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Dixon v. Williams

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

August 20, 2019

TYRONE DIXON, Plaintiff,
JOHN M. WILLIAMS, et al., Defendants.

          Barrett, J.


          Stephanie K. Bowman United States Magistrate Judge.

         On March 5, 2019, Plaintiff Tyrone Dixon, presently incarcerated at the Southeastern Correctional Institution in Lancaster, Ohio, tendered a civil rights complaint together with an application to proceed in forma pauperis. Pursuant to local practice, the case has been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge. The case is now before the undersigned on multiple motions filed by both Plaintiff and Defendants. For the reasons that follow, I now recommend that this case be DISMISSED.

         I. Background

         On April 16, 2019, the undersigned granted Plaintiff's application to commence his case in forma pauperis, while directing Plaintiff to pay the full filing fee of $350.00 through periodic payments calculated from the income credited to Plaintiff's prison account, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). (Doc. 6). On the same date, the undersigned issued an order noting that the complaint was subject to initial screening under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, § 804, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); § 805, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Unlike most prisoner-litigants who seek to proceed in forma pauperis, Plaintiff here does not proceed pro se, but is represented by an attorney who appears frequently in this Court.[1] Without discussion of any specific claims, the § 1915(e) screening Order states simply: “At this stage in the proceedings…the undersigned concludes that the complaint is deserving of further development and may proceed at this juncture.” (Doc. 8 at 1). A more detailed summary of Plaintiff's allegations appears below, but Plaintiff generally invokes this Court's federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §1331 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and invokes supplemental jurisdiction over additional claims alleged under state law. After concluding that Plaintiff's claims were sufficient to proceed “at this juncture, ” the Court ordered service on Plaintiff's behalf by the United States Marshal, with the costs of service to be advanced by the United States.

         Five motions are currently pending before the Court, including one motion relating to service issues. Despite the grant of in forma pauperis status and the Court's Order directing service on Plaintiff's behalf by the U.S. Marshal, Plaintiff's counsel made a request of the Clerk of Court for the issuance of summons forms. (Doc. 4). The record reflects that Plaintiff's counsel attempted to serve the Defendants, and filed “executed” copies of summons forms addressed to various Defendants on April 18, 2019, June 22, 2019, and June 24, 2019. (Docs. 9, 10, 11). In the meantime, the U.S. Marshal complied with the Court's order and separately served the various Defendants on Plaintiff's behalf. The U.S. Marshal filed executed summons forms on August 1, 2019. (Doc. 30).

         On July 8, 2019, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking the entry of a default judgment against Defendant Benjamin Peterson. (Doc. 17). The next day, Defendant Peterson filed both a response in opposition to the application for entry of default, and a motion to dismiss all claims against him based upon insufficiency of service of process. (Docs. 20, 21). On July 19, 2019, Plaintiff filed a memorandum in opposition to dismissal and in support of the entry of default. (Doc. 26).

         In addition to motions related to service on Defendant Peterson, other Defendants have moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). On June 25, 2019, Defendants Denise Driehaus, Chris Monzel, and Todd Portune, all members of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners (hereinafter “the Board”), filed a motion to dismiss all claims against them for failure to state a claim, to which Plaintiff filed a response, and Defendants filed a reply. (Docs. 14, 16, 22). On July 15, 2019, Defendant John M. Williams filed a separate motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 25). Plaintiff has filed no timely response to Defendant Williams' motion. Last, Plaintiff recently filed a motion to amend the complaint.[2] (Doc. 29). Although the time for filing a response has not yet expired, judicial economy favors addressing Plaintiff's motion to amend in this R&R.

         II. Standard of Review

         When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff and to accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) and Lewis v. ACB Business Services, 135 F.3d 389, 405 (6th Cir. 1998). A court, however, will not accept conclusions of law or unwarranted inferences which are presented as factual allegations. Blackburn v. Fisk University, 443 F.2d 121, 124 (6th Cir. 1974). Instead, a complaint must contain either direct or reasonable inferential allegations that support all material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory. Lewis v. ACB, 135 F.3d at 405 (internal citations omitted). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted); Association of Cleveland Fire Fighters v. City of Cleveland, Ohio, 502 F.3d 545, 548 (6th Cir. 2007). A complaint will generally survive under Rule 12(b)(6) standards if it contains sufficient factual content “that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Reilly v. Vadlamudi, 680 F.3d 617, 622-23 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Ashcraft v. Iqbal, 29 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). By contrast, if a defendant has filed a well-supported and meritorious motion to dismiss that clearly illustrates that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim, the motion will be granted.

         Here, the Defendants' well-supported motions should be granted. It is worth noting that the legal standard of review for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is technically the same as the standard of review for failure to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) or 1915A. See Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-471 (6th Cir.2010). However, the frame of reference differs significantly. Screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) is extremely liberal.[3] The perspective of this Court, examining the complaint on a superficial level without benefit of briefing, differs from that of an opposing party who has an incentive to thoroughly explore all possible legal arguments in a subsequent motion to dismiss or motion for judgment on the pleadings. Necessarily constrained by limitations of time and resources in the course of its initial sua sponte examination, this Court frequently will permit “further development” of a weak legal claim by requiring a defendant to file an answer or response.

         At this time, however, in addition to granting Defendants' motions, the undersigned concludes that additional claims should be dismissed sua sponte pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A. Notwithstanding the undersigned's initial screening order permitting all claims to proceed, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) expressly permits dismissal “at any time if the court determines that ... the action or appeal ... fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” Id. (emphasis added). Therefore, the statute itself allows dismissal based upon a subsequent redetermination that no claim has been stated, even if the court's initial inclination was to let the claim proceed. In the case presented, Defendants' well-reasoned motions, in combination with Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend the complaint, have caused the undersigned to take a fresh look at the pleading.

         III. Analysis

         A. The Defendants' Two Motions to Dismiss

         Both the Board and Defendant Williams argue that Plaintiff has failed to state any claim against them. The complaint alleges that Plaintiff resided at the Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Center from an unspecified date in January 2018 through May 7, 2018.[4] (Doc. 2 at ¶7). Plaintiff alleges that on two days in May 2018, Defendant Correctional Officer Peterson verbally threatened to break Plaintiff's arm. (Id. at ¶9). Either on one of the same days or on some other date, Defendant Peterson also allegedly threatened to place Plaintiff in isolation in a “dirty, bad room” “because Dixon was wrapping around ‘my birthday' which is May 7th.” (Id. at ¶11).[5] Plaintiff alleges that, two months earlier in March 2018, Peterson was involved in an incident with someone named “Hoskins, ” and that Peterson “broke Hoskins['] arm in three places.” (Id. at ¶13).

         Plaintiff asserts five causes of action against the entire group of Defendants: (1) Freedom of Speech; (2) Failure to Train, Instruct and Supervise; (3) Ohio Constitution and Laws of Ohio Assault; (4) Common Law Negligence; and (5) Ohio Constitution and Laws of Ohio Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.[6] The first two causes of action purport to allege violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, whereas the remaining three causes of action rely on state law.

         The only reference to either the Board or Judge Williams contained in the entire complaint states in relevant part:

Judge Williams is responsible for the Juvenile Detention Center and appoints Superintendent of the Detention Center…. [T]he Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and Judge Williams are responsible for regulating and supervising Hamilton County Ohio Juvenile Court Detention Center.

(Id. at ¶3).

         The undersigned takes judicial notice that both the Board and Judge Williams recently filed motions to dismiss or for judgment as a matter of law in another case in which a different inmate housed at the Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Center, represented by the same counsel, also filed suit against the Board and Judge Williams, among others. See Godfrey v. Hamilton County Juvenile Court, John M. Williams, Administrator, Case No. 1:18-cv-663-SJD-KLL. Although the underlying facts of Godfrey differ from those presented here, the essence of the Plaintiff's allegations against the Board and Judge Williams do not. On July 18, 2019, Magistrate Judge Litkovitz filed a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) that recommends granting the Defendants' motions to dismiss claims against them in the Godfrey case. The undersigned finds Judge Litkovitz's reasoning to be compelling, and adopts it in its entirety.

         1. Plaintiff's § 1983 Claims Against the Board and Judge Williams

         In this case as in Godfrey, the Board argues that the authority of County Commissioners is limited, and that the Defendant Board members have no operational control of the county juvenile detention center where Plaintiff alleges that any injuries took place. “The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners has no role or authority to determine who is hired as a deputy by the superintendent of the Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Center, how those employees are trained, how they are discipline[d], or how the facility is operated.” (Doc. 14 at 3). Plaintiff's primary argument in response is that it is not the Court's task “to undertake an exhaustive analysis of the legal validity of the claims in the suit…., ” and that all that is required to give the defendants fair notice of what the claims are and the grounds upon which the claims rest. (Doc. 16 at 4). Plaintiff further alleges that the Board's website shows “they have some responsibility” for the Detention Center.” (Id. at 5). Plaintiff asserts that whether the Board breached a duty and proximately caused harm to Plaintiff will require discovery. (Id.)

         For the reasons stated by Magistrate Judge Litkovitz in her recent analysis of the same arguments, the Defendant Board is entitled to dismissal of all § 1983 claims alleged by Plaintiff:

Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim for relief against the Board under § 1983. An Ohio county can be sued under § 1983 through its board of commissioners. Smith v. Grady, 960 F.Supp.2d 735, 740 (S.D. Ohio 2013) (citing Ohio Rev. Code § 305.12). Plaintiff's complaint against the Board is in reality an official capacity suit against Hamilton County, the entity of which the Board is an agent. Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). See also Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989). Municipalities and counties are not vicariously liable for the actions of their employees under § 1983. Id. “It is firmly established that a municipality, or as in this case a county, cannot be held liable under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents.” Gregory v. Shelby County, Tenn., 220 F.3d 433, 441 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694). To state a claim for relief under § 1983 against a county, plaintiff must allege that his “injuries were the result of an unconstitutional policy or custom” of the county. Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994); see also Monell, 436 U.S. at 694; Doe v. Claiborne Cnty., 103 F.3d 495, 507 (6th Cir. 1996). Cf. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981) (municipal policy must be “moving force” behind constitutional deprivation). A plaintiff may show the existence of an unlawful policy or custom by demonstrating “(1) the existence of an illegal official policy or legislative enactment; (2) that an official with final decision making authority ratified illegal actions; (3) the existence of a policy of inadequate training or supervision; or (4) the existence of a custom of tolerance or acquiescence of federal rights violations.” Burgess v. Fischer, 735 F.3d 462, 478 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Thomas v. City of Chattanooga, 398 F.3d 426, 429 (6th Cir. 2005)). Counties and other governmental entities cannot be held responsible for a constitutional deprivation unless there is a direct causal link between a policy or custom and the alleged deprivation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691; Deaton v. Montgomery Cnty., Ohio, 989 F.2d 885, 889 (6th Cir. 1993).

Godfrey, Doc. 43, R&R at 6-7, 2019 WL 3239259 at *3 (S.D. Ohio July 18, 2019).

         In the above-captioned case, Plaintiff seeks to impose liability on the Board for injuries that allegedly were caused by a single correctional officer. For the reasons explained below, the undersigned concludes that none of Plaintiff's factual allegations state any claim as a matter of law. Even if the instant complaint otherwise stated a claim against any identified Defendant, however, the undersigned still concurs with and adopts the analysis of Judge Litkovitz:

Plaintiff contends that the Detention Center is part of the Juvenile Court and, by extension, the Board is responsible for Detention Center employees…. Plaintiff's barebones allegation that the Board is responsible for regulating and supervising the Juvenile Court and the Detention Center and therefore [is] liable in this case is an attempt to impose vicarious liability on the Board. This is an insufficient basis to state a claim for relief under § 1983… In addition, plaintiff has alleged no facts indicating that Detention Center employees violated his constitutional rights pursuant to a policy or custom of the County. Plaintiff's allegations are insufficient to support the imposition of liability on the Board for the alleged acts and omissions of the Detention Center employees under a failure to train or any other theory of liability. Burgess, 735 F.3d at 478. Thus, plaintiff has failed to state an actionable claim for relief against the Board based on the theory of municipal liability. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 693-94. Plaintiff's 1983 claim against the Board should be dismissed.

Id., Doc. 43 at 7-8, 2019 WL 3239259 at *4 (additional internal citations and footnote omitted).

         Defendant Williams is entitled to dismissal of Plaintiff's § 1983 claims for similar reasons.[7] Notably, Plaintiff has filed no timely response in opposition to the motion filed by Judge Williams, which motion is persuasive. Finding no need to reinvent the wheel, the undersigned adopts Judge Litkovitz's well-reasoned analysis as to Plaintiff Dixon's claims against Judge Williams in his official capacity:

Plaintiff's amended complaint against defendant Williams in his official capacity should be dismissed. Any form of relief sought against a State in federal court is barred under the Eleventh Amendment unless the State has waived its sovereign immunity. See Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Fla., 517 U.S. 44, 58 (1996); Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-101 (1984); Hamilton's Bogarts, Inc. v. Mich., 501 F.3d 644, 654 n.8 (6th Cir. 2007). The State of Ohio has not constitutionally nor statutorily waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity in the federal courts. See Johns v. Supreme Court of Ohio, 753 F.2d 524 (6th Cir. 1985); State of Ohio v. Madeline Marie Nursing Homes, 694 F.2d 449 (6th Cir. 1982). The Eleventh Amendment bar extends to actions where the state is not a named party, but where the action is essentially one for the recovery of money from the state. Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974); Ford Motor Company v. Dept. of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459, 464 (1945). A suit against state officials in their official capacities would, in reality, be a way of pleading the action against the entity of which the state officials are agents. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690. Thus, actions against state officials in their official capacities are included in this bar. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232 (1974). See also Calvin v. Caruso, 605 F.3d 282, 289 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Cady v. Arenac County, 574 F.3d 334, 344 (6th Cir. 2009)) (“[A]n official-capacity suit against a state official is deemed to be a suit against the state and is thus barred by the Eleventh Amendment, absent a waiver.”) (citation and ellipsis omitted).
A claim against a Juvenile Court judge in his official capacity is treated as a suit against the Juvenile Court, which is an arm of the state. Smith v. Grady, 960 F.Supp.2d 735, 752 (S.D. Ohio 2013). This Court has previously held that because the Hamilton County Juvenile Court is an arm of the state, a juvenile court judge who is sued in his or her official capacity is entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. Id. See also Hunter v. Hamilton County, No. 1:15-cv-540, 2016 WL 11463840, at *6 (S.D. Ohio May 5, 2016) (Report and Recommendation), adopted, 2016 WL 4836810 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 15, 2016) (citing Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25-26 (1991)) (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 66-71; Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 340-41 (1979)). Therefore, defendant Williams, in his official capacity, is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Plaintiff's § 1983 claim against Williams in his official capacity should be dismissed.

Godfrey, 2019 WL 3239259 at **4-5 (internal footnote omitted). The undersigned further agrees with Defendant Williams that the Hamilton County Juvenile Court is not an entity capable of being sued. See also Id. at 5, n.3.

         The undersigned finds equally compelling Godfrey's analysis of identical § 1983 claims filed against Judge Williams in his individual capacity:

Plaintiff's sole allegation against Williams in support of the § 1983 claim is that he is “responsible for regulating and supervising [the] Hamilton County Ohio Juvenile Court.” …
* * * * *
An individual-capacity suit under § 1983 must be premised on more than respondeat superior liability. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. 676; Monell, 436 U.S. at 691. “[Section] 1983 liability of supervisory personnel must be based on more than the right to control employees.” Bellamy v. Bradley, 729 F.2d 416, 421 (6th Cir. 1984). The “failure of a supervisory official to supervise, control, or train the offending individual officers is not actionable absent a showing that the official either encouraged the specific incident of misconduct or in some other way directly participated in it. At a minimum a plaintiff must show that the official at least implicitly authorized, approved, or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending officers.” Hays v. Jefferson County, 668 F.2d 869, 874 (6th Cir. 1982); see also McQueen v. Beecher Community Schools, 433 F.3d 460, 470 (6th Cir. 2006). Liability under § 1983 is premised on active unconstitutional behavior and not a mere failure to act. Greene v. Barber, 310 F.3d 889, 899 (6th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).
Plaintiff alleges no facts indicating that Williams “either encouraged the specific incident of misconduct or in some other way directly participated in it, ” or that he “at least implicitly authorized, approved, or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending officers.” See Hays, 668 F.2d at 874. Plaintiff's allegations that Williams has supervisory responsibility for the Juvenile Court and did not train, instruct, or supervise employees of the Detention Center are vague and conclusory. Under Ohio law, the Detention Center Superintendent, and not the Juvenile Court judge, is responsible for managing and supervising Detention Center employees. See Ohio Rev. Code § 2151.70. Plaintiff essentially alleges vicarious liability against defendant Williams, which cannot support a § 1983 claim against Williams. The § 1983 claim brought against Williams in his individual capacity should be dismissed.

Id. at *5.

         In addition to the reasons stated by Judge Litkovitz, to the extent that Plaintiff asserts a violation of “Freedom of Speech” under “Article 1, §11 of the Ohio Constitution, ” (Doc. 2 at ¶ 17), Plaintiff's claim fails because there is no private cause of action for relief for violations of the Ohio Constitution. See, e.g., Provens v. Stark Cty. Bd. of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities, 64 Ohio St.3d 252, 261, 594 N.E.2d 959, 966 (Ohio 1992).

         2. Plaintiff's State Law Claims Against the Board ...

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