Jaegly v. Lucas County Board of Commissioners et al
Memorandum Opinion: Jaegly's unopposed motion to dismiss parties is granted. (Doc. No. 17). I find the Defendants may be sued in federal court under the claims and deny Defendants' motions to dismiss. (Doc. Nos. 19, 23). Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick on 9/28/2017. (S,AL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
Jeffrey C. Jaegly,
Case No. 16-cv-1982
Lucas County Board of Commissioners, et al.,
Before me are: (1) Plaintiff Jeffrey C. Jaegly’s unopposed motion to dismiss parties (Doc.
No. 17); (2) Defendant Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division’s Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 19) with opposition of Plaintiff (Doc. No. 21) and reply of
Defendant (Doc. No. 29); and (3) Defendants Lucas County and Lucas County Board of
Commissioners’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 23) with opposition of Plaintiff (Doc.
No. 24) and reply of Defendants. (Doc. No. 30).
At the outset, I grant Plaintiff’s unopposed motion to dismiss parties. (Doc. No. 17).
Administrative Law Judge David Lewandowski and Judge Lisa D. McGowan are dismissed as
Defendants in this action. The amended complaint filed by Plaintiff reflects the dismissal of the
parties. (Doc. No. 18). Defendants’ motions to dismiss seek dismissal of the amended complaint.
Plaintiff Jeffrey C. Jaegly is diagnosed with agoraphobia, panic disorder, and anxiety. (Doc.
No. 18 at 3). Because of these conditions, he is allegedly disabled under the Americans with
Disabilities Act. Due to his disability, Jaegly cannot interact with others, be in public places, or leave
his home with the exception of doctors’ appointments. Id. Jaegly has thrice sought a divorce from
his wife in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division. Id. at 3-8. But
has been unable to complete the divorce proceedings due to multiple reasons including the alleged
failure of the Court of Common Pleas to accommodate his disability.
In Jaegly’s first divorce proceeding, though he was granted leave to appear by phone, Jaegly
was “responsible for a court reporter and video technology for defendant’s testimony from home
due to his disability.” Id. at 5. Jaegly did so at his expense. Id. Because of reasons independent of
his disability, the first divorce action was dismissed. Id. Jaegly filed for divorce again in 2014. Id.
Though his first request to appear by phone at the initial hearing on the matter was granted, Jaegly’s
Motion to Excuse Plaintiff’s Presence at All Hearings was denied. Id. at 6-7. In the ruling, Judge
Lisa D. McGowan first stated, “The Domestic Relations Court does not have video conferencing
capabilities.” Id. at 7. She also evaluated whether a telephonic appearance would be an adequate
solution, but rejected the proposal because “the Court would be limited in evaluating credibility over
a telephone.” Id. Jaegly alleges that no one from the court investigated other options to
accommodate his disability that would not “fundamentally alter the nature of the hearing before the
court,” even though the court has had video conferencing capabilities in the general division
courtrooms since at least 2008. Id. at 7-8. Instead, when Jaegly failed to appear for a settlement pretrial conference on September 23, 2015, the court dismissed the action. Id. at 8. Finally, in Jaegly’s
third divorce action, he filed another Motion to Excuse Plaintiff’s Presence at All Hearings, which
was denied by Judge Zemmelman on grounds of collateral estoppel. Id.
After the final denial, Jaegly filed suit in this court asserting claims under the ADA and
Rehabilitation Act against Defendants Lucas County, the Lucas County Board of Commissioners,
and the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relation Division. Jaegly does not argue
that the judges erred, but that Defendants’ conduct has interfered with his ability to participate in
Defendants’ services and has been denied the benefits of such. Specifically, he alleges Defendants
have refused to make reasonable modifications to general practices, refused to provide auxiliary aids
and services, charged an illegal surcharge for an accommodation, and failed to designate an
employee to coordinate ADA compliance. Jaegly requests monetary, declaratory, and injunctive
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a lawsuit for “failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Courts must accept as true all of the factual
allegations contained in the complaint when ruling on a motion to dismiss. Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Thurman v. Pfizer, Inc., 484 F.3d 855, 859 (6th Cir. 2007). To survive a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “even though a complaint need not contain ‘detailed’ factual allegations,
its ‘factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the
assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true.’” Ass'n of Cleveland Fire Fighters v. City of
Cleveland, Ohio, 502 F.3d 545, 548 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
Conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual allegations will not
suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (stating that the complaint must contain something more than “a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action”). A complaint must state sufficient facts
to, when accepted as true, state a claim “that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (explaining that the plausibility standard “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully” and requires the complaint to allow the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct).
In conjunction with this standard, I am cognizant that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
8(a)(2) “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.’ Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of
what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 93 (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 596); see also Sensations, Inc. v. City of Grand Rapids, 526 F.3d 291, 295-96 (6th Cir
2008). The Court “may consider the Complaint and any exhibits attached thereto, public records,
items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to defendant's motion to dismiss so
long as they are referred to in the Complaint and are central to the claims contained therein.” Bassett
v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008).
Defendants do not contest the merits of Jaegly’s claims. Instead, Defendants Lucas County
and Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relation Division assert they are immune
from suit. The Lucas County Board of Commissioners contends that it may not be sued because it
has no authority over the actions of the Court of Common Pleas.
The ADA provides, “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such
disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or
activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” 42 U.S.C. § 13132.
The term “public entity” includes “any State or local government” and “any department, agency,
special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 12131(1)(A)-(B). Title II of the ADA is a valid exercise of Congress’s “§ 5 authority to enforce the
guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment” to abrogate the State’s Eleventh Amendment immunity
with respect to “the class of cases implicating the fundamental right of access to the courts.”
Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 533 (2004). But, as the Court later clarified, “Title II validly abrogates
state sovereign immunity” only “for conduct that actually violates the Fourteenth Amendment.”
United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151, 159 (2006).
Defendants do not argue Jaegly’s claims on the merits or discuss the Due Process
implications of the conduct alleged. Taking Jaegly’s allegations in the complaint as true, he has
asserted a colorable claim that he has been denied the due process fundamental right of access to the
courts, abrogating the State’s Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to the Title II ADA
claim. Although no Defendant argued about the ability to be sued under the Rehabilitation Act, the
State’s Eleventh Amendment immunity is also abrogated with respect to claims under § 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-7; see also Lane v. Pena, 518 U.S. 187 (1996).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(b)(3)
Defendants Lucas County and Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations
Division argue that they lack the capacity to be sued pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
17(b)(3). The Rule states, “Capacity to sue or be sued is determined…by the law of the state where
the court is located.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 17(b)(3). Each asserts that since they may not be sued under
Ohio law, they are immune from suit in federal court. But “a governmental entity's status under
state law is not conclusive of whether that entity may be sued under federal law, though state law
does provide evidence of whether a given entity is, in fact, ‘the State[,]’” for purposes of Eleventh
Amendment sovereign immunity. Turner v. City of Toledo, 671 F.Supp.2d 967, 972 (N.D. Ohio 2009).
As noted above, Eleventh Amendment immunity will not shield a party from this suit under Title II
of the ADA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, regardless of whether it is “an arm of the
State” or not.
Under Ohio law, “[a] county is purely a political subdivision, an agency or instrumentality of
the state and is clothed with the same sovereign immunity from suit.” Schaffer v. Bd. of Trs. of Franklin
Cnty. Veterans Mem’l, 171 Ohio St. 228, 231 (1960); see also O.R.C. §§ 2743.01 (B), 2744.01(F). But as
a “political subdivision,” an Ohio county is not an “arm of the state…entitled to assert any Eleventh
Amendment immunity from suit in the federal courts.” Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v.
Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280-81 (1977); see also O.R.C. § 2743.01(A) (“‘State’ does not include political
subdivisions.”); S.J. v. Hamilton Cnty., Ohio, 374 F.3d 416, 420 (6th Cir 2004) (“Ohio counties lack
[Eleventh Amendment] sovereign immunity.”). Independent of the preclusion of Eleventh
Amendment sovereign immunity in this suit, Rule (17)(b)(3) does not bar this suit against Lucas
County in federal court under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. See, e.g., Smith v. Grady, 960 F.
Supp.2d 735, 744 (S.D. Ohio 2013) (“Hamilton County is not entitled to sovereign immunity under
the Eleventh Amendment, and it may be sued in this Court under the ADA, Title VII, ADEA and
FMLA regardless of its ability to sue or be sued under state law.”); Peart v. Seneca Cnty., 808 F. Supp.
2d 1028, 1033-34 (N.D. Ohio 2011); Horen v. Lucas Cnty., Ohio, No. 3:11CV1110, 2011 WL 4842391,
at *2 (N.D. Ohio Oct. 12, 2011) (allowing suit against the county under the ADA and Rehabilitation
Act); Stack v. Karnes, 750 F. Supp. 2d 892 (S.D. Ohio 2010) (rejecting the county’s Rule 17(b)(3)
argument); Turner, 671 F. Supp. 2d, at 971 (same). Jaegly has asserted claims against Lucas County
for which relief may be granted.
Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division
As noted by the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, it cannot be sued “[a]bsent express
statutory authority.” Malone v. Ct. Com. Pl. of Cuyahoga Cnty., 45 Ohio St. 2d 245, 248 (1976). The
Sixth Circuit has also determined that, “an Ohio common pleas court is not a segment of county
government, but an arm of the state for purposes of…Eleventh Amendment immunity analyses.”
Mumford v. Basinski, 105 F.3d 264, 269 (6th Cir. 1997). But Eleventh Amendment immunity does
not act to insulate the Court of Common Pleas as “an arm of the State” in this suit. Though the
Court of Common Pleas argues that it does not fall within the ADA’s definition of “public entity,”
the Sixth Circuit has previously adjudicated Title II ADA claims against an Ohio Court of Common
Pleas, Domestic Relations Division. See Popovich v. Cuyahoga Cnty. Ct. Com. Pl., Dom. Rel. Div., 276
F.3d 808, 817 (6th 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 812 (2002) (allowing suit under the ADA against a
state court because “refusal of the state court to provide plaintiff with closed captioned translation
of the proceeding, or other forms of hearing assistance, may constitute an unreasonable exclusion of
plaintiff from participation in the proceeding under principles of due process of law.”). Accordingly,
I find the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division to be a “public
entity” that may be sued under Title II of the ADA. Since the Court of Common Pleas does not
present an argument with respect to the Rehabilitation Act, neither claim is dismissed.
Lucas County Board of Commissioners
The Lucas County Board of Commissioners asserts that since it lacked authority over the
Court of Common Pleas, it cannot be sued on these claims. Unlike a county itself, a county board
of commissioners may be sued in Ohio. O.R.C. § 305.12. Under the Ohio Constitution, the Ohio
Supreme Court has “general superintendence over all courts in the state” and “shall prescribe rules
governing practice and procedure in all courts of the state.” OHIO CONST. art. IV, § 5. But, the
board of commissioners has a duty to “provide for each county court judge in the county suitable
court and office space and all materials necessary for the business of the court.” O.R.C. § 1907.19.
Additionally, the board of county commissioners exercises its discretion in determining the budget
to be given to the Court of Common Pleas and is charged with proscribing compensation for any
court aides, including official court reporters that might be appointed by the judge. O.R.C. §§
Here, Jaegly alleges that the Court of Common Pleas failed to employ an ADA consultant
and lacked auxiliary aids in the courtrooms adequate to accommodate disabled persons such as
himself. He also asserts that he was required to pay out-of-pocket for a court reporter to
accommodate his disability in the first proceeding. Because the Board was charged with providing
the court with “all materials necessary for the business of the court,” providing the court with ADA
compliant auxiliary aids is arguably within the authority of the Board. Although the Board asserts
that court personnel are not delegated with the authority to hire court personnel or compensate
personnel out of the county general treasury, the Board is statutorily authorized to prescribe the
compensation of judicially appointed court aides and reporters “from the county treasury or other
authorized funds.” O.R.C. § 1907.201. These budgetary responsibilities arguably establish the
requisite authority over the operations of the court specifically at issue in this case. Taking the facts
of the complaint as true, I find Jaegly has asserted colorable claims against the Lucas County Board
As noted above, Jaegly’s unopposed motion to dismiss parties is granted. (Doc. No. 17).
For the foregoing reasons, I find the Defendants may be sued in federal court under the claims and
deny Defendants’ motions to dismiss. (Doc. Nos. 19, 23).
s/ Jeffrey J. Helmick
United States District Judge
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