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Biggin v. State

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

August 1, 2019

Stephen Biggin, Plaintiff
The State of Ohio, et al., Defendants


          James G. Carr Sr. U.S. District Judge

         This is a civil rights case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff Stephen Biggin claims that the individual defendants Ohio Department of Natural Resources Ranger Jeremy Berger and Lucas County, Ohio, Deputy Sheriff Christopher Gonia violated his constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments when they arrested him at the Maumee Bay State Park Resort in Oregon, Ohio.

         Biggin alleges that Berger and Gonia violated those constitutional rights by arresting him, using excessive force while doing so, charging him with misdemeanors, and causing him to be detained pending release on bond. The arrest, charges, and detention, Biggin asserts, were without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. He further claims that in arresting, charging, and detaining him, the officers violated his right of free speech.

         Biggin also sues the State of Ohio, the Lucas County Sheriff's Department, and the City of Oregon, Ohio. He claims these governmental entity defendants are liable for failing to train the individual defendants adequately and having them, in the course of their unlawful treatment of Biggin, implement Constitution-violative policies, practices, and/or customs and usages.

         He brings those claims under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), on the basis that the actions of the individual defendants were under color of law. He also brings state constitutional and tort claims against the individual defendants and on the basis of respondeat superior against the governmental entities.

         Jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

         In a February 13, 2018 order, I memorialized the oral dismissal I pronounced during a status/scheduling conference, stating in that order, “All defendants, except Sheriff Deputy Gonia and Officer Berger” were dismissed from the case. (Doc. 11 at 1).

         Pending is Biggin's combined Motion for Reconsideration and Motion to Rejoin Defendants the State of Ohio, Lucas County Sheriff's Department, and/or City of Oregon. (Doc. 40).[1]

         For the reasons that follow, I conclude that the State is not a “person” under § 1983, and it is, in any event, immune from suits for damages. I conclude also that the Sheriff's Department is not sui juris and thus is not amendable to suit. Lastly, the reinstatement of the complaint against the City would be futile, as it fails to state a plausible cause of action against that entity. Consequently, I deny Biggin's motion.


         On September 17, 2017, Biggin attended a family wedding at Maumee Bay State Park Resort (Maumee Bay). (Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 17). Shortly before midnight, he was about to go out to a waiting taxi. Berger and Maumee Bay employees approached him before he got outside. (Doc. 1 at 3-4, ¶ 18, 19). Berger told Biggin, who was holding a bottle of beer, that he was being too loud and asked him to quiet down and what he planned to do next. (Doc. 1 at 3-4, ¶ 19; Doc 42-1 at 24). Stopping at a trashcan to throw away the beer bottle, Biggin responded that he planned to leave. (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 20).

         As Biggin began walking toward the taxi, Berger followed him. Berger asked to see his driver's license. (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 21). Biggin did not comply but continued on toward the taxi. (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 23). Berger kept following Biggin, repeatedly demanding to see Biggin's license. (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 26). Again, Biggin refused, asking Berger why he needed to see Biggin's license. (Doc. 1 at 4 ¶ 26).

         While leaving, with Berger following, Biggin, yelled, “fuck you” at Berger. (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 24). As Biggin was approaching the taxi, Berger instructed the taxi driver not to leave. (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 27).

         Deputy Sheriff Gonia arrived as Biggin walked away from the taxi. (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 29). Sometime thereafter, Berger, with other officers, including Deputy Gonia, assisting, tackled Biggin to the ground, pinned him down, handcuffed him, and arrested him. (Doc. 1 at 4-5, ¶ 29).[2]Biggin resisted, asked why the officers were arresting him and why he needed to show his license, and claimed he “d[id] nothing wrong.” (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 31).

         Next, either Berger or Gonia (though Biggin cannot remember which) drove Biggin to the Lucas County Jail. (Doc. 1 at 5, ¶ 34; Doc. 42-1 at 97). Berger and Gonia, along with Lucas County Jail employees, booked Biggin into the jail, where he stayed overnight in a holding cell. (Doc. 1 at 5, ¶ 34; Doc. 42-1 at 209). Biggin claims that he asked Berger and Gonia to explain why they arrested him, but they ignored his questions. (Doc. 1 at 5, ¶ 34; Doc. 42-1 at 209).

         While in holding, Biggin received a slip of paper, listing the charges against him, through the cell door. (Doc. 1 at 5, ¶ 36). Biggin posted bond, and jail personnel released him. (Doc. 1 at 6, ¶ 37; Doc. 42-1 at 208). He claims that jail personnel threatened not to release him if he declined to sign for the acceptance of charges. (Doc. 1 at 6, ¶ 37). Though he signed that document, Biggin never admitted guilt to any charge alleged. (Doc. 1 at 6, ¶ 42).

         Several months later, the Oregon Municipal Court prosecutor dismissed charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice, and continued a charge of resisting arrest “to the call of the prosecutor.”[3]

         Standard of Review

         Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not provide for a motion for reconsideration, the Sixth Circuit has held that I may treat such a motion as a motion to alter or amend a judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). Smith v. Hudson, 600 F.2d 60, 62 (6th Cir. 1979). I may grant a motion to amend or alter judgment if there is a clear error of law or newly discovered evidence exists, an intervening change in controlling law occurs, or to prevent manifest injustice. See Gencorp, Inc. v. Am. Int'l Underwriters, 178 F.3d 804, 834 (6th Cir. 1999).


         Biggin contends that he has new evidence justifying reconsideration of my February 13, 2018 order dismissing all defendants except Officer Berger and Deputy Gonia. Specifically, Biggin claims that I should rejoin the State of Ohio, the Lucas County Sheriff's Department, and the City of Oregon. He bases his motion on portions of Berger's deposition testimony that, he claims, reveal two newly discovered circumstances indicative of liability on the part of the governmental entities.

         First, that: the Sheriff's Department implanted a policy whereby officers relied on a list, posted on the jail booking area wall, of Ohio Revised Code section citations, to which officers could refer when preparing charging documents. Biggin refers to this list as a “cheat sheet.” (Doc. 40 at 2).

         Second, that: the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Lucas County Sheriff, and the City of Oregon Police Department maintained a custom in conjunction with Maumee Bay where those entities' officers acted as “private security guards” and, further that those defendants failed to train the officers adequately for that duty. (Doc. 40 at 6).

         I. The State Is Immune from Damages Claims Under the Eleventh Amendment

         The State argues that Biggin's claims against it fail because the Eleventh Amendment insulates it entirely from entry of a money judgment against it, and because it is not a “person” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 44 at 5). Biggin does not respond to this argument. Instead, he asserts that the entity “which appears to be the State of Ohio” is a necessary party to this case. (Doc. 49 at 1).

         I agree with the State.

         A. The Eleventh Amendment Protects The State From Money Judgments

         The Eleventh Amendment “bars suits brought in federal court against a state and its agencies unless the state has waived its sovereign immunity or consented to be sued in federal court.” Grinter v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567, 572 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Will v. Michigan ...

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