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Hatfield v. Gmoser

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

September 6, 2019

Jasen Hatfield, Plaintiff,
Michael T. Gmoser, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter is before the Court upon the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Michael T. Gmoser. (Doc. 22). Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. 29), and Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 32). Also before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Submit Newly Uncovered Evidence in Opposition to the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 33); and Defendant's Response in Opposition (Doc. 34) and Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. 35).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jasen Hatfield has served as a Butler County Deputy Sheriff since 2005. Defendant Michael T. Gmoser is the elected Butler County Prosecutor. Plaintiff claims that a July 6, 2015 letter written by Defendant to Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones caused him to be reassigned from road patrol to prisoner transport and harmed his reputation. Plaintiff claims the letter was motivated by a personal vendetta Defendant had against Plaintiff.[1]

         Defendant intended his letter to be for Sheriff Jones only. (Doc. 20, Michael Gmoser Dep. Vol. I, PAGEID# 703). Defendant raised two concerns. (Id. at PAGEID# 767). The first concern was based on a search and arrest conducted by Plaintiff. (Id.) Defendant learned the details of the search and arrest from a transcript of a hearing where Plaintiff testified. (Id. at PAGEID# 692). Plaintiff testified that he arrived at a house at 2:30 in the morning to serve an outstanding warrant on Robert Lewis. (Doc. 18-1, PAGEID# 455). Plaintiff testified that Lewis' girlfriend gave him permission to search the house. (Id. at PAGEID# 458). Plaintiff explained that after finding the bathroom door locked, he kicked in the door and “nearly slipped” on clothes which were on the floor, “nearly injuring” himself. (Id. at PAGEID# 460-461). Plaintiff explained that he charged Lewis with felony obstructing official business and misdemeanor resisting arrest because he had to kick in the door and almost fell. (Id. at PAGEID# 461).

         Based on the transcript, Defendant determined that Plaintiff conducted an illegal, unconstitutional search of a private citizen's home at 2:30 am. (Gmoser Dep. Vol. I, PAGEID# 696). Defendant saw a situation where Plaintiff or Lewis' girlfriend could have been shot. (Id.) Defendant was also concerned that the County would be sued in a § 1983 action based on Plaintiff's conduct. (Id.). Defendant wanted the Sheriff to conduct an investigation and make sure deputies were trained on how to conduct constitutional searches. (Id. at 697). Defendant attached the transcript to the letter he wrote to the Sheriff. (Id. at PAGEID# 703).

         Defendant's second concern was that an “informed source” had told him that Plaintiff “has a pattern of overcharging for the purpose of gaining overtime from court proceedings because of a heavy child support obligation and has increased court time by separating cases so as to be scheduled in both morning and afternoon court sessions.” (Doc. 2, PAGEID# 28). In the letter, Defendant explained:

As a result, this matter has gone from the need for simple remedial education of a zealous deputy to consideration of criminal conduct by a rogue deputy. Offenses that may apply if the allegations are true are theft in office and a pattern of corrupt activity-a second degree felony. Authorities are attached for easy reference.

(Id. at PAGEID# 29).

         On July 8, 2015, Plaintiff was given a copy of the letter and was notified that the Sheriff's Office would investigate the allegations in the letter. (Doc. 18, Jasen Hatfield Dep. at PAGEID# 124-125). That same day, Plaintiff was reassigned from road patrol to prisoner transport. (Id. at PAGEID# 124). Plaintiff remained in that assignment until October of 2016. (Id.) Plaintiff showed the letter to: Sergeant Jeff Gebhart; Assistant Prosecutors John Heinkel, Josh Muennich, and David Kash; and defense attorneys Gary McGee, Jon Fox, and Mike Shanks. (Id. at PAGEID# 217-218; 220; 222; 227).

         Plaintiff claims that because of the letter, he lost opportunities for overtime and suffered harm to his reputation. In response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff abandoned his claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and tortious interference with contract. Plaintiff's remaining claims are violation of the right to substantive due process and defamation.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Motion for Summary Judgment

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The moving party has the burden of showing an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden of production, the non-moving party cannot rest on his pleadings, but must present significant probative ...

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