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Davalos v. Morgan

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

July 17, 2019

GREG MORGAN, et al., Defendants.

          Dlott, J.



         Plaintiff Craig Davalos brings this pro se action against defendants Greg Morgan, the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles, and former Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety John Borne, in his official capacity, alleging a violation of his civil rights.[1] This matter is before the Court on defendant Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 8), plaintiffs response in opposition (Doc. 15), and defendant's reply memorandum (Doc. 21).

         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiffs amended complaint alleges that on August 25, 2016, Hamilton County Sheriff Sergeant Greg Morgan confiscated plaintiffs van without a warrant. The van was later impounded by authorities. As it relates to defendant Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, the amended complaint alleges:

[Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety] through the policies at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, has made private ownership of my van impossible without committing fraud or perjury; depriving and preventing me from ownership of my property, the place where I shelter, without due process of law.
In an attempt on 8-26-16 at The Ohio Department of Safety Bureau of Motor Vehicles location at 1214 W. Kemper Road, Forest Park Ohio 45240 at about 10:00 a.m., due to internal rules and regulations supervised, administered and directed by John Borne, has made it impossible for someone without a physical residence to obtain a certificate of title without committing perjury and fraud on the application for Certificate of Title, thereby allowing no procedure to obtain ownership, registration or insurance.

         (Doc. 3 at 2, 3). Plaintiff alleges that "[t]he policies of the Ohio Department of Safety Bureau of Motor Vehicles has/is preventing me from owning my van, the place where I use to shelter." (Doc. 3 at 4). As relief, plaintiff seeks damages, an injunction ordering the return of plaintiff s property, and a Court order requiring "the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to develop a procedure and methodology for ownership of my van that has no valid place of residence to apply for a Certificate of Title." (Id. at 4).

         II. The Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings should be Granted.

         Courts apply the same analysis to motions for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) as they apply to motions to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Warrior Sports, Inc. v. Nat 7 Collegiate Athletic Ass % 623 F.3d 281, 284 (6th Cir. 2010). "For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pleaded material allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be taken as true, and the motion may be granted only if the moving party is nevertheless clearly entitled to judgment." JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 582 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted)). However, the Court need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. Id. (citing Mixon v. Ohio, 193 F.3d 389, 400 (6th Cir. 1999)).

         To withstand a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, "a complaint must contain direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements under some viable legal theory." Commercial Money Ctr., Inc. v. III. Union Ins. Co., 508 F.3d 327, 336 (6th Cir. 2007). "The factual allegations in the complaint need to be sufficient to give notice to the defendant as to what claims are alleged, and the plaintiff must plead 'sufficient factual matter' to render the legal claim plausible, i.e., more than merely possible.'" Fritz v. Charter Twp. of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing As her ofl v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009)). A "legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation" need not be accepted as true, nor are recitations of the elements of a cause of action sufficient. Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Although the plaintiff need not plead specific facts, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570). A plaintiff must "plead[ ] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         It is well-settled that a document filed pro se is "to be liberally construed" and that a pro se complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers [.]" Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). However, the Sixth Circuit has recognized that the Supreme Court's liberal construction case law has not had the effect of "abrogating] basic pleading essentials" in pro se suits. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989).

         Attached to defendant's answer is a letter from plaintiff to the Ohio Department of Safety, Bureau of Motor Vehicles dated June 7, 2018, which clarifies the factual circumstances surrounding plaintiffs pro se complaint.[2] (Doc. 7 at 6-9). In the letter, plaintiff states that he has been homeless since 2003 and had been living in his van when it was confiscated by the Hamilton County Sheriffs Department on August 25, 2016. Plaintiff was advised he would need proof of ownership of the vehicle, i.e., a title or current registration, before the van would be released to him. Plaintiff possessed the previous owner's certificate of title, a bill of sale in plaintiffs name, and the release of lien from the previous owner. Plaintiff was advised that these documents were not acceptable. When plaintiff went to register the vehicle in his name, he was advised by an employee of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles that he would need to supply a valid State of Ohio street address. Plaintiff states that he is homeless and did not have a physical street address. Plaintiff states he would have to supply a "false" address, signed under penalty of perjury, to get the van titled in his name so he could retrieve it from the impound lot, which he refused to do. Plaintiff then had an individual in his home state of Michigan obtain a Michigan Certificate of Title for the vehicle in that individual's name. The individual retrieved the van from the impound lot and plaintiff now possesses the van. Plaintiff states he has no option to obtain "legal" ownership of the van without committing perjury.

         Defendant Director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety seeks judgment on the pleadings on the basis that: (1) plaintiff lacks standing to bring this action as his claim no longer presents a live case or controversy because plaintiffs vehicle is now titled, and (2) plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because he has not alleged that the Director of ...

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