Balderaz v. Porter

Decision Date14 December 1983
Docket NumberNo. C-3-83-581.,C-3-83-581.
Citation578 F. Supp. 1491
PartiesJuan BALDERAZ, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Leonard J. PORTER, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio


David W. Bruns, Coldwater, Ohio, Howard E. Swinehart, Troy, Ohio, Richard H. Wallace, Sidney, Ohio, Gregory D. Wilson, Peter R. VanArsdel, St. Marys, Ohio, for plaintiffs.

Gordon H. Savage, Dayton, Ohio, for defendant C.M.I., Inc.

Gene W. Holliker, Chief, Federal Litigation Section, Atty. Gen., State of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio, for defendants Walsh, Cox, Reich, Saunders and Smith.

James G. Neary, Asst. Atty. Gen., State Department Section, Columbus, Ohio, for defendants Porter, Ackerman and Jackson.


RICE, District Judge.

In this unusual lawsuit, Plaintiffs allege that the use of intoxilyzer equipment by Ohio law enforcement officials has resulted in the violation of their federal due process and equal protection rights. This violation comes about, Plaintiffs assert, from interference with the proper operation of the intoxilyzer equipment by radio frequencies (Radio Frequency Interference or RFI), which interference the various Defendants allegedly knew about and failed to disclose to the Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs have also moved for a class certification. Defendants, various officials involved with enforcing the Ohio drunk driving law, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 4511.19, and a private company which manufactures the equipment in question, have moved (docs. # 23 & # 24) to dismiss the amended complaint. Said Defendants also oppose the class certification. The grounds raised in support of the motions may be loosely described as "abstention" and Lyons defenses and "non-abstention" defenses.

For the reasons outlined below, the Court finds most of the "non-abstention" defenses not to be well taken. However, the Court holds that most, if not all, of the various Plaintiffs' actions are barred by the abstention principles found in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971) and its progeny. Whether the entirety of the lawsuit is so barred will depend on the results of a class certification hearing and other procedures set forth in this opinion.


Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on June 23, 1983, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking broad injunctive and other equitable relief. Plaintiffs also moved for a preliminary injunction. On July 5, 1983, this Court held a hearing on the motion, and received certain testimony and evidence proffered by Plaintiffs. The Court adjourned the hearing, subject to reopening for Defendants to present their case. The Court directed Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, setting out their legal theories with greater clarity, and, further, directed all parties to file further memoranda on the legal issues involved. The parties have so complied.

The amended complaint names nine individuals as Defendants, as well as C.M.I., Inc., the manufacturer of the intoxilyzer equipment. The individuals are employees of various agencies of the state of Ohio, including the Department of Highway Safety, the State Highway Patrol, and the Director of Health. Sixteen plaintiffs are named, all of whom (but one) were charged with violations of the drunk driving law in 1982 and 1983 and can be classified as follows (as of the time of the filing of the Amended Complaint): five have their cases still pending, six pleaded guilty or no contest, three were found guilty after trial (and presumably are appealing), and one was found not guilty after trial. The final Plaintiff was arrested in 1980, and the "John Doe" defendant (a State Highway patrolman) allegedly refused to let his expert inspect the intoxilyzer; the complaint does not state what happened to that Plaintiff, or how his experiences mesh with the others.1

Plaintiffs further allege that the intoxilyzer "has been and is affected in an unpredictable and arbitrary manner by radio frequencies," and that various Defendants "intentionally or recklessly" withheld information in the criminal proceedings which demonstrated the "unreliable nature of intoxilyzers." The complaint sets out four claims of relief, alleging that these and other actions (1) violated the Plaintiffs' due process and equal protection rights, (2) demonstrated that Defendants unlawfully conspired, under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, (3) unlawfully conspired under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and finally (4) that Defendants' actions justify certification of a class of Ohio drivers "who have been, who are, and who will be subject to the criminal and administrative penalties of Ohio Revised Code § 4511.19 and § 4511.191 due to the use of the Intoxilyzer in the State of Ohio." Plaintiffs also prayed for extensive injunctive, declaratory and other equitable relief, as well as for considerable damages.

In light of this Court's expression of misgivings concerning the viability of granting equitable relief, given the Younger line of cases and City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, ___ U.S. ___, 103 S.Ct. 1660, 75 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983), Plaintiffs have also purported to withdraw their motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction (doc. # 19).


As noted above, Defendants have moved to dismiss the amended complaint described above, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), for the reason that it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. With such motions, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint, and only sustain the motions if it appears beyond doubt that Plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of their claims which would entitle them to relief. Great Lakes Steel v. Deggendorf, 716 F.2d 1101, 1105 (6th Cir.1983); Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 858 (6th Cir.1976).


Aside from arguments that Plaintiffs' requests for relief are barred by the Younger line of cases and Lyons, Defendants also contend that Plaintiffs' causes of action are barred on other grounds, as well. Given the Court's conclusion, set out below, that the Younger and Lyons arguments may not entirely bar the lawsuit, the Court deems it appropriate to address the nonabstention arguments.

Initially, Defendant C.M.I. points out that the amended complaint lacks a jurisdictional statement, as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Plaintiffs cite 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 & 1985, but those provisions are not jurisdictional. This defect can be cured, of course, by further amending the complaint, as set out below.

Defendants next question, though not vigorously, whether Plaintiffs have constitutional claims at all. In United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97, 96 S.Ct. 2392, 49 L.Ed.2d 342 (1976), the court held that a prosecutor may violate his or her duty under the due process clause to disclose exculpatory information to a defendant, if the "omission is of sufficient significance to result in the denial of the defendant's right to a fair trial." Id. at 108, 96 S.Ct. at 2399. See also, Weatherford v. Bursey, 429 U.S. 545, 97 S.Ct. 837, 51 L.Ed.2d 30 (1977). While raised in an unusual factual setting, the Court cannot hold that the facts stated in the amended complaint, taken as true, would not fall under the Plaintiffs' due process rights established in Agurs. Similarly, Plaintiffs' allegation that Defendants did not utilize the intoxilyzer equipment in a consistent manner with similarly situated drivers could, conceivably, raise an equal protection claim. Cf. Reynolds v. City of Dayton, 533 F.Supp. 136, 140 n. 3 (S.D. Ohio 1982) (alleged unequal enforcement of residency rule, valid on its face, raises equal protection claim); Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220 (1886).

Assuming causes of action for invasion of constitutional rights exist, the nine official Defendants2 argue that they are entitled to absolute immunity from suit under the civil rights laws, citing Briscoe v. Lahue, ___ U.S. ___, 103 S.Ct. 1108, 75 L.Ed.2d 96 (1983). Therein, the Supreme Court held that a police officer who allegedly gave perjured testimony at a criminal trial was absolutely immune from suit by the convicted defendant brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court pointed out that such an officer, like judges and prosecutors (who are also absolutely immune from suit), performs "integral functions in judicial proceedings." Id., 103 S.Ct. at 1112, 1116. Likewise, Defendants argue that they should be immune for any alleged failure to disclose exculpatory evidence, since their conduct parallels that of the police officer in Briscoe.

The Court cannot agree that Briscoe entitles the official Defendants to absolute immunity. In Briscoe, the Supreme Court emphasized that absolutely immune parties—such as judges, prosecutors, and witnesses—are participants in "judge-supervised trials" and "judicial proceedings." Id., 103 S.Ct. at 1115-16. The immunity of witnesses, quite logically, stems from their duty on the witness stand. Id., 103 S.Ct. at 1119. Here, Plaintiffs are not alleging that Defendants performed unlawfully in a judicial trial or proceeding itself. Thus, neither the facts nor holding of Briscoe controls this case.3

A more apt analogy, however, could be to the absolute immunity of prosecutors, to which Defendants also refer. Generally, prosecutors are absolutely immune from § 1983 suits for "activities intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process," namely, "initiating a prosecution and presenting the State's case ...." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430-31, 96 S.Ct. 984, 994-95, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976). The case law does not make clear if absolute immunity also extends to the investigative, as opposed to the advocatory, conduct of prosecutors. Id. at 430-31, 431-32 n. 34, 96 S.Ct. at 994-95, 995-96 n. 34; Gray v. Bell, 712 F.2d 490, 498-501 (D.C.Cir.1983...

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