RUSSELL v. STECK No. 4:93 CV 00652.
851 F.Supp. 859 (1994)
John W. RUSSELL, Plaintiff, v. Peter C. STECK, et al., Defendant.
United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division.
May 10, 1994.
Charles L. Richards, III, Richards & Meola, Warren, OH, Steven K. Kelley, Law Offices of James A. Keating, Independence, OH, for defendant Roger Gregory.
SAM H. BELL, District Judge.
Presently before the Court are Defendant Roger Gregory's motion for summary judgment (docket # 27) and Defendants Peter Steck and RST Mespo's motion for summary judgment (docket # 30).
STATEMENT OF FACTS
On April 23, 1992, Plaintiff John Russell reserved a room at the Truebrooke Inn, an establishment in which Russell owned an interest, and which is located in Mesopotamia, Ohio. Russell spent most of the afternoon drinking at the Inn. By evening, he had become disorderly, and he started an argument with the manager, Defendant Peter Steck, concerning the Inn's business operations. Eventually, Steck contacted the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department, asking for assistance in settling a disturbance at the Inn.
Defendant Roger Gregory, a deputy sheriff, responded to Steck's call shortly after six o'clock in the evening. Gregory spoke with Russell briefly and asked him to leave the Inn. According to Russell, rather than leave, he retired to his room. Gregory allegedly ordered Russell out of the room and told him to quit the premises. Russell desisted, claiming he was too intoxicated to drive. He offered to remain in his reserved room or to sleep in his car until his inebriation had passed. Gregory escorted Russell to the latter's car and, despite Russell's renewed request to stay, insisted Russell leave the property.
Russell filed this lawsuit on March 25, 1993, claiming that the defendants conspired to deprive him of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights while acting under color of state law.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently summarized the standard of review governing motions for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56:
Leo LaPointe v. United Autoworkers Local 600,
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Russell's single count complaint asserts a cause of action against each of the named defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that the defendants collectively deprived him of his liberty without affording him due process of law. In support of his motion, Gregory claims, inter alia, that he is immune from suit. Steck simply asserts a lack of evidence sufficient to sustain the claim against him.
Section 1983 provides a cause of action for an aggrieved party against one who deprived the claimant of protected rights while acting under color of state law. To maintain an action under this section, a person need prove two things. First, he must show that he has been deprived of rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Additionally, he must establish that the defendant's acts, which allegedly deprived him of his protected rights, were performed under color of state law. Parratt v. Taylor,
"Qualified or `good faith' immunity is an affirmative defense that is available to government officials performing discretionary functions." Rich v. City of Mayfield Heights,
The comparison of those standards which guide our analysis concerning the issue of qualified immunity, as set forth in Anderson, supra, and its predecessor opinion in Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
The Court initially considers whether Gregory's alleged conduct in fact violated the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. If it did, the Court must then consider whether that conduct was based on a reasonable belief in its lawfulness. If, however, Gregory did not abridge a protected right, Gregory's motion must be granted without further inquiry. Seigert v. Gilley,
I. The Constitutional Right Asserted.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes it unlawful for any state to "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...." U.S. Const. amend. XIV § 1. Among those liberty interests historically protected by due process is the right "to be free from ... unjustified intrusions on personal security." Ingraham v. Wright,
A. DeShaney and its Progeny.
Much of the case law bearing upon this Court's analysis of Russell's claim derives from the Supreme Court's opinion in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Social Services Department,
The DeShaney plaintiffs culled their "affirmative duty" argument from several decisions in which the Supreme Court articulated the state's duty to act in the interest of an individual in certain limited instances in which the state has affirmatively restrained that individual's liberty. See DeShaney v. Winnebago County Social Services Department,
According to the Court, the DeShaney plaintiffs misconstrued the due process "duty to protect" identified in Youngberg and anticipated in Estelle:
Id. 489 U.S. at 200, 109 S.Ct. at 1005-06. The Court found Estelle-Youngberg inapplicable to the facts presented in DeShaney since the state defendant in that case, although
The Supreme Court in DeShaney plainly sought to circumvent a wholesale expansion of the limited due process duty to protect; nonetheless, its description of that duty accommodates, and, indeed, appears to contemplate, enforcement of the duty in non-custodial settings. Thus, in DeShaney's wake, a number of courts have found a denial of due process, not only in situations in which a "special relationship" between the plaintiff and the state gives rise to an affirmative duty of care, but also in those instances in which the state, by its own actions, has created dangers threatening the plaintiff's life or liberty. See Reed v. Gardner,
The above quoted passage from DeShaney gave rise to this line of opinions, confirming the suspicion raised by Ingraham that "the State's affirmative act of restraining the individual's freedom to act on his own behalf ... trigger[s] the protections of the Due Process Clause." Focused as they are on state conduct which places an individual in danger — with scant or no reference to a concomitant failure to protect — these decisions descend directly from Ingraham, while sharing only a tangential relation with Estelle and Youngberg and the affirmative duty to protect adumbrated in those cases. As Justice Brennan observed in his dissenting opinion in DeShaney, "In a constitutional setting that distinguishes sharply between action and inaction, one's characterization of the misconduct alleged under § 1983 may effectively decide the case." 489 U.S. at 204, 109 S.Ct. at 1008 (Brennan, J., dissenting). Consistent with the referenced line of authority, we understand the question before us to be whether Defendant actively placed Russell in harms way — not whether Defendant failed to exercise an affirmative duty of care.
B. Applicable Authority from the Circuit Courts.
Walton v. City of Southfield,
Unfortunately, the Court in Walton ignored its own prior admonition, Silver v. Franklin Township,
Although it did not decide whether the particular conduct of the defendants before it was unconstitutional, the Walton court did imply — consistent with Ingraham and the weight of authority from other circuits — that state action, custodial or not, which places an individual in a dangerous position violates due process so long as the challenged conduct is deemed a "restraint of personal liberty." Id. at 1337. Thus, as stated above, the question before this Court is whether police conduct tantamount to forcing a person to drive while intoxicated constitutes such a restraint, and not — as Gregory would have it — whether a police officer has an affirmative duty to protect an obviously drunk driver.
The Seventh Circuit's recent decision in Reed bears directly on this issue. Plaintiff Richard Reed was the survivor of an automobile accident caused when a drunk driver, Larry Rice, veered left of center on an Illinois highway and collided with Reed's car. The collision killed Reed's pregnant wife and seriously injured his child and several other passengers. Reed, 986 F.2d at 1123-24. A few hours before the accident, state troopers had arrested Rice's companion, Cathy Irby. Id. at 1124. At the time of the arrest, Rice was riding as a passenger in Irby's car. Id. The troopers took Irby into custody, but they left Rice alone with the car and its key, even though they had reason to know that he was intoxicated. It was Irby's car Rice was driving when he hit the Reeds. Id.
Reed sued the troopers responsible for leaving Rice in possession of the automobile for allegedly infringing his and his decedent's right to substantive due process. The district court dismissed Reed's cause for failure to state a claim for deprivation of a constitutional right. Id.
Leaning heavily on DeShaney, the Seventh Circuit reversed, concluding "injured parties can state a claim under section 1983 when police officers arrest a sober driver and leave behind an obviously drunk passenger who takes the wheel." Id. Critical to the court's holding was its determination that the troopers' conduct had actually placed the Reeds and others on the road in a worse position than they had previously encountered:
Id. at 1125 (emphasis added).
In reaching its decision, the Reed court relied in part on Gregory v. City of Rogers, Arkansas,
Two pre-DeShaney cases from within this Circuit illuminate the immediate inquiry. Nishiyama v. Dickson County, Tennessee,
Nishiyama's parents brought suit against the county and its officers under § 1983, claiming that the responsible officers' gross negligence had proximately caused their daughter's death. A three member panel of the court reversed the district court's dismissal for failure to state a claim. 779 F.2d 52 (1985). The majority of the court vacated the panel opinion but ultimately reversed the trial court's order after hearing the case en banc. Nishiyama, 814 F.2d at 277.
Accepting as true the allegations in the plaintiffs' complaint, the court stated: "We believe that the allegation in the present complaint of gross negligence on the part of the defendants was sufficient to charge them with the arbitrary use of governmental power.... These allegations are sufficient to state a claim for a substantive due process violation...." Id. at 282. In its closing summary, the court observed:
Id. at 283. By predicating liability on the defendants' "reckless indifference to the risk" of danger created by their conduct, the court in Nishiyama forecasted this Court's use of a "creation of danger" analysis. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals realized as much, for it relied heavily on Nishiyama in Cornelius, in which case it concluded that local officials violated an employee's constitutional rights by exposing her without adequate protection to the special dangers created by the presence of inmate laborers in the town hall. 880 F.2d at 354-355.
Estate of Tittiger by Tittiger v. Doering,
Shortly thereafter, Police Officer Doering stopped Klamik's car and asked Klamik to take several sobriety tests. After conducting the tests, Doering allowed Klamik to continue
Tittiger's estate sued Doer pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging, inter alia, that Doer had deprived Tittiger of life and liberty without due process of law. Doer moved to dismiss the claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Id. Relying on the Sixth Circuit's opinion in Nishiyama, the district court held that:
Id. at 180. By forcing the intoxicated Tittiger to ride his unlit bicycle at night, the court ruled, Doer had placed Tittiger in a position of danger while doing nothing to protect him. Id. For this reason, the Court denied the motion to dismiss. Id.
C. Analysis of the Instant Cause.
The Fourteenth Amendment protects Russell's historically rooted liberty interest in freedom from unjustified intrusions upon his personal security. Intentional state conduct that placed him in harms way and left him unable to act in his own best interest necessarily impinged upon that interest. The relevant case law from within and without this circuit leads the Court to conclude that this impingement — if proven — impermissibly violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
As was observed in Gregory, "[d]runken people are far less sympathetic plaintiffs than crime victims or young children...." 974 F.2d at 1014 (dissenting opinion). The innocent motorists in Reed and Nishiyama undeniably evoke greater compassion than does the present plaintiff. Likewise, the ultimate injuries suffered by those victims exceed immeasurably those complained of in this matter. Notwithstanding notions of natural justice, however, it is the state action creating a danger and not merely the scope of damages ultimately suffered that implicates due process considerations.
The actual risk of danger to the plaintiff caused by the defendant's action in this case was as great as, or greater than, that spawned in Reed and Nishiyama. The decedents in the latter two cases were chance unfortunates among a host of potential highway victims. While Defendant Gregory's alleged conduct created a foreseeable risk of injury to a similar host of unidentified travellers, it more obviously placed Russell himself in danger since he was a necessary party to any resulting accident or arrest.
The precedent setting authority from this circuit alone requires the court to acknowledge Russell's Fourteenth Amendment claim. Although both Nishiyama and Tittiger rest on fairly loose conceptions of substantive due process which antedate DeShaney the significance each attributes to official conduct that puts another in danger anticipates and ultimately dovetails with the more precise Due Process inquiry announced by DeShaney and its progeny.
Moreover, were we without DeShaney and its direct descendants, we would nonetheless by compelled by Nishiyama to allow Russell to advance his substantive due process claim. On the evidence presented, a reasonable fact finder could conclude that Gregory acted with reckless indifference to the safety of Russell and countless others and in so doing abridged Russell's right to substantive due process. Nishiyama, 814 F.2d at 283.
The considerations which shaped the Gregory decision are not present here. It must be noted that the Eighth Circuit expressly approved in Gregory its previous holding that the state assumes an affirmative duty of care in those situations in which state actors place individuals in danger. 974 F.2d at 1010. In that particular case, however, the court concluded that the risk of harm which confronted the intoxicated drivers was created by a third-party, who had neglected his responsibility to take his fellows home or to remove the car keys from their reach. There is no
It may well be true that Gregory believed that he was showing kindness toward Russell by sending him away against his protestations instead of placing him under arrest. Whatever his motivation, however, Gregory purportedly "place[d] [Russell] in a position of danger that otherwise [he] would not have faced." Reed, 986 F.2d at 1125. This Court must concur with the view expressed in Nishiyama: "It is particularly troubling when persons charged with ensuring public peace and order engender peril as a result of their outrageous conduct." 814 F.2d at 283.
The Court's ruling on this issue should in no way be construed to suggest that Gregory held a constitutional duty to prevent Russell from driving while intoxicated. We echo the Seventh Circuit's statement in Reed: "DeShaney and its progeny make it clear that the police have no affirmative obligation to protect citizens from drunk drivers." 986 F.2d at 1125.
Likewise, the Court expressly rejects the notion that Gregory may be held liable under a common law negligence standard. Russell may recover on his claim only if he proves that Gregory, acting intentionally or with reckless indifference to the risk created, affirmatively placed Russell in a position of danger that he would otherwise not have faced. Nishiyama, 814 F.2d at 283; Gregory v. City of Rogers, Arkansas,
II. Clearly Established Rights.
Having found that Russell advances a legitimate constitutional claim, the Court must now consider whether, in light of the law as it was then clearly established, a reasonable officer in Gregory's position on April 23, 1992 would or should have realized that his conduct violated a protected right. In determining the actual state of the law as established at the time in question, "the law of our circuit requires us to look first to decisions of the Supreme Court, then to decisions of [the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals] and other courts within our circuit, and finally to the decisions of other circuits." Daugherty v. Campbell,
Ingraham, DeShaney, Nishiyama and Tittiger all pre-date the 1992 incident by more than three years. In light of the standing decisions in Nishiyama and Tittiger, the Court believes a reasonable officer in Gregory's position would or should have known that forcing a person to drive while intoxicated constitutes an unjustifiable intrusion on that person's interest in personal security.
The terrible risks and potential consequences related to drunk driving are witnessed and discussed with increasing regularity in our society. If, as it has been held, a law enforcement officer should realize that he recklessly threatens others' life and liberty interests by allowing a felon to operate a patrol car, he should also know that he creates a similar threat by forcing an intoxicated man behind the wheel — especially in light of the holding to this effect in Tittiger. Thus, Defendant Gregory cannot claim official immunity in this lawsuit.
III. Claim and Issue Preclusion.
In addition to raising the qualified immunity defense, Gregory argues that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel preclude Russell's suit in light of Russell's prior criminal conviction.
In determining whether to afford preclusive effect to a state court judgment,
Concerning the specific issue of duress, Gregory has not demonstrated that this issue was actually raised and litigated in the course of the criminal proceeding. Accordingly, Russell is not collaterally estopped from arguing a similar issue in these proceedings. Johnson, 1988 WL 3749 at 7.
Finally, we note that, contrary to Gregory's assertion, there exist genuine issues of material fact relating to the question of causation.
In addition to Gregory, Russell has sued Steck and the partnership which owns the Truebrooke Inn, alleging that Steck joined with Gregory to force Russell onto the highway. A private citizen may be held liable under § 1983 for unlawful conduct undertaken willfully together with a state actor. Dennis v. Sparks,
In support of his motion for summary judgment, Steck avers "at no time did affiant and the Trumbull County Sheriff's deputies reach an agreement, tacit or otherwise, regarding how Mr. Russell was to leave the Truebrooke Inn Premises." Stack Aff., p. 3.
Having carefully reviewed Russell's own affidavit, the Court concludes that he has failed to demonstrate by more than a mere scintilla of evidence that Steck was involved in the alleged decision to make Russell drive off of the premises. Russell's sole testimony on the issue is as follows:
Russell Aff., p. 2. Russell's conclusory statements concerning Steck and Gregory's alleged agreement are of no probative value in determining whether such an agreement actually existed. Moreover, Russell concedes that he has no personal knowledge of Steck's presence outside of the Inn at the time of Russell's departure. His "information and belief" would seem to be inadmissible hearsay.
The Court finds no genuine factual issues concerning either Steck's or the partnership's involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation. Accordingly, those parties' joint motion for summary judgment must be granted.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant Gregory's motion for summary judgment (docket # 27) is denied. Defendants Steck and RST Mespo's motion for summary judgment (docket # 30) is granted.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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