United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER
R. ADAMS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
se Plaintiff Tae Juan Williams filed this action against
the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department, and
Trumbull-Ashtabula County Task Force Detective Michael Davis.
In the Complaint, Plaintiff challenges the validity of a
search warrant used to search his home which led to arrest on
drug charges. He seeks monetary damages and return of the
drugs, drug paraphernalia, firearms, and United States
currency confiscated during the search.
filed an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.
That Application is granted.
alleges he was arrested at his home on March 1, 2019. He
states he heard a loud banging on his side door. When he
opened the door, he was told to freeze, turn around, put his
hands up and walk backward. An officer conducted a pat down
search while other officers executed a search warrant.
Officers asked for his name and transmitted that information
to dispatch. Dispatched responded that Plaintiff had an
outstanding warrant for his arrest. He was taken into custody
on that outstanding warrant and was transported to the
Trumbull County Jail.
indicates that after he was released from jail, he was
provided a copy of the search warrant. He states his copy of
the warrant was not notarized and did not contain the
judge's signature. He further alleges the warrant did not
identify him or authorize his arrest. He asserts this is a
violation of his First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and return
of the items listed on the inventory sheet, which consist of
eleven packs of Suboxone, over $4, 000 in United States
currency, 7 bags of marijuana, 2 containers of mushrooms, 1
bag containing 76 white pills, 1 bag containing 10 white
pills, 1 bag containing 5.5 yellow pills, 1 bag containing an
unspecified number of pink pills, 5 bottles of unknown pills,
a bowl of unidentified powder, and a plastic jar of unknown
Standard of Review
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
district 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).
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).
initial matter, the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department
is not sui juris, meaning it is not a legal entity
that is capable of suing or being sued for purposes of 42
U.S.C. § 1983. See e.g, Petty v. County of Franklin,
Ohio, 478 F.3d 341 (6th Cir. 2007), abrogated on
other grounds by Bailey v. City of Ann Arbor,
860 F.3d 382, 389 (6th Cir. 2017); Barrett v.
Wallace, 107 F.Supp.2d 949 (S.D. Ohio 2000)
(“[T]he Sheriff's Office is not a proper legal
entity and, therefore, is not subject to suit or liability
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983”); Lawson v. City of
Youngstown, 912 F.Supp.2d 527, 531 (N.D. Ohio 2012)
(“Courts have held that under Ohio law police
departments and county sheriff's offices are not sui
juris and may not be sued in their own right”)
(citing Jones v. Marcum, 197 F.Supp.2d 991, 997
(S.D. Ohio 2002) (in a § 1983 case, finding police
department was not sui juris under Ohio law);
Papp v. Snyder, 81 F.Supp.2d 852, 857 n. 4 (N.D.
Ohio 2000) (same)). See also Kannenberg v. Foos,
2018 WL 4305501 at * 3 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 10, 2018); Swope
v. Dubos, 2015 WL 6460047 at * 1 (N.D. Ohio Oct. 22,
2015); Elkins v. Summit County, Ohio, 2008 WL 622038
(N.D. Ohio March 5, 2008). Plaintiff's claims against the
Sheriff's Department are liberally construed as asserted
against Trumbull County.
however, fails to state a claim against Trumbull County. 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 can only be held liable
when its own official policy or custom inflicts the
constitutional injury. 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
alleges law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at
his home, and arrested him when they discovered an
outstanding warrant for his arrest. Although he challenges
the validity of the search warrant, he does not identify a
custom or policy of Trumbull County that played a role in the
creation, execution or service of the warrant.
Plaintiff fails to allege facts suggesting Davis violated his
constitutional rights. It is not clear from the Complaint
what Davis's role was in the search or Plaintiff's
arrest. 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). Plaintiff alleges in his preliminary statement
that Davis “dba Trumbull County Detective et al,
Trumbull-Ashtabula County Law Enforcement et al, Trumbull
County Sheriff's Department” unlawfully detained
him, searched his property without a warrant. (Doc. No. 1 at
1). The body of the Complaint does not contain any
allegations that pertain to Davis. Simply stating in general
terms that the Defendant was associated with the search is
insufficient to hold that Defendant liable in his individual
Plaintiff does not indicate whether charges were filed
against him and if so, whether they are still pending. To the
extent the criminal charges against him are still pending,
this Court must abstain from hearing challenges to the state
court proceedings, including a challenge to the validity of
the search warrant. A federal court must decline to interfere
with pending state proceedings involving important state
interests unless extraordinary circumstances are present.
See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44-45 (1971).
When a person is the target of an ongoing state action
involving important state matters, he or she cannot interfere
with the pending state action by maintaining a parallel
federal action involving claims that could have been raised
in the state case. Watts v. Burkhart, 854 F.2d 839,
844-48 (6th Cir.1988). If the state Defendant files such a
case, Younger abstention requires the federal court to defer
to the state proceeding. Id; see also Pennzoil
Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 15 (1987). Based on
these principles, abstention is appropriate if: (1) state
proceedings are on-going; (2) the state proceedings implicate
important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings
afford an adequate opportunity to raise federal questions.