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Helfinstine v. Lawless

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

August 29, 2019

SCOTT W. HELFINSTINE, Plaintiff,
v.
MR. LAWLESS, et al., Defendants.

          Black, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Karen L. Litkovitz United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, a prisoner at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF), has filed a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Mr. Lawless, Mrs. Linnea Mahlman, Mr. Steven, and Mr. D. Lewis. On sua sponte screening by the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b)(1), plaintiffs claims were dismissed with the exception of plaintiff s First Amendment retaliation claim against defendant Lawless and his Eighth Amendment claims against defendants Lawless, Lewis, and Steven. This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 14), plaintiffs memorandum in opposition (Doc. 16), and defendants' reply memorandum (Doc. 17).

         I. Allegations of the complaint

         Plaintiff alleges that he was denied recreation in August, September, and October of 2017 while an inmate at SOCF. (See Doc. 3). Plaintiff also claims that as a result of filing informal complaint resolutions concerning the denial of recreation he was subjected to retaliation and other violations of his First and Eighth Amendment rights.

         II. Legal Standard

         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'l Collegiate Athletic Ass 'n, 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 Or., Inc. v. Ill. 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 Ashcroft 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)).

         III. Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings should be granted.

         Defendants move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) on the basis that plaintiff made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his claims under Ohio Rev. Code § 2743.02(A)(I) by filing suit in the Ohio Court of Claims based on the same set of acts or omissions as this case. (Doc. 14). Defendants therefore argue that plaintiffs claims are barred under the Leaman doctrine of the Sixth Circuit. (Id. at 4).

         Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings should be granted because plaintiffs claims are barred under Leaman v. Ohio Dept. of Mental Retardation & Dev. Disabilities, 825 F.2d 946 (6th Cir. 1987). Ohio Rev. Code § 2743.02(A)(1) provides, in part, that "filing a civil action in the court of claims results in a complete waiver of any cause of action, based on the same act or omission, that the filing party has against any officer or employee.. . ." The waiver applies to federal causes of actions as well as causes of action based on state law. Savage v. Gee, 665 F.3d 732, 738 (6th Cir. 2012) ("federal damages claims against state officials are barred where claims based on the same act or omission were previously raised in the Court of Claims-----") (citing Leaman v. Ohio Dept. of Mental Retardation & Dev. Disabilities, 825 F.2d 946 (6th Cir. 1987) (en banc)). See also Thomson v. Harmony, 65 F.3d 1314, 1318 (6th Cir. 1995) (explaining that the Court of Claims Act established a "quidpro quo, in which the state consents to be sued in exchange for a plaintiffs waiver of claims against the state's employees").

         A plaintiffs choice to pursue relief in the Court of Claims must be "knowing, intelligent, and voluntary." Easley v. Cooper, 1:16-cv-338, 2017 WL 4857605, at *2-5 (S.D. Ohio Oct. 25, 2017) (Report and Recommendation), adopted, 2017 WL 5594125 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 21, 2017) (quoting Leaman, 825 F.2d at 956). In Leaman, the plaintiff made a knowing and voluntary waiver of her federal cause of action because she was represented by counsel at the time the Court of Claims action was filed. Id. ("The finding that the waiver was 'knowing, intelligent, and voluntary' presumably rests upon the fact that Ms. Leaman was represented by competent counsel when she filed her action in the Court of Claims, and counsel must be presumed to have known what the Court of Claims Act said. Under the circumstances of this case, we consider this an adequate foundation for the finding of voluntariness."). "In contrast, this presumption does not automatically apply to pro se litigants and district courts must make a factual determination as to whether a pro se litigant knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waived federal claims when filing suit in the Ohio Court of Claims." Easley, 2017 WL 4857605, at *2-5 (citing Kajfasz v. Haviland, 55 Fed.Appx. 719, 722 (6th Cir. 2003)). The Court considers a number of factors in determining whether a waiver is sufficient, including: the number of cases litigated, proper caption, identification of proper jurisdictional statutes, relevant statutes for the constitutional claims, and the specific identification of R.C. § 2743.02 "which [would] illustrate[] that [the plaintiff] was on notice that he would waive his claims ... by filing suit there." Brooks v. McCoy, No. 1:15-cv-39, 2015 WL 4538512, at *2 (S.D. Ohio July 27, 2015).

         Plaintiff filed a complaint against the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Mr. Lawless, Mrs. Linnea Mahlman, Mr. Steven, and Mr. D. Lewis in the Ohio Court of Claims on September 26, 2018. See Case Information, 2018-0310JD Scott Helfmstine v. Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, OHIO COURT OF CLAIMS, https://ohcourtportal.tylerhost.net/Portal/Home/WorkspaceMode?p=0 (last visited Aug. 29, 2019).[1] Plaintiff acknowledges his filing in the Ohio Court of Claims, but he alleges he filed the case "for a different reason." Plaintiff alleges, "I am suing ODRC for continuing to allow what goes on here to go on with a blind eye and[d] deaf ears just so they don't have to speak on it." (Doc. 16 at 5). Contrary to plaintiffs allegations, his complaint in the instant federal case was not filed for "a different reason." Rather, the complaint filed in federal court appears to be virtually identical to the complaint he filed in the Ohio Court of Claims, with the exception of the first page which identifies 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as the statutory basis for his federal claims, while his Ohio Court of Claims complaint alleges "[t]his is a prison conditions claim authorized by 2743.02(F) of the Ohio Revised Code.. . ." Plaintiffs federal court complaint names the same defendants with the exception of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. All of the remaining factual allegations and prayers for relief of both complaints are identical.

         The Court therefore concludes that plaintiffs federal lawsuit arises from the same acts or omission alleged in the Ohio Court of Claims case. While "an identity of claims and defendants is not required" and “[t]he waiver applies to any cause of action, based on the same acts or omissions, which plaintiff may have against any officer or employee of the state," Easley, 2008 WL 618642, at *2, given the virtually identical complaints filed by plaintiff in both courts there is no ...


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