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Butts v. Deibler

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

July 5, 2013

MARVIN BUTTS Plaintiff
v.
OFFICER GEOFFREY DEIBLER, MORGANFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT, CITY OF MORGANFIELD, JIMMY LYONS, DAVID JENKINS, BRUCIE MOORE, and MEGAN RANDOLPH Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH H. McKINLEY, Jr., Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 22] of Defendants Geoffrey Deibler, the Morganfield Police Department, and the City of Morganfield (hereinafter referred to collectively as the "Morganfield Defendants"). Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Morganfield Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

I.BACKGROUND

This controversy arises out of a dispute over the sale of two "gold" buffalo bullion bars. The dispute began on September 20, 2011, when Defendant David Jenkins visited Plaintiff's Jewelry and Repair Store and sold Plaintiff the bars for $3, 300. (Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 21.) After Jenkins left the store, Plaintiff discovered that the bars were counterfeit. Plaintiff immediately called Jenkins, asking him to return the money. (Id. ¶ 24.) When Jenkins asserted that he would not return the money, Plaintiff called the Morganfield Police Department for its assistance. (Id. ¶ 25.) Officer Geoffrey Deibler was dispatched to Plaintiff's store. On his arrival, Officer Deibler called Jenkins, advising him to return the money, as failing to do so would constitute felony theft by deception. (Id. ¶ 26.) Jenkins appeared reluctant to do so. Nevertheless, he agreed to come back to Plaintiff's store and return it. (Id. ¶ 28.)

After the money's return, several events transpired that give rise to the instant cause of action. First, Detective Jimmy Lyons of the Union County Sheriff's Office called Officer Deibler, inquiring as to why he had become involved in the matter. (Id. ¶ 30; Deibler Testimony, Jury Trial Transcript [DN 22-7] 79.) Detective Lyons had talked to Jenkins' father-in-law and believed that Jenkins should not have been forced to return the money to Plaintiff. (Compl. [DN 1] ¶¶ 31-33; Deibler Testimony, Jury Trial Transcript [DN 22-7] 75.) Second, Officer Deibler returned to Plaintiff's store the following day with a criminal citation, charging Plaintiff with falsely reporting an incident. (Compl. [DN 1] ¶¶ 37, 40.) According to Plaintiff's allegations, Officer Deibler told him that Brucie Moore, the County Attorney of Union County, had received a call from Jenkins and had decided to have a citation served on him. (Id. ¶ 39.)[1] Further, Officer Deibler expressed his opinion to Plaintiff that he should plead guilty to the charged misdemeanor or take a deferment. (Id. ¶ 42.) Third, Jenkins had a small claims complaint served on Plaintiff the next day for bad business and embarrassment. (Id. ¶ 44.) According to Plaintiff's theory of the case, Moore and Officer Deibler conspired with Jenkins to serve Plaintiff a criminal citation devoid of probable cause. (Id. ¶ 66.) This was done for the purpose of getting Plaintiff to accept some sort of plea or deferment so that Jenkins could use it against Plaintiff in his small claims suit as conclusive evidence of Plaintiff's wrongdoing. (Id. ¶ 72.)

Ultimately, Jenkins' small claims complaint was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and a jury found that Plaintiff was not guilty of falsely reporting an incident. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 62.) Plaintiff, however, has now sued Jenkins, the Morganfield Defendants, and others, alleging numerous causes of action. The Morganfield Defendants have filed a summary judgment motion. The Court considers it below.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying that portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show that there is some "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the non-moving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence... of a genuine dispute[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 252.

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff alleges that the Morganfield Defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the unlawful initiation and continuation of a criminal citation (Count I) and malicious abuse of process (Count II). Plaintiff also alleges that the Morganfield Defendants are liable under § 1985(3) for conspiring to deprive Plaintiff of his due process and equal protection rights (Count III). Plaintiff asserts a § 1983 cause of action against the Morganfield Police Department and City of Morganfield for failing to protect him from the defendants' actions and failing to properly train Officer Deibler (Count VI). Also, Plaintiff asserts causes of action against Officer Deibler for malicious prosecution (Count IV)[2], conspiracy to defraud (Count V), negligence and gross negligence (Count VII), malicious abuse of process (VIII), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IX), and defamation (Count X).

A. COUNTS I, II, IV, AND VI: CAUSES OF ACTION BASED ON 42 U.S.C. § 1983 AGAINST THE MORGANFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT AND OFFICER DEIBLER IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY

Counts I, II, IV, and VI of Plaintiff's Complaint are brought pursuant to § 1983. They contain allegations against the Morganfield Police Department and Officer Deibler in his official capacity. The Morganfield Defendants argue that Counts I, II, and VI must be dismissed as to the Morganfield Police Department because suits against one of a city's municipal departments should be construed as being brought against the city itself. The Morganfield Defendants also argue that Counts I, II, and IV must be dismissed as to Officer Deibler in his official capacity, as official-capacity suits are to be construed in the same manner. The Court agrees.

The Sixth Circuit has held that municipal departments are not subject to suit under § 1983. See Rhodes v. McDannel , 945 F.2d 117, 120 (6th Cir. 1991) (holding that a police department is not subject to suit under § 1983); Marbry v. Corr. Med. Servs. , 238 F.3d 422, 2000 WL 1720959, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 6, 2000) (holding that a jail is not subject to suit under § 1983). Therefore, the Court finds that the Morganfield Police Department is not subject to suit under § 1983. Instead, the City of Morganfield is the proper defendant, see Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of N.Y. , 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978) (holding that a municipality can be properly sued under § 1983), and the Court will construe Plaintiff's claim against the Morganfield Police Department as a claim against the City of Morganfield itself. See Smallwood v. Jefferson Cnty. Gov't , 743 F.Supp. 502, 503 (W.D. Ky. 1990) (construing claims against the Jefferson County Government, Jefferson County Fiscal Court, and Jefferson County Judge Executive against Jefferson County itself); Jones v. Binion, 2011 WL 1458429, at *9 (E.D. Ky. Apr. 15, 2011) (construing claims against the Carter County Detention Center and Carter County Fiscal Court against Carter County itself). Further, since Plaintiff's actions against the Morganfield Police Department are redundant, see Fultz v. Whittaker , 187 F.Supp.2d 695, 708 (W.D. Ky. 2001), Counts I, II, and VI must be DISMISSED as to it.

The Sixth Circuit has also held that a suit against an individual "in his official capacity" is essentially a suit brought directly against the local government unit. Leach v. Shelby Cnty. Sheriff , 891 F.2d 1241, 1245 (6th Cir. 1989); see Kentucky v. Graham , 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985). "If an action is brought against an official of a governmental entity in his official capacity, the suit should be construed as brought against the governmental entity." Isom v. Ramsey, 2008 WL 2079408, at *2 (W.D. Ky. May 15, 2008) (citing Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police , 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989)). Thus, the Court will construe Plaintiff's official-capacity claims against Officer Deibler against the City of Morganfield. Additionally, because Plaintiff's actions against Officer Deibler in his official capacity duplicate the action against the City of Morganfield, see Fultz , 187 F.Supp.2d at 708, Counts I, II, and IV must be DISMISSED as to him.

The Court notes that in response to the Morganfield Defendants' argument for dismissal as to the Morganfield Police Department and Officer Deibler in his official capacity, Plaintiff fails to address the above-cited cases or provide countervailing authority. Thus, the Court reiterates that the Morganfield Police Department and Officer Deibler in his official capacity are not proper defendants in Counts I, II, IV, and VI. The Morganfield Defendants' summary judgment motion is GRANTED in this regard. The Court next turns to the Morganfield Defendants' argument that it must dismiss Plaintiff's § 1983 claims against Officer Deibler in his individual capacity and the City of Morganfield.

COUNTS I, II, AND IV: CAUSES OF ACTION BASED ON 42 U.S.C. § 1983 AGAINST OFFICER DEIBLER IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY

Count I (entitled "Unlawful Initiation/Continuation of Criminal Citation"), Count II (entitled "Malicious Abuse of Process"), and Count IV (entitled "Malicious Prosecution") center on Plaintiff's prosecution for "Falsely Reporting an Incident, " a Class A misdemeanor under Kentucky law. See K.R.S. § 519.040. Specifically, in Counts I, II, and IV, Plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights by "serving him with a criminal citations [ sic ] devoid of probable cause, " "maliciously us[ing] a legal process to accomplish some ulterior purpose for which it was not designed or intended, " and instituting a criminal proceeding without probable cause "with malice and/or a primary purpose other than that of bringing an offender to justice." (Compl. [DN 1] ¶¶ 66, 70, 81-85.) The Morganfield Defendants assert that these claims must be dismissed as to Officer Deibler in his individual capacity because they do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Plaintiff counters that the claims do rise to such a level. The Court agrees with the Morganfield Defendants.

Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, " instead providing "a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Albright v. Oliver , 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan , 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). The initial step in addressing a § 1983 claim "is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed." Albright , 510 U.S. at 271 (citing Graham v. Connor , 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989)). In this case, as the Morganfield Defendants correctly note, Plaintiff never clearly identifies the constitutional protections which he alleges the defendants violated. (Defs.' Mem. [DN 22-1] 10.) But Plaintiff seems to suggest that the defendants violated his liberty interest to be free from unwarranted prosecution without probable cause (and from improper use of legal process) under the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 66(a)-(c); Mem. in Opp. of Morganfield Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. [DN 34-1] 9.) The Court considers each alleged constitutional violation in turn.

Equal Protection Clause. Plaintiff repeatedly alleges that the defendants' actions denied him of the "equal protection of the law." (Id.) But to the extent that Plaintiff bases his § 1983 claims on the Equal Protection Clause, his claims fail. The Sixth Circuit has long been clear that "[t]o state a claim under the Equal Protection Clause, a § 1983 plaintiff must allege that a state actor intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff because of membership in a protected class." Henry v. Metro. Sewer Dist. , 922 F.2d 332, 341 (6th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). Here, Plaintiff has not alleged as much. Thus, his § 1983 claims cannot be based on equal protection principles.

Due Process Clause. Plaintiff also alleges that the defendants' actions deprived him of "due process of law, " highlighting that the Due Process Clause applies to deliberate government decisions. However, the Court agrees with the Morganfield Defendants that Plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient evidence of a due process violation to support his § 1983 claims.

Procedural Due Process. The parties' arguments focus on whether Plaintiff has produced sufficient evidence of a procedural due process violation. Specifically, the Morganfield Defendants cite the Supreme Court's decision in Parratt v. Taylor to support their argument that Plaintiff has not alleged such a violation. 451 U.S. 527 (1981), rev'd on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams , 474 U.S. 327 (1986). In Parratt, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment should not be viewed as "a font of tort law to be superimposed upon whatever systems may already be administered by the States." Id. at 541. It also held that adequate post-deprivation state judicial remedies may satisfy a procedural due process claim when the claim arises from a random, unauthorized deprivation. Id . According to the Morganfield Defendants, even construing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, it is clear that Plaintiff's injury was caused by the random, unauthorized acts of several state ...


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