Stewart et al v. Hamilton County Sheriff et al
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE COUNTY DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS. Plaintiffs' claims against Hamilton County, the BOCC and the Sheriff's Department are DISMISSED. Plaintiffs' claims against the Sheriff in his official capacity survive. Signed by Judge Timothy S. Black on 4/4/17. (gs)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
Administrator of the Estate of Lily
Jeanette Francis, deceased, et al.,
JIM NEIL, In his official capacity as
Hamilton County Sheriff, et al.,
Case No. 1:16-cv-1056
Judge Timothy S. Black
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
THE COUNTY DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. 5)
This civil action is before the Court on the motion to dismiss (Doc. 5) filed by
Hamilton County, Ohio (“Hamilton County”), Jim Neil, in his official capacity as the
Hamilton County Sheriff (the “Sheriff”), the Board of Commissioners for Hamilton
County (the “BOCC”), and the Sheriff’s Department of Hamilton County (the “Sheriff’s
Department”) (collectively, the “County Defendants”), 1 and the parties’ responsive
memoranda (Docs. 7, 10).
Defendants John/Jane Does, Employees, Deputies and/or Agents of Hamilton County and/or
the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, have not yet appeared. As used in this Order,
“Defendants” refers to all Defendants named in this lawsuit.
I. FACTS AS ALLEGED BY THE PLAINTIFFS
For purposes of this motion to dismiss, the Court must: (1) view the complaint in
the light most favorable to Plaintiffs; and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as
true. Tackett v. M&G Polymers, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009).
On December 31, 2015, Plaintiff Veronica Stewart (“Ms. Stewart”) was appointed
administrator of the Estate (“Estate”) of Lily Jeannette Francis, deceased, by the
Hamilton County, Ohio, Probate Court, case number 2015005452. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 4).
Plaintiff Kelli Moll (“Ms. Moll”) is the surviving parent of Lily Jeanette Francis. (Id. at
On or about January 21, 2014, Ms. Moll surrendered herself to the Sheriff’s
Department at the Hamilton County Justice Center (“HCJC”) pursuant to a pending
community-control sanction violation. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 13). At the time, Ms. Moll was a
recovering drug addict. (Id.). Ms. Moll was also pregnant with Lily Jeannette Francis
and due to give birth on or about February 12, 2014. (Id.).
On or about January 22, 2014, while in a medical facility at HCJC, Ms. Moll
complained that she was in pain with the onset of contractions; however, those
complaints were not heeded. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 14). Defendants decided Ms. Moll was
dehydrated and gave her some water. (Id.).
On or about January 23, 2014, Ms. Moll was monitored at HCJC. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 15).
No fetal movement or heartbeat was detected. (Id.). Ms. Moll was told the absence of a
heartbeat was probably due to the antiquated nature of Defendants’ equipment and
received no further examination or treatment. (Id.).
On January 24, 2014, Defendants decided to transport Ms. Moll to the University
of Cincinnati Medical Center. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 16). Defendants did not transport Ms. Moll
immediately; instead, they waited until a shift change. (Id. at ¶ 17). On the way to the
hospital, the transporting deputies made two stops: the first to get a soda at a CVS; the
second to get sandwiches. (Id. at ¶ 18).
Defendants eventually delivered Ms. Moll to the University of Cincinnati Medical
Center. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 19). On January 25, 2014, Ms. Moll was induced for a vaginal
delivery due to intrauterine fetal demise. (Id.).
A. The First Lawsuit.
On January 19, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in this court, case number 1:16-cv248 (the “First Lawsuit”).
The First Lawsuit named the Sheriff, the Sheriff’s Department, and “Hamilton
County Sheriff’s Deputies and/or Employees, John/Jane Does 1-4” as Defendants
(First Lawsuit, Doc. 1 at 1). 2 The first lawsuit did not name Hamilton County or the
BOCC. On August 8, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a stipulation which dismissed the First
Lawsuit without prejudice. (First Lawsuit, Doc. 27).
The Court takes judicial notice of the filings in the First Lawsuit, which are available on the
Court’s online docket. See Levy v. Macy’s, Inc., No. 1:13-cv-148, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1809
at * 2, n. 2 (S. D. Ohio Jan. 3, 2014) (Litkovitz, MJ) (“[t]he Court can take judicial notice of
matters of public record, including court records available through the PACER system via the
internet.”) (citation omitted).
B. This Lawsuit.
On November 7, 2016, Plaintiffs filed the Complaint in this action. The
Complaint again names the Sheriff in his official capacity, the Sheriff’s Department, and
John/Jane Does, agents of Hamilton County and/or the Sheriff’s Department. The
Complaint also names Hamilton County and the BOCC.
The Complaint alleges that Defendants failed to adequately hire, train and/or
supervise officers, agents, deputies, servants, employees, staff or representatives. (Doc. 1
at ¶ 22). The Complaint alleges that Defendants maintain policies, practices and/or
customs of: (1) permitting agents to wait until a shift change to transport inmates to
outside medical facilities, regardless of the inmate’s condition; (2) permitting agents to
take stops and/or personal breaks while transporting inmates to outside medical facilities,
regardless of the severity of the inmate’s medical condition; (3) utilizing nurses, rather
than doctors, for medical appointments regardless of the inmate’s medical condition; and
(4) using antiquated medical equipment. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-37).
The Complaint alleges that Defendants demonstrated deliberate indifference to the
serious medical needs of Plaintiffs by, among other things, failing to appropriately
monitor Ms. Moll’s pregnancy, failing to consult an appropriate specialist, failing to treat
Ms. Moll and her unborn child in a timely manner, and failing to timely transport Ms.
Moll and her unborn child to the hospital. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 40). The Complaint further
alleges Plaintiffs’ damages were “proximately caused” by Defendants’ policies and
customs as well as Defendants’ failure to adequately hire, train and/or supervise. (Id. at
¶ 39). Plaintiffs assert a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of their Fourth,
Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-44).
Ms. Moll asserts an additional claim for violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”) premised on her allegations that Defendants discriminated
against her because of her drug addiction. (Id. at ¶¶ 45-52). 3
On January 12, 2016, County Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss. The
motion argues: (1) Plaintiffs’ claims against Hamilton County and the BOCC are barred
by the statute of limitations because neither entity was named in the First Lawsuit (Doc. 5
at 7-8); (2) Hamilton County and the Sheriff’s Department are not sui juris (id. at 8-9);
(3) Hamilton County and the BOCC do not have authority to control the Sheriff or the
HCJC (id. at 9-11); (4) the Complaint does not adequately plead a § 1983 claim against
the County Defendants because it does not sufficiently allege that Plaintiffs’ injuries were
caused by a custom, practice or policy of Hamilton County (id. at 11-13); (5) the
Complaint does not adequately plead a claim for violation of the ADA because it does
not sufficiently allege that Ms. Moll was treated differently because of her disability (id.
at 13-14); and (6) the Sheriff was not personally involved in any of the incidents alleged
in the Complaint, and in any event, is entitled to qualified immunity (id. at 15-19).
The Complaint includes a third claim for “punitive/exemplary damages.” (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 5354). As the County Defendants point out, there is no independent cause of action for “punitive
damages.” See Snyder v. United States, 990 F. Supp. 2d 818, 841-42 (S.D. Ohio 2014) (Spiegel,
J) (“[i]t is well settled that a civil cause of action sounding solely in punitive damages cannot be
maintained.”) (citing Pierson v. Rion, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. CA23498, 2010-Ohio-1793, ¶
49). The Court will construe this “claim” merely as a request for punitive damages in the event
liability is established under § 1983 or the ADA.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) operates to test the
sufficiency of the complaint and permits dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted.” To show grounds for relief, Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)
requires that the complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.”
While Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,’ . . . it
demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007)). Pleadings offering mere “‘labels and conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’” Id. (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555). In fact, in determining a motion to dismiss, “courts ‘are not bound to accept
as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation[.]’” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555
(citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265 (1986)). Further, “[f]actual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level[.]” Id.
Accordingly, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A claim is plausible where “plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Plausibility “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’
but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.
“[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged—but it has not ‘show[n]’—‘that the
pleader is entitled to relief,’” and the case shall be dismissed. Id. (citing Fed. Rule Civ.
A. Plaintiffs’ claims against Hamilton County and the BOCC are barred
by the statute of limitations.
The County Defendants argue that the claims against Hamilton County and the
BOCC are barred by the statute of limitations. (Doc. 5 at 7-8).
Section 1983 does not contain a statute of limitations. Where a state, like Ohio,
has multiple statutes of limitation for personal injury actions, the appropriate statute to
borrow for §1983 claims is the general personal injury statute of limitations. Browning v.
Pendleton, 869 F.2d 989, 991 (6th Cir. 1989) (citing Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 24950 (1989)). Accordingly, § 1983 claims are subject to the limitations period of Ohio Rev.
Code Ann § 2305.10, which requires actions for bodily injury to be filed within two years
after their accrual. Id. at 992.
Similarly, the Sixth Circuit has held that claims under Title II of the ADA—which
also does not contain a limitations period—are subject to the two year period of Ohio
Rev. Code Ann § 2305.10. See McCormick v. Miami Univ., 693 F.3d 654, 663-64 (6th
The County Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s claims were required to have been
brought by January 25, 2016, two years after Lily Jeannette Francis was stillborn. (Doc.
5 at 8). The Complaint was filed on November 7, 2017.
Plaintiffs argue that Ohio’s savings statute, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2305.19, saves
their claims because Plaintiffs commenced this lawsuit within one year from the date they
voluntarily dismissed the First Lawsuit (August 8, 2017). (Doc. 7 at 7-9). Ohio’s
savings statute provides, in relevant part:
In any action that is commenced or attempted to be commenced, if in due
time a judgment for the plaintiff is reversed or if the plaintiff fails otherwise
than upon the merits, the plaintiff or, if the plaintiff dies and the cause of
action survives, the plaintiff’s representative may commence a new action
within one year after the date of the reversal of the judgment or the
plaintiff’s failure otherwise than upon the merits or within the period of the
original applicable statute of limitations, whichever occurs later. This
division applies to any claim asserted in any pleading by a defendant.
Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2305.19(A).
The County Defendants argue that the savings statute does not apply to claims
against Hamilton County or the BOCC because neither entity was named in the First
Lawsuit. 4 (Doc. 5 at 7-8).
The Court agrees. The savings statute is “inapplicable in a case where the parties
and relief sought in the new action are different from those in the original action.”
Children’s Hosp. v. Ohio Dept. of Pub. Welfare, 69 Ohio St. 2d 523, 525, 433 N.E.2d 187
Accordingly, the savings statute only saves claims against parties who were named
in the original lawsuit. See Griffin v. City of Columbus, 10 Fed. Appx. 271, 273 (6th Cir.
2001) (“[t]he savings statute did not apply to [plaintiff’s] claims against [defendants], as
they were not parties in the prior action”); Eaves v. Strayhorn, No. 1:09-cv-394, 2010
The County Defendants apparently concede the savings statute applies to Plaintiffs’ claims
against the Sheriff and the Sheriff’s Department.
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59125 at ** 17-18 (S.D. Ohio June 15, 2010) (“the savings statute
cannot be used to sweep in defendants who were not parties in the original complaint”);
Pearsall v. Guernsey, 3d Dist. Hancock No. 5-16-25, 2017-Ohio-681 at ¶ 18 (“[b]ecause
[defendant] was not a party to [plaintiff’s] original action, [plaintiff] cannot take
advantage of the one-year “grace period” under R.C. 1305.19”).
Here, the savings statute does not apply to claims against Hamilton County or the
BOCC because they were not parties to the First Lawsuit. Griffin, 10 Fed. Appx. at 273;
Eaves, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59125 at ** 17-18; Pearsall, 2017-Ohio-681 at ¶ 18.
Plaintiffs attempt to avoid this result by arguing that because the First Lawsuit
named the Sheriff in his official capacity, Hamilton County and the BOCC “always were
parties in interest” to the First Lawsuit. (Doc. 7 at 7).
Plaintiff’s argument is not well-taken. It is true that for purposes of federal
pleadings standards, naming an officer in his official capacity is “another way of pleading
an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473
U.S. 159, 165 (1985) (citation omitted). However, for purposes of Ohio’s savings statute,
naming an agent in the first lawsuit does not “save” the ability to name the agent’s
principal directly in the second lawsuit. See Heilprin v. Ohio State Univ. Hosp., 31 Ohio
App. 3d 35, 36-37, 508 N.E.2d 178 (10th Dist. 1986) (rejecting plaintiff’s argument “that
by suing Dr. Roberts, the agent of the hospital, he preserved his cause of action against
the principal, the hospital.”).
Accordingly, Hamilton County5 and the BOCC are dismissed from this action. 6
B. The Sheriff’s Department is not sui juris.
The County Defendants argue further that the Sheriff’s department should be
dismissed because it is not sui juris. (Doc. 5 at 8-10). 7
This Court agrees. A county sheriff’s office is not a legal entity that is capable of
being sued. Barrett v. Wallace, 107 F. Supp. 2d 949, 954 (S.D. Ohio 2000) (Spiegel, J).
Accordingly, the Sheriff’s Department is dismissed from this action.
Having found that Hamilton County, the BOCC, and the Sheriff’s Department are
entitled to dismissal, the Court now turns to the County Defendants’ arguments that the
Complaint fails to state viable claims against the Sheriff—the remaining County
Defendant—under § 1983 and the ADA.
C. The Complaint states a plausible § 1983 claim.
The County Defendants argue that the Complaint does not state a viable §1983
claim. (Doc. 5 at 11-13). The Court does not agree.
To prevail on a §1983 claim, a plaintiff must show he has suffered a constitutional
deprivation by a person acting under the color of state law. Adair v. Charter County of
While the Court finds that the statute of limitations precludes Plaintiffs from adding Hamilton
County as a separate entity at this juncture, the Court notes that this holding will not prejudice
the Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs’ claims against the Sheriff in his official capacity are “in all respects
other than name, to be treated as a suit against” Hamilton County. See Graham, 473 U.S. at 166.
If Plaintiffs are awarded damages against the Sheriff in his official capacity, they can execute
their award against the County. Id.
As the claims against Hamilton County and the BOCC are time-barred, the Court need not
consider the County Defendants’ arguments that Hamilton County is not sui juris (Doc. 5 at 8-9)
or that Hamilton County and the BOCC do not control the HCJC (id. at 9-11).
Wayne, 452 F.3d 482, 491-92 (6th Cir. 2006). When municipal officers are sued in their
official capacity, their actions are attributable to the municipality. Alkire v. Irving, 330
F.3d 802, 815 (6th Cir. 2003). Municipal liability only attaches in “Monell claims,” that
is, in those situations in which a plaintiff establishes that a custom, policy, or practice
attributable to the municipality was the “moving force” behind the violation of the
plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Powers v. Hamilton County Pub. Defender Comm’n, 501
F.3d 592, 607 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694
A plaintiff may invoke a custom, policy, or practice sufficient to state a claim for
Monell liability by alleging either: “(1) the existence of an illegal official policy or
legislative enactment; (2) that an official with final decision making authority ratified
illegal actions; (3) the existence of inadequate training or supervision; or (4) the existence
of a custom of tolerance [of] or acquiescence to federal rights violations.” D’Ambrosio v.
Marino, 747 F.3d 378, 386 (6th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted).
Here, the Complaint alleges that Defendants exhibited deliberate indifference to
Plaintiffs’ serious medical needs in violation of the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 40-42). Further, the Complaint alleges that these
constitutional violations were proximately caused by Defendants’ policies and/or customs
as well as their failure to adequately hire, train and/or supervise. (Id. at ¶ 39). The Court
finds that these allegations, when viewed in a light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, set
forth a plausible Monell claim.
The County Defendants argue the Complaint does not sufficiently describe any
particular custom or policy or identify how that custom or policy caused Plaintiffs’
injuries. (Doc. 5 at 12-13). Specifically, the County Defendants argue that the
Complaint does not “identify the staff involved, the time period involved, or what any
individual person would have been aware of regarding the physical condition of Ms. Moll
or her fetus, Lily Francis.” (Id. at 13).
The County Defendants’ argument is not well-taken. The Complaint does identify
policies adopted by the Defendants, as well as deficiencies in Defendants’ hiring, training
and supervision. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 22-38). Plaintiffs further allege that these policies and
deficiencies proximately caused Plaintiffs’ injuries. (Id. at ¶ 39).
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has found similar allegations sufficient
to state a plausible Monell claim. See Petty v. County of Franklin, 478 F.3d 341, 347-48
(6th Cir. 2007) (allegations that “certain customs and policies” of Franklin County were
the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury stated a Monell claim because “it is not clear
what more [plaintiff] could have alleged with respect to the policies Franklin County may
or may not have.”); Stack v. Karnes, 750 F. Supp. 2d 892, 899 (S.D. Ohio 2010) (Frost, J)
(allegation that defendants “ratified and/or implemented the policies, practices and
procedures which denied Plaintiff . . . medical treatment within a reasonable period of
time and did so with deliberate indifference to the Plaintiff’s serious medical needs”
stated plausible Monell claim); Heard v. City of Hazel Park, No. 11-15121, 2012 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 71104 at ** 9-10 (E.D. Mich. May 22, 2012) (plaintiff stated plausible
Monell claim by alleging “as a direct and proximate cause of [defendant’s] policies,
practices and customs, [plaintiff] was deprived of her constitutionally protected rights”).
To the extent the County Defendants argue that Plaintiffs were required to set
forth the identity of the staff or the precise time of each action, the Supreme Court has
expressly held that Monell claims are not subject to the heightened pleadings standards
that the County Defendants ask the Court to impose. See Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnt’y
Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168-69 (1993).
Accordingly, the County Defendants’ motion to dismiss Count I for failure to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted is denied.
D. The Complaint states a plausible claim for violation of the ADA.
The County Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to state a claim for violation
of the ADA on behalf of Ms. Moll. (Doc. 5 at 13-14). The Court does not agree.
Title II of the ADA states, in relevant part, “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. § 12132. To establish a prima
facie case of intentional discrimination under Title II of the ADA, a plaintiff must show
that (1) she has a disability; (2) she is otherwise qualified; and (3) she was being excluded
from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under the
program because of her disability. Tucker v. Tennessee, 539 F.3d 526, 532 (6th Cir.
Here, the Complaint alleges that Ms. Moll was “disabled” for purposes of the
ADA because she was a recovering drug addict, with a record of drug addiction, and was
regarded by Defendants as being a drug addict. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 46). The Complaint claims
Defendants denied Ms. Moll “services, programs or activities”—transportation to the
emergency room—because of her disability. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-49).
The County Defendants argue that the Complaint does not sufficiently allege that
Ms. Moll was treated differently than any other prisoner because of her disability. (Doc.
5 at 14). 8
The County Defendants’ argument is not well-taken. The Complaint clearly
alleges that Defendants “treated Plaintiff Moll differently than similarly situated
inmates/patients who were not recovering drug addicts/abusers, did not have a record of
drug addiction/abuse, and/or were not regarded by Defendants as being drug addicts
and/or as having records of same.” (Doc. 1 at P49). Viewing the allegations of the
Complaint in a light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, the Complaint states a prima facie
case of discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 12132.
Accordingly, the County Defendants’ motion to dismiss Count II for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted is denied.
E. The Sheriff is not entitled to qualified immunity.
In their motion to dismiss, the County Defendants argue that the Sheriff was not
personally involved in any of the alleged incidents, and, in any event, is entitled to
County Defendants do not dispute Plaintiff’s assertion that Ms. Moll’s alleged drug addiction is
“disability” for purposes of the ADA.
qualified immunity. (Doc. 5 at 15-18).
As Plaintiffs correctly point out, the Sheriff is named in this action in his official
capacity only. (Doc. 7 at 14). Qualified immunity may only be asserted by government
officials sued in their individual capacity. See Lavelle v. Sines, No. 2:11-cv-693, 2012
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 312 at * 10, n. 1 (S. D. Ohio Jan. 3, 2012) (Graham, J) (citing Guest v.
Leis, 255 F. 3d 325, 337 (6th Cir. 2001)). The qualified immunity defense does not
apply to Plaintiffs’ claims against the Sheriff in his official capacity. Id.
F. The Sheriff is not entitled to sovereign immunity.
In their reply memorandum, the County Defendants switch gears and argue that
the Sheriff is entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. This
argument also fails.
The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to
any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the
United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any
U.S. Const. amend. XI.
Although by its terms the Eleventh Amendment applies only to suits against a
State by citizens of another State, the Supreme Court has extended the Eleventh
Amendment’s applicability to suits by citizens against their own states. See Bd. of
Trustees of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001) (citations omitted). The
ultimate guarantee of the Eleventh Amendment is that “nonconsenting States may not be
sued by private individuals in federal court.” Id.
The immunity afforded by the Eleventh Amendment “does not extend to counties
and similar municipalities.” Mt. Healthy City School Dist. Bd. Of Educ. V. Doyle, 429
U.S. 274, 280 (1977). Ohio law classifies sheriffs as county officials. See Ohio Rev.
Code Ann. § 301.28(a)(3). Accordingly, a county sheriff is typically not an “arm of the
state” entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Jones v. Hamilton Cty. Sheriff,
838 F.3d 782, 784 (6th Cir. 2016) (“[b]ecause counties lack inherent sovereign immunity,
so do Ohio county sheriffs”); Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 811 (6th Cir. 2003) (“[i]t is
clear that Holmes County (and Sheriff Zimmerly as an officer of Holmes County) is not
an arm of the state that is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity”); Allen v. Lies, 154
F. Supp. 2d 1240, 1263 (S.D. Ohio 2001) (Spiegel, J) (the Hamilton County sheriff is not
an “arm of the state” entitled to assert Eleventh Amendment immunity because
“Hamilton County—rather than the State of Ohio—would satisfy any money judgment
against the Sheriff”).
The County Defendants argue that, because Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 307.021(A)
refers to the “office of the sheriff” as a “stage agency” with jurisdiction over jails, the
sheriff is a “state agent regarding the operation of the jail” and entitled to Eleventh
Amendment immunity. (Doc. 5 at 13). This argument is not well-taken.
The Sixth Circuit has acknowledged that, occasionally, law enforcement officers
“wear multiple hats, acting on behalf of the county and the State.” Crabbs v. Scott, 786
F.3d 426, 429 (6th Cir. 2015). Where county officials are sued simply for complying
with state mandates that afford no discretion, they act as an arm of the state under the
Eleventh Amendment. Id. at 430. However, immunity is limited to situations in which
“state law required [the Sheriff] to take the actions he took.” Id.
Here, the Sheriff is a Hamilton County official (Ohio Rev. Code § 301.28(A)(3))
elected (id. § 311.01(A)) and paid (id. § 325.01) by Hamilton County. Hamilton County,
not the state of Ohio, would satisfy any judgment against the Sheriff in his official
capacity. Allen, 154 F. Supp. 2d at 1263. There is no indication that state law or policy
mandated any of the actions set forth in the Complaint. In these circumstances, the
Sheriff is not entitled to assert Eleventh Amendment immunity as a defense. Crabbs, 786
F.3d at 429-30.
For these reasons, the County Defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. 5) is
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, Plaintiffs’ claims against
Hamilton County, the BOCC and the Sheriff’s Department are DISMISSED. Plaintiffs’
claims against the Sheriff in his official capacity survive.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Timothy S. Black
United States District Judge
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