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Deters v. Drexel

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

December 27, 2019

Eric C. Deters, Plaintiff,
v.
Scott Drexel, [1] et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MICHAEL R. BARRETT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court upon the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Ohio Disciplinary Counsel Scott Drexel, Chief Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Joseph M. Caligiuri, and Members of the Board on the Unauthorized Practice of Law (“UPL Board”), Richard L. Creighton, Jr., Kent C. Kiffner, Jamar T. King, Paul T. Kirner, David Kutik, Amy Lewis, Edward T. Mohler, Jan A. Saurman, Wednesday G. Shipp, James S. Simon, David Tom, David E. Tschantz, and Alfred P. Vargas. (Doc. 10). Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. 18) and Defendants filed Reply (Doc. 19).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order. (Doc. 20). On December 20, 2019, the Court held an informal hearing regarding Plaintiff's Motion pursuant to S.D. Ohio Civ. R. 65.1. During the hearing, the parties agreed that the Court should rule on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss before addressing Plaintiff's Motion for Temporary Restraining Order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Eric C. Deters brings constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is a former attorney associated with the Deters Law Firm. The Deters Law Firm represents a large number of plaintiffs in claims brought against Abubakar Atiq Durrani, M.D., his former medical practice group and several hospitals (“Durrani litigation”). Plaintiff believes that Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor is seeking to deny justice to the plaintiffs in the Durrani litigation. As a result, the Deters Law Firm has filed four federal lawsuits against Chief Justice O'Connor and other members of the state judiciary. Plaintiff claims that Defendants have commenced unauthorized-practice-of-law proceedings against him in retaliation for filing these lawsuits. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief in order to enjoin the prosecution of unauthorized-practice-of-law proceedings.

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims based upon failure to state a claim. Defendants maintain that this Court should abstain from reviewing this case pursuant to the doctrine of abstention set forth in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), this Court must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Directv, Inc. v Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007)). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 provides that all pleadings must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although particular detail is not generally necessary, the factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” such that the claim “is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556-57 (2007). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         B. Younger abstention doctrine

         As the Sixth Circuit has explained: “Younger abstention derives from a desire to prevent federal courts from interfering with the functions of state criminal prosecutions and to preserve equity and comity.” Doe v. Univ. of Kentucky, 860 F.3d 365, 368 (6th Cir. 2017) (citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971)). The Supreme Court has extended the doctrine to ongoing administrative proceedings such as attorney disciplinary proceedings. Middlesex Cnty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 434-35, 102 S.Ct. 2515, 73 L.Ed.2d 116 (1982). Therefore, this case falls into one of the three “exceptional” categories identified by the Supreme Court in New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v. Council of New Orleans (“NOPSI”), 491 U.S. 350, 109 S.Ct. 2506, 105 L.Ed.2d 298 (1989) in which abstention under Younger may be required. See Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 571 U.S. 69, 78, 134 S.Ct. 584, 591, 187 L.Ed.2d 505 (2013).

         The Sixth Circuit has instructed that once a court determines that a case falls into a NOPSI category, the court should then determine whether Younger abstention is proper using the following three-factor test: If “(1) state proceedings are currently pending; (2) the proceedings involve an important state interest; and (3) the state proceedings will provide the federal plaintiff with an adequate opportunity to raise his constitutional claims, ” a court may abstain from hearing the federal claim. Aaron v. O'Connor, 914 F.3d 1010, 1018 (6th Cir. 2019) (quoting Doe, 860 F.3d at 369).

         Plaintiff argues that the third factor has not been met. Under this factor, Plaintiff bears the burden of showing ‘that the state procedural law barred presentation of its claims.'” Id. (quoting Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 14, 107 S.Ct. 1519, 95 L.Ed.2d 1 (1987)). Plaintiff has not met that burden here. Plaintiff argues that he cannot be given fair and impartial hearings due to the lack of neutral decision makers. However, the question is whether Plaintiff will have an adequate opportunity to raise his constitutional claims. See Chamber of Commerce of U.S. v. Ohio Elections Comm'n, 135 F.Supp.2d 857, 865 (S.D. Ohio 2001). As the Sixth Circuit has noted:

The final report of the UPL Board is subject to review by the Ohio Supreme Court. See Gov. Bar. R. VII, ยง 19(a). Nothing in Gov. Bar R. VII prohibits a party from raising constitutional claims during the Ohio Supreme Court's review of the UPL Board's final report. Absent evidence to the contrary, there is no reason to presume that the Ohio Supreme Court would not entertain ...

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