Bickerstaff v. Lucarelli

Decision Date21 July 2016
Docket NumberNo. 15–4297,15–4297
Citation830 F.3d 388
PartiesBrenda Bickerstaff, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. Vincent Lucarelli; Dennis Hill; Michael Legg ; Cheryl Mcduffie; City of Cleveland, Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

ARGUED: Justin J. Hawal, The DiCello Law Firm, Mentor, Ohio, for Appellant. Kathryn M. Miley, Wilkerson & Associates Co., LPA, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee Lucarelli. Jillian L. Dinehart, Cleveland Law Department, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee City of Cleveland. ON BRIEF: Robert F. DiCello, The DiCello Law Firm, Mentor, Ohio, for Appellant. Kathryn M. Miley, Ernest L. Wilkerson, Jr., Wilkerson & Associates Co., LPA, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee Lucarelli. Jillian L. Dinehart, Cleveland Law Department, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellees Hill, Legg, and McDuffie. Susan M. Bungard, Cleveland Law Department, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee City of Cleveland.

Before: BOGGS, CLAY, and GILMAN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

RONALD LEE GILMAN

, Circuit Judge.

Brenda Bickerstaff filed this civil rights action against the City of Cleveland and several of its police officers, contending that she was wrongfully charged with intimidating a crime victim or witness and with telecommunications harassment. The district court dismissed the bulk of her claims for failure to state a cause of action and subsequently granted summary judgment in favor of the remaining defendant. Bickerstaff now appeals. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Factual background

Bickerstaff is a private investigator for a number of criminal-defense law firms in northeast Ohio. In March 2012, Bickerstaff was conducting an investigation on behalf of a defendant accused of breaking into the house of Jasmine Harris. Bickerstaff alleges that, as part of her investigation, she called Harris and that Harris agreed to be interviewed. Shortly after speaking with Harris, Bickerstaff received a phone call from Detective Vincent Lucarelli. He allegedly told her to discontinue her contacts with Harris, whom Lucarelli referred to as his “client.” Bickerstaff contends that Lucarelli was involved in a “personal and/or sexual relationship” with Harris, as well as with other female crime victims, based upon text messages and photos that Bickerstaff alleges were sent from Lucarelli's cell phone.

Although Bickerstaff alleges that Harris consented to be interviewed, her appellate counsel conceded at oral argument that Harris had in fact filed a formal complaint against Bickerstaff with the police. The complaint, which accompanied a police report prepared by Lucarelli, indicated that Harris had originally agreed to an interview but later began to feel harassed by Bickerstaff's repeated calls and her unannounced visit to Harris's home. Lucarelli submitted the incident report and complaint to his supervisor and a prosecutor, and the prosecutor ultimately decided to present the case to the grand jury.

In April 2012, a grand jury indicted Bickerstaff for intimidating a crime victim or witness and for telecommunications harassment. As a result, Bickerstaff was required to obtain a lawyer, appear for arraignment, post bond, and undergo booking and processing. The criminal proceedings against Bickerstaff were dismissed in her favor the following month.

Captain Dennis Hill was Lucarelli's supervisor at the time of the investigation, and Detective Michael Legg was Lucarelli's “coworker and fellow detective in the field.” Bickerstaff's complaint asserted that Hill and Legg were not only aware of Lucarelli's “improper relationships with alleged women-victims,” but that they also received sexually explicit pictures of and text messages concerning those victims from Lucarelli. Notably, although Bickerstaff's complaint broadly asserts that Hill and Legg were aware of Lucarelli's relationships in general, she does not allege that either officer knew of Lucarelli's supposed relationship with Harris in particular. According to Bickerstaff, Hill allegedly helped to conceal Lucarelli's relationships by “intentionally remaining silent and doing nothing to discipline” Lucarelli and “by making no reasonable inquiry into Lucarelli's misconduct.”

Legg, for his part, allegedly stayed silent about Lucarelli's relationships, failed to report Lucarelli's unauthorized absences, and “intentionally author[ed] misleading, incorrect, [and] false police reports” in order to cover for his coworker. According to Bickerstaff, both Hill and Legg also helped to conceal Lucarelli's relationships by “lying to Internal Affairs after [...] Lucarelli's misconduct finally became public.” But again, beyond these general claims, Bickerstaff's complaint does not specify whether Hill or Legg took such action in response to or in connection with Lucarelli's alleged relationship with Harris.

Cheryl McDuffie was the police officer who presented Bickerstaff's case to the grand jury. Relevant to this appeal, Bickerstaff alleged that McDuffie “presented Lucarelli's paperwork to the grand jury” and “intentionally omitted exculpatory material facts that ... would have persuaded the grand jury to no-bill an indictment.” That omission, according to Bickerstaff, was evident in a text-message conversation between Lucarelli and McDuffie a few days before the grand-jury proceedings. Bickerstaff's complaint describes the conversation as follows:

a. On April 4, 2012, ... Defendant Lucarelli texted Defendant McDuffie that Plaintiff [Bickerstaff] was a private investigator, called Jasmine Harris, tried to get a statement, Jasmine said no, and Plaintiff showed up at Jasmine's house;
b. On April 4, 2012, ... Defendant McDuffie replied, “Ok! Thanks.”;
c. On April 4, 2012, ... Defendant Lucarelli stated, “I'll leave u a copy on ur desk. She was working for the defendant.”[;]
d. On April 4, 2012, ... Defendant Lucarelli stated[,] “Okay. Thank u. If they no bill it don't worry about it.”; and
e. Defendant Lucarelli indicated on a note in the file that he did not want this matter to be presented to the grand jury.

Based on the above exchange, Bickerstaff alleged that the grand jury “was not presented truthful information by and/or was blocked by Defendants from knowing all of the material facts involving the allegations against Plaintiff.” Those material facts, according to Bickerstaff, were Defendant Lucarelli's history of carrying on sexual and/or personal relationships with alleged victims, like Jasmine Harris, as well as the generally baseless nature of the evidence and allegations brought against Plaintiff.”

B. Procedural background

Following the dismissal of the criminal proceedings against her, Bickerstaff filed suit in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas against Lucarelli, Hill, Legg, McDuffie, the City of Cleveland, and 10 John Doe police officers. That suit was dismissed without prejudice in June 2013. In March 2014, Bickerstaff refiled her complaint, and the City of Cleveland removed the case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Bickerstaff then filed an Amended Complaint in which she asserted claims under the Ohio Revised Code, Ohio common law, the U.S. Constitution, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983

, alleging malicious prosecution, abuse of process, retaliation, supervisory liability, municipal liability, civil conspiracy, and reckless, wanton, or willful conduct.

In July 2014, McDuffie filed a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

to dismiss the claims against her. Hill, Legg, and the City of Cleveland filed their own motions to dismiss two days later. And in December 2014, Lucarelli filed a motion for partial dismissal of Bickerstaff's claims against him for retaliation, civil conspiracy, and reckless, wanton, or willful conduct. He did not move to dismiss Bickerstaff's claims against him for malicious prosecution or abuse of process.

In light of these pending motions, all of the parties asked the district court to hold the timeline for discovery in abeyance until it rendered its decision on the motions to dismiss. The court, in response, granted several extensions of the deadline to conduct discovery. The last extension was through April 10, 2015, with the court noting that “no further extensions” would be granted.

In March 2015, two weeks before the close of discovery, the district court granted the motions to dismiss filed by Hill, Legg, McDuffie, and the City of Cleveland. The court, in so doing, noted that “Bickerstaff's allegations, even taken as true, cannot demonstrate a plausible right of recovery” on her malicious-prosecution claim or her reckless, wanton, or willful conduct claim because Bickerstaff had “failed to plead sufficient factual allegations that show a lack of probable cause” arising from her indictment.

The following month, the district court dismissed Bickerstaff's claims against Lucarelli for retaliation and reckless, wanton, or willful conduct. It addressed those two claims in much the same way as it had the malicious-prosecution claims against the other individual defendants, emphasizing that Bickerstaff had “fail[ed] to state a claim that could plausibly defeat the presumption of probable cause based on the return of an indictment.” But the court declined to dismiss Bickerstaff's civil-conspiracy claim against Lucarelli and instead determined that she had sufficiently alleged that Lucarelli's purported scheme to cover up his improper relationships was an attempt “to pursue personal interests wholly separate and apart from the City.” In light of this holding, Bickerstaff's three surviving claims against Lucarelli were for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and civil conspiracy.

Discovery in the case ended in April 2015. Lucarelli filed a motion for summary judgment five months later. Bickerstaff did not ask to reopen or extend discovery, nor did she file a response to Lucarelli's summary-judgment motion.

In October 2015, the district court granted...

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