Arucan v. Cambridge East Healthcare Center, 021219 FED6, 18-1447

Docket Nº:18-1447
Judge Panel:BEFORE: SILER, COOK, and BUSH, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:February 12, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

JOHANA CABANTAC ARUCAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 18-1447

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

February 12, 2019



BEFORE: SILER, COOK, and BUSH, Circuit Judges.


Johana Arucan appeals the district court's dismissal of her civil rights claims against: (1) her former employer, Cambridge East Healthcare Center (Cambridge), and former supervisors, Paige Vantiem and Megan Reusser (collectively, Cambridge Defendants); and (2) two officers from the Madison Heights Police Department, John Heinrich and Rick Zamojski (collectively, the Officers). We AFFIRM.


Arucan began working for Cambridge as a physical therapy assistant in 2012. In that role, Arucan provided therapy to patients pursuant to a schedule that Cambridge generated each day.

On January 5, 2016, Arucan mistakenly treated a patient who had never been evaluated for and did not need physical therapy. The mix-up occurred when a physical therapist asked Arucan to treat Catherine Y.-a patient not on Arucan's schedule. Instead of treating Catherine Y., however, Arucan treated Catherine B.

The next day, Megan Mocny-Arucan's direct supervisor and Cambridge's rehabilitation manager-learned of Arucan's mistake.1 Mocny told Arucan that her mistake was unacceptable and then reported the incident to Vantiem, Cambridge's head administrator. Arucan signed a handwritten statement explaining her error. While Arucan testified that she did not write the statement (and later that Mocny forced her to write it, she ultimately admitted that she committed a terminable offense when she treated the wrong patient.

On January 8, 2016, Vantiem called Arucan and Mocny into her office and fired Arucan. Vantiem explained that Arucan's mistake was intolerable given that she could have easily verified that she was treating the correct patient and that providing a patient with unnecessary treatment can cause injury.

According to Cambridge Defendants, after Vantiem fired Arucan, Arucan refused to sign termination paperwork or leave the premises.2 Instead, Arucan exited Vantiem's office, explaining that she was going to treat her patients. Vantiem told Arucan that she would call the police if Arucan did not leave the facility. Arucan reiterated her intention to treat her patients and left the office; Mocny followed her.

Someone called the Madison Heights Police Department, and, within a few minutes, Officers Zamojski and Heinrich (collectively, the Officers) arrived at the facility. Upon the Officers' arrival, Vantiem told the Officers that she wanted Arucan to leave the facility immediately. Then, Vantiem-in Zamojski's presence-asked Arucan to leave, but she refused.

Thereafter, the Officers asked Arucan to leave and warned her that if she did not leave, she would be arrested. Arucan ignored the Officers' warnings.

Ultimately, Heinrich arrested Arucan for trespassing. The Officers subsequently escorted Arucan off Cambridge's property and transported her to the Madison Heights Police Department where she was booked and placed in a holding cell until one of her (former) co-workers bonded her out.

Arucan was charged with trespassing, an offense to which she ultimately pleaded no contest. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Arucan agreed to "release the City, its officers, employees and agents from any claims, damages, or causes of action of any kind that may be associated with the incident resulting in the prosecution of this case." Both Arucan and her attorney signed the agreement and release of liability.

Based on the events that led to and followed her termination, Arucan filed a pro se complaint-which she later amended-against Cambridge, Vantiem, Reusser (one of Arucan's managers), Zamojski, and Heinrich. Though the amended complaint is vague, it appears to contain claims against Cambridge Defendants for discrimination based on race, color, gender, and national origin-and creation of a hostile work environment-in violation of Title VII.3 Further, Arucan seemingly asserted that the Officers were liable to her pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because they violated her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they: (1) arrested her without probable cause and (2) subjected her to excessive force during her arrest. Arucan also claimed that the Cambridge Defendants and/or the Officers committed a "flagrant violation to [her] civil and constitutional rights as a woman, a minority and as an [sic] U.S. citizen's employee," which the lower court interpreted as an attempt to allege an Equal Protection violation.

As the case progressed, Arucan sought but was denied counsel on several occasions. She filed two requests for counsel. The magistrate judge denied Arucan's requests, reasoning that- because her claims were "not of an unduly complex nature" and she "ha[d] an adequate understanding of the issues and matters involved in [the] case" and was "able to articulate the claims and arguments in a reasonable fashion"-her case did not present the type of "exceptional circumstances" that warrant appointment of counsel. Later, Arucan twice more requested counsel. The magistrate judge denied the requests, reasoning that she had "offer[ed] no reason[] for the Court to depart from its earlier decision to deny the appointment of counsel."

Soon thereafter, Cambridge Defendants and the Officers moved for and obtained summary judgment as to each of Arucan's claims. The magistrate judge reasoned that Arucan's discrimination claim failed because the undisputed facts: (1) did not show that Cambridge Defendants treated her differently from a similarly situated, non-protected employee; and (2) established that Cambridge Defendants had a legitimate reason for terminating her-namely, she treated the wrong patient. The magistrate judge also concluded that Arucan's hostile work environment claim failed because she offered no evidence supporting it. The magistrate judge then found that the Officers were entitled to qualified immunity because they did not violate Arucan's Fourth Amendment rights. Finally, the magistrate judge reasoned that, if Arucan raised an Equal Protection claim, that claim was implausible.4


Arucan-with assistance of counsel-appeals. She argues (in a relatively unstructured manner) that the lower court abused its discretion when it denied her requests for counsel. She also asserts that the lower court erred in: (1) granting the motions for summary judgment, and (2) dismissing her supposed Equal Protection claim.

We find none of Arucan's arguments persuasive.


The District Court Did Not Abuse its Discretion When it Denied Arucan's Requests for Counsel

Arucan argues that the district court erred when it denied her requests for counsel. Specifically, she claims that it failed to consider the complexity of her claims and "whether [she] was competent" to prosecute them pro se.

A district court's decision regarding appointment of counsel is reviewed for abuse of discretion and "will be overturned only when the denial of counsel results in 'fundamental unfairness impinging on due process rights.'" See Reneer v. Sewell, 975 F.2d 258, 261 (6th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) ("The court may request an attorney to represent any person unable to afford counsel."). In exercising its discretion, the district court considers whether "exceptional circumstances"-such as highly complex issues-warrant appointed counsel. Lavado v. Keohane, 992 F.2d 601, 606 (6th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted); see also Mars v. Hanberry, 752 F.2d 254, 256 (6th Cir. 1985).

The district court did not abuse its discretion. Arucan's requests for counsel stated only that she would like an attorney and that...

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