Ramsey v. City of Cleveland et al
Opinion and Order. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Related doc # 25 ) is granted in part and denied in part. Judge Christopher A. Boyko on 6/21/2017. (H,CM)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
CITY OF CLEVELAND, et. al,
CASE NO. 1:15CV2405
JUDGE CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO
OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO, J:
This matter comes before the Court upon the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF DKT
#25) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) by Defendants City of Cleveland, et al.,
to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims made under R.C §149.43 and 42 U.S.C. §1983. For the following
reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED in part, and DENIED, in part.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff Renisha Ramsey has brought suit against the City of Cleveland (“City”), the
Cleveland Municipal Court (“Municipal Court”), Municipal Court probation officer Spencer
Bellamy (“Bellamy”), Municipal Court probation officer Lacora Turner (“Turner”), Municipal
Court bailiff Denise Rudolph (“Rudolph”) and unnamed Defendants. On May 19, 2014, Plaintiff
was found guilty of two misdemeanors in Municipal Court for violating motor vehicle operation
laws. State of Ohio/City of Cleveland v. Renisha Ramsey, Case No. 2013 TRD 064344. Plaintiff
was ordered to perform 30 hours of community service and enter the “Get on Track” program.
She completed her community service on June 26, 2014. On October 17, 2014 the Municipal
Court entered judgement that her sentence was satisfied. However, Defendant City alleges that
Plaintiff did not complete her “Get on Track” program. As a result, the Municipal Court
scheduled a “Get on Track” compliance hearing for January 16, 2015. Plaintiff alleges that she
never received notice of the hearing because it was mailed to the wrong address. Plaintiff also
alleges the Municipal Court issued that notice on February 19, 2015, after the hearing occurred.
The Municipal Court then issued a capias on March 6, 2015 for failure to appear. Plaintiff
received notice of the capias on or about March 15, 2016. Plaintiff attempted to call Turner and
was unable to reach him. Plaintiff then called Bellamy, who told Plaintiff to come to the Justice
Center to resolve the issue.
On March 19, 2016, Plaintiff arrived at the Justice Center. Plaintiff told the front desk
that she needed to talk to Bellamy. Plaintiff was directed to the probation floor to wait for
Bellamy. Plaintiff alleges that an unnamed Defendant told her she would be arrested and that
she should give her property to family waiting in the reception area. Plaintiff also alleges that
when she questioned these instructions that an unnamed Defendant told her: “You must think
this is Burger King.”
Plaintiff alleges she waited for Bellamy for approximately one hour and that Bellamy
would be able to correct the improperly issued capias. Plaintiff alleges that Ruldoph approached
with an unnamed Defendant, told Plaintiff that she was going to be brought to the holding cell in
accordance with Municipal Court policies and stated “get your ass up.” Plaintiff protested and
wrapped her arms around the bench where she sat. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants lifted her up
while she still held the bench. Shortly afterward, Plaintiff alleges that she was accosted by
“maybe ten to fifteen people...” According to Plaintiff, those Defendants grabbed her head,
pulled her hair and one Defendant “put [her] head between his legs...” Plaintiff alleges Rudolph
and unnamed Defendants then threw her to the ground where Defendant Rudolph twisted her
arm behind her back and cut her wrists with handcuffs. Plaintff further alleges when she
complained to Rudolph that Rudolph responded “I don’t give a fuck. I’ll whip your ass down
the hall.” Defendants placed Plaintiff in a cell for approximately 30 minutes. Defendants took
Plaintiff to a court room where she received an apology from a Municipal Court judge for the
II. LAW AND ANALYSIS
A. Standard of Review
Summary judgment shall be granted only 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.” See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The burden is on the moving party to conclusively show no genuine issue
of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Lansing Dairy. Inc.
v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir. 1994). The moving party must either point to “particular
parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory answers, or other
materials” or show “that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine
dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). A court considering a motion for summary judgment must view
the facts and all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Once the movant presents evidence
to meet its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on its pleadings, but must come forward
with some significant probative evidence to support its claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Lansing
Dairy, 39 F.3d at 1347.
This Court does not have the responsibility to search the record sua sponte for genuine
issues of material fact. Betkerur v. Aultman Hospital Ass 'n., 78 F.3d 1079, 1087 (6th Cir. 1996);
Guarino v. Brookfield Township Trustees, 980 F.2d 399, 404-06 (6th Cir. 1992). The burden
falls upon the nonmoving party to “designate specific facts or evidence in dispute,” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986); and if the nonmoving party fails to make the
necessary showing on an element upon which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is
entitled to summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Whether summary judgment is
appropriate depends upon “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.”
Amway Distributors Benefits Ass 'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003)
(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52).
B. Ohio Public Records Act, R.C. §149.43
R.C §149.43 states “all public records responsive to the request shall be promptly
prepared and made available for inspection to any person at all reasonable times during regular
business hours.” R.C. §149.43(B)(1) (2016). The purpose of the statute is to “facilitate broader
access to public records...” and to do so in a reasonable period of time. R.C. §149.43(B)(1-2).
R.C. §149.43(C)(1)(a-b) states when a request is not filled in a reasonable amount of time, the
aggrieved party may do one and only one of the following:
(a) File a complaint with the clerk of the court of claims or the clerk of the court of
common pleas under section 2743.75 of the Revised Code; [or] (b) Commence a
mandamus action to obtain a judgment that orders the public office or the person
responsible for the public record to comply with division (B) of this section.
In this case, the Plaintiff did neither (a) nor (b). As a matter of law, there is no claim upon which
relief may be granted. The Court grants Defendant City’s Motion for Summary Judgment.
C. City of Cleveland
While suits against states are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, suits against local
governments are not. Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S.
659 (1978). Suits against individuals in their official capacity are equivalent to suits against the
governmental entity. Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994).
Recent cases have examined the well-founded principle that municipal courts are arms of
the state and not of the city or county where they reside. Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802 (6th Cir.
2003), which involved a civil suit against a county court, created some ambiguity with respect to
the “Eleventh Amendment question” of whether municipal courts are part of local or state
governments for § 1983 suits. In Alkire, the Sixth Circuit interpreted the Supreme Court case of
Hess v. Port Auth. Trans-Hudson Corp., 513 U.S. 30 (1994) and determined that the most
important factor of the arm-of-the-state analysis is who is responsible for paying a monetary
judgment. Alkire 330 F.3d at 813-14. The Alkire decision appeared to leave open the door to
suits against county courts as “persons” for the purpose of § 1983. Id. That door has since been
shut. As the Court pointed out in Ward v. City of Norwalk, 640 F. App'x 462, 465 (6th Cir.
2016), the analysis takes into account multiple factors that should be considered in their totality:
It cannot seriously be argued that an Ohio municipal court is indistinguishable
from the municipal corporation in which it sits. The Akron Municipal Court is
part of the Ohio state court system, established by the Ohio state legislature. It is
subject to the supervision of the Ohio Supreme Court. The municipal court may
not be abolished by the city council, nor may the council expand or restrict the
court's jurisdiction. The territorial jurisdiction of the Akron Municipal Court is
not coextensive with the city limits of Akron. The employees of the Akron
Municipal Court are not city employees subject to the authority of the Akron
Civil Service Commission.
Id., quoting Foster v. Walsh, 864 F.2d 416 (6th Cir. 1988).
Ward established that while the source of money damages carried significant
weight in the Eleventh Amendment analysis of § 1983, “every other aspect of the
Municipal Court's composition—noted above—weighs in favor of the court's being an
arm of the state.” Ward, 640 F. App’x at 465. “Thus, Alkire's emphasis on the
source-of-payment factor does not change the conclusion that the...Municipal Court is an
arm of the state for § 1983 and Eleventh Amendment purposes, and plaintiffs'
money-damage claims against [Court employees] in their official capacities are therefore
The Court finds it is not necessary to weigh those factors again today. Nor is it
necessary to ask whether the City of Cleveland may be sued for the actions of Municipal
Court employees. The Cleveland Municipal Court is an arm of the state and not of City
of Cleveland nor Cuyahoga County. The only question is whether the parties named in
the suit are employees of the Municipal Court or of the City of Cleveland. As Ward
plainly shows, Municipal Court employees are employees of the Municipal Court, not the
City of Cleveland.
Therefore, because there are no employees of the City of Cleveland among the
named Defendants, Plaintiff has no viable claim against Defendant City in the suit. The
Court grants Summary Judgment for Defendant City.
D. Probation Officers
The purpose of § 1983 is to provide “a federal forum to remedy many
deprivations of civil liberties, but it does not provide a federal forum for litigants who
seek a remedy against a State for alleged deprivations of civil liberties. The Eleventh
Amendment bars such suits unless the State has waived its immunity...” Will v. Michigan
Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 66 (1989). Claims against municipal court employees
acting in their official capacity for money damages “are treated as suits against the
Municipal Court.” Ward 640 F. App'x at 465. Ohio municipal courts are “considered an
arm of the state for the purposes of § 1983 and the Eleventh Amendment...” and thus
under Eleventh Amendment protection. Id at 464.
It is well established that judicial immunity protects judges against liability for
damages. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 814 (1982) (“[S]ocial costs include the
expenses of litigation, the diversion of official energy from pressing public issues, and
the deterrence of able citizens from acceptance of public office.”); Forrester v. White,
484 U.S., 223 (1988) ([T]hreat of liability can create perverse incentives that operate to
inhibit officials in the proper performance of their duties.”). This protection extends to
other court officers arising from judicial and quasi-judicial functions. Foster, 864 F.2d at
417. Even non-discretionary issuances of warrants are judicial acts. Id at 418. Clerks,
among others, enjoy absolute immunity “from suit in connection with the issuance of the
arrest warrant...” Id. Additionally, the “mere fact that an error is made in carrying out
the judge's instruction is immaterial.” Id at 417. The Sixth Circuit ruled:
“[W]hen a judge seeks to determine whether a defendant is complying with
the terms of probation, the judge is performing a judicial function. To the
extent court personnel were investigating whether [defendant] was
complying with the terms of his probation, they were performing a
quasi-judicial function. To the extent defendants were performing that
function at the direction of the judge, they are entitled to quasi-judicial
Balas v. Leishman-Donaldson, No. 91-4073, 1992 WL 217735, at *5 (6th Cir. 1992);
accord Loggins v. Franklin County, Ohio, 218 F. App'x 466, 476 (6th Cir. 2007). Section
1983 claims are barred when such claims are “intimately associated with the judicial
phase of the criminal process.” Van De Kamp v. Goldstein, 129 U.S. 855, 862-64 (2009).
Plaintiff argues that the Parole Violation Report was a non-judicial, executory
action. However, as the Court in Balas established, the process of inquiring into
probation compliance is a quasi-judicial function that comes with quasi-judicial
immunity. It follows that the Parole Violation Report qualifies as a part of that process.
Plaintiff also argues that because Bellamy and Turner did not exercise proper discretion
in reviewing the Plaintiff’s file, that “the probation officers failure...to exercise a judicial
function is what caused the injury to the [P]laintiff..” Plaintiff argues that a distinction
may be made between Turner’s and Bellamy’s failure to act and a mistake made while
carrying out a quasi-judicial function. The Court finds this difference immaterial.
Turner and Bellamy merely made a mistake carrying out a judge’s original instructions.
Such an error does not break the chain of command which preserves quasi-judicial
immunity. The Court finds Defendant probation officers Turner and Bellamy immune
from this suit because they were performing a quasi-judicial function.
E. Denise Rudolph and Unnamed Defendants
Officials who perform discretionary functions are generally entitled to qualified
immunity for civil money damages as long as their conduct “does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 801 (1982). Where a constitutional
violation has occurred, a court may proceed to determine whether the right in question
was so clearly established at the time of the violation that a reasonable public official in
the same position would have known that he or she was violating that right.” Wilson v.
Layne, 525 U.S. 603, 609 (1999); Cherrington v. Skeeter, 344 F.3d 631, 636 (6th Cir.
2012). When qualified immunity is raised as a defense, the plaintiff bears the burden of
demonstrating that the defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity. Rodriquez v.
Passinault, 637 F.3d 675, 689 (6th Cir. 2011). Defendants also carry the burden of
demonstrating whether the act in question was objectively reasonable in light of the
existing law at the time. Tucker v. City of Richmond, Ky., 388 F.3d 216, 220 (6th Cir.
2004). When the issue of qualified immunity is dependent on the facts of the case, the
question is one for the jury. Rodriquez, 637 F.3d at 689. Whether an official “may be
held personally liable for an allegedly unlawful action depends upon the “objective legal
reasonableness of the action, assessed in light of the legal rules that were clearly
established at the time it was taken.” Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 635 (1987).
The Court finds that there is a genuine question as to whether Rudolph and the
other unnamed officials violated the Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Plaintiff alleges that
her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when employees of the
Municipal Court used excessive force to detain her. If Plaintiff’s allegations are taken as
true, then there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Plaintiff’s established
rights were violated, whether Rudolph and the unnamed Defendants knew or should have
known they were violating Plaintiff’s established rights and whether their actions were
objectively unreasonable in light of the circumstances. The existence of the qualified
immunity defense for Rudolph and the unnamed Defendants is dependent on the facts
and is a question for a jury. Reviewing the facts in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff,
the Court finds the claims against Rudolph and the unnamed Defendants in their
individual capacity may go forward. Consequently, the Court finds that Summary
Judgment on this issue is not appropriate.
F. Municipal Court
The City of Cleveland Municipal Court is not a legal entity that is capable of
being sued. See, e.g., Lawson v. City of Youngstown, 912 F.Supp.2d 527, 530 (N.D. Ohio
2012); Williams v. City of Columbus, Ohio, 892 F.Supp.2d 918, 923-24 (S.D. Ohio 2012)
(dismissal of municipal court “because under Ohio law, Ohio courts are not sui juris”);
see also Malone v. Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County, 45 Ohio St.2d 245, 248
(quoting State ex rel. Cleveland Municipal Court v. Cleveland City Council, 34 Ohio
St.2d 120, 121 (1973)) (“Absent express statutory authority, a court can neither sue nor
be sued in its own right.”). Therefore, no viable claim can be maintained against the City
of Cleveland Municipal Court.
For the foregoing reasons, Summary Judgment for City, Municipal Court, Bellamy and
Turner is GRANTED. Summary Judgment for Rudolph and unnamed Defendants, in their
individual capacity, is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ Christopher A. Boyko
CHRISTOPHER A. BOYKO
United States District Judge
Dated: June 21, 2017
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