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Bechtel v. City of Eastlake

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 13, 2020

NADINE BECHTEL, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF EASTLAKE, OHIO, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants' Motion (ECF DKT #6) to Dismiss, and also following the Oral Hearing conducted on November 20, 2019, on the question of standing. For the following reasons, the captioned case is dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 20, 2019, Plaintiff Nadine Bechtel filed a Verified Complaint alleging violation of her rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by Defendants, City of Eastlake, Ohio and Judson Hawkins (the Eastlake Prosecutor) in his individual capacity.

         Plaintiff alleges that on May 2, 2019, the City of Eastlake and the Lake Humane Society executed a search and seizure warrant at 36370 Vine Street, Eastlake, Ohio. An organization named “Animal Rescue Center” operates an animal rescue at the Vine Street address. At the time, Plaintiff was the director of Animal Rescue Center. According to the Complaint, the warrant authorized “any humane agent or other Law Enforcement Officer of Lake County, Ohio” to search and seize property including live animals. Among the animals seized was Plaintiff's cat, “Prince Michael.” Plaintiff contends that she has a property interest in her cat and that Defendants violated her property rights secured by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         In the second count of the Complaint (erroneously designated as Count IV), Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to provide her an R.C. § 959.132 probable cause hearing regarding the seizure of her cat, thereby depriving Plaintiff of her due process rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

         In the third count of the Complaint (erroneously designated as Count VIII), Plaintiff alleges that Defendants unlawfully delegated prosecutorial duties to private attorneys employed by the Lake Humane Society. Plaintiff specifically alleges that Defendants illegally delegated the mandated duties and obligations of the City of Eastlake Prosecutor Judson Hawkins to criminally prosecute crimes occurring in the City of Eastlake to private attorneys employed by private corporations that have no humane agent employed by said corporations. This conduct violated Plaintiff's fundamental First Amendment right of access to the courts.

         Along with her Complaint, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order (ECF DKT #2). Upon consideration of the relevant statutory language, Plaintiff's verified allegations and the affidavits of Defendant Hawkins and Attorney Jeffrey Holland, the Court denied injunctive relief and determined that Plaintiff offered no clear and convincing evidence that she was likely to succeed on the merits, that she faced the threat of irreparable harm or that she was entitled to prospective extraordinary relief. (Opinion and Order, ECF DKT #8).

         In their Motion to Dismiss (ECF DKT #6), Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Defendants also argue that this Court should abstain so as not to interfere with ongoing state criminal proceedings. Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). In addition, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Hawkins in his role as municipal prosecutor are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

         In their Motion for Leave to File Amended Answer (ECF DKT #19), Defendants presented the Court with records purportedly calling into question Plaintiff's standing to litigate this matter. Specifically, Defendants offered adoption records for “Prince Michael” and submitted that Plaintiff was not the owner of the cat at the time of the search of the Animal Rescue Center. Consequently, Plaintiff lacked standing to claim Fourth Amendment protection. In order to address Defendants' assertions, the Court ordered briefing and scheduled an oral hearing.

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) Standard of Review

         “In reviewing a motion to dismiss, we 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.” Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007). Factual allegations contained in a complaint must “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Twombly does not “require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. Dismissal is warranted if the complaint lacks an allegation as to a necessary element of the claim raised. Craighead v. E.F. Hutton & Co., 899 F.2d 485 (6th Cir. 1990). The United States Supreme Court, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), discussed Twombly and provided additional analysis of the motion to dismiss standard:

In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusion, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-plead factual allegations a court should assume their ...

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