the ODRC and that “[s]uch accusations of misconduct are baseless[.]” (ECF No. 41, at pg. 8.) Defendants provide no support for this information. In any event, this argument goes to the merits of Plaintiffs' claims rather than the sufficiency of the pleadings.

         There is support for Plaintiffs' contention that they made an attempt to supplement the claims in the 2757 action. In The Christian Separatist Church Society of Ohio; the Wife of Christ, Prosopopoeia et al. v. The Ohio Department of Rehab. & Corr. et al., No. 2:15-cv-2757(S.D. Ohio), Plaintiffs Heid and Damron filed a Motion for Leave to File Supplemental Complaint on March 8, 2017-within the two-year statute of limitations. (No. 2:15-cv-2757, ECF No. 40.) The Supplemental Complaint, attached to Plaintiffs' Motion, is markedly similar to the Complaint filed in the instant action. (No. 2:15-cv-2757, ECF No. 40-1; No. 2:18-cv-311, ECF No. 1.) This Court has previously held that submission of a Motion for Leave to Amend tolls the statute of limitations in § 1983 cases. Estate of Bing v. City of Whitehall, Ohio, 373 F.Supp.2d 770, 787-88 (S.D. Ohio June 22, 2005). The Court in Estate of Bing noted

[a]s a party has no control over when a court renders its decision regarding the proposed amended complaint, the submission of a motion for leave to amend, properly accompanied by the proposed amended complaint that provides notice of the substance of those amendments, tolls the statute of limitations, even though technically ...

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