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Howell v. The Ohio State Highway Patrol Subdivision

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

December 2, 2019


          Black, J.


          Stephanie K. Bowman, United States Magistrate Judge

         Proceeding pro se, Plaintiff Lakisha Howell initiated this action by filing a complaint on July 25, 2018 that alleged that three Defendants had violated her constitutional rights. Pursuant to local practice, the case was referred to the undersigned for initial review and for a report and recommendation on any dispositive motions. Due to the early dismissal of multiple claims and two Defendants, this case proceeded through discovery on only one claim against Ohio State Trooper Aaron Shade. Defendant Shade has now moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, that motion should be GRANTED and this case should be DISMISSED.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

         Plaintiff Howell's original complaint identified three Defendants: the Ohio State Highway Patrol Subdivision, Aaron M. Shade, and Nick Croswell. Because Plaintiff sought to proceed in forma pauperis, the undersigned screened the initial complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). In a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) filed on August 8, 2018, the undersigned recommended the dismissal of all claims against two Defendants, as well as the dismissal of most claims against Defendant Shade, leaving only a single construed claim of malicious prosecution arising under the Fourth Amendment.

         On August 21, 2018, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint against Defendant Shade alone, voluntarily dismissing the two Defendants as to whom the undersigned had already recommended dismissal. (Doc. 6). In a Supplemental R&R filed on August 24, 2018, the undersigned rescreened Plaintiff's amended complaint under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B). The undersigned pointed out that despite the Court's determination that only a single, liberally construed claim of malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment against Defendant Shade had survived initial screening, Plaintiff's amended complaint did not appear to state any claims of “malicious prosecution.” Instead, the amended complaint appeared to reframe Plaintiff's claims as claims for “false imprisonment.” After explaining that any such claims would be time-barred for the same reasons that the Court previously had determined Plaintiff's claims for false arrest were time-barred, the undersigned reconsidered whether the amended complaint stated any claim that would survive initial screening:

Because her amended complaint does not characterize any claim as one for “malicious prosecution” and contains even fewer references to the previously construed Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant Shade, the undersigned finds it an even closer issue as to whether the Court should continue to liberally construe Plaintiff's claim as one for malicious prosecution, rather than taking at face value her own characterization of her claims as “false imprisonment.”

(Doc. 7 at 6). However, citing the “interests of justice” and the “extremely low screening bar of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), ” the undersigned allowed a construed “single claim of malicious prosecution against Defendant Shade” in his individual capacity to proceed. At the same time, the R&R made clear that the determination was without prejudice to the Defendant's subsequent right to move for dismissal based upon any appropriate motion. (Id. at 6-7).

         Thereafter, the Court conducted a telephonic scheduling conference. After that conference, the Court directed the parties to file any motions to further amend their pleadings on or before December 14, 2018, to complete discovery by May 30, 2019, and to file any dispositive motions by June 28, 2019. Two days prior to the deadline for filing any motion to amend her complaint, Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint without an accompanying motion or leave of Court. Despite that procedural irregularity, Defendant Shade filed an Answer to the second amended complaint on December 27, 2018.[1]

         Following the conclusion of the discovery period, [2] Defendant Shade timely moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff filed a response to that motion, to which Defendant has filed a reply.

         II. Standard of Review

         In a motion for summary judgment, a court must view “the facts and any inferences that can be drawn from those facts…in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Keweenaw Bay Indian Comm. v. Rising, 477 F.3d 881, 886 (6th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Summary judgment is only appropriate ‘if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “Weighing of the evidence or making credibility determinations are prohibited at summary judgment - rather, all facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Id.

         The requirement that facts be construed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, however, does not mean that the court must find a factual dispute where record evidence contradicts Plaintiff's unsupported allegations. If a moving party has carried its initial burden of showing that no genuine issues of material fact remain in dispute, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). “The ‘mere possibility' of a factual dispute is not enough.” Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d 577, 582 (6th Cir. 1992) (citing Gregg v. Allen-Bradley Co., 801 F.2d 859, 863 (6th Cir. 1986)). In order to defeat the motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must present probative evidence that supports its complaint. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). Although reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the opposing party, see Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587, inferences are not to be drawn out of thin air. To demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.... Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Id., 475 U.S. at 586-587 (citation omitted).

         To the extent that the Defendant has shown that Plaintiff lacks evidence on an essential element of any of her claims, the burden shifts to Plaintiff to set forth “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id., at 587. At this point, Plaintiff may not rely solely on her subjective beliefs or opinions. Arendale v. City of Memphis, 519 F.3d 587, 601 (6th Cir. 2008). She may not show only that some hypothetical doubt exists as to the facts. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476, 479 (6th Cir. 1995).

         Plaintiff's response in opposition to summary judgment includes references to a transcript and orders from her underlying state criminal prosecution, as well as investigatory documents relating to two OVI charges. (Doc. 26-1). None of the referenced documents contradict the legal arguments presented by the Defendant or suggest that any genuine issue of material fact remains in dispute. Therefore, the Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         III. ...

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