Jackson v. City of Cleveland

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
Citation586 F.Supp.3d 737
Docket NumberCase No. 1:21-cv-1679
Parties Charles JACKSON, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF CLEVELAND, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date22 February 2022

586 F.Supp.3d 737

Charles JACKSON, Plaintiff,
CITY OF CLEVELAND, et al., Defendants.

Case No. 1:21-cv-1679

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division.

Signed February 22, 2022

586 F.Supp.3d 743

Rebecca P. Salley, Sarah J. Gelsomino, Jacqueline C. Greene, Friedman, Gilbert & Gerhardstein, Cincinnati, OH, for Plaintiff.

Timothy J. Puin, William M. Menzalora, City of Cleveland Department of Law, Jillian Eckart, Michael J. Stewart, Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, Cleveland, OH, John D. Latchney, Kenneth A. Calderone, Hanna, Campbell & Powell, Stephen W. Funk, Roetzel & Andress, Akron, OH, for Defendants.


J. Philip Calabrese, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Charles Jackson spent over 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. In this civil action, he comes into federal court seeking to recover damages for the constitutional violations he alleges resulted in his wrongful conviction. One Defendant he names in his complaint is the prosecutor who, according to the complaint, withheld exculpatory information when responding to a public records request in 2016. He also names her employer, Cuyahoga County, as a Defendant. These Defendants move to dismiss the complaint against them, arguing that Plaintiff fails to state a claim as a matter of law based on absolute immunity, qualified immunity, and the statute of limitations. For the reasons more fully explained below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motions.


Taking the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construing them in Plaintiff's favor, as the Court must on the motions before it, Plaintiff bases his claims against the two Defendants who move to dismiss on the following relevant facts.

In 1991, Charles Jackson was convicted for a murder he did not commit. (ECF No. 1, ¶ 1, PageID #2.) He spent over 27 years in prison before his exoneration in 2019. (Id. , ¶ 2.) In 2016, counsel for Mr. Jackson made identical requests for public records relating to the murder to the Cleveland police, which investigated the crime, and to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office, which handled the trial at which Mr. Jackson was convicted. (Id. , ¶¶ 63 & 66, PageID #11.) As assistant prosecutor in the office, Barbara Marburger handled the request for her office according to the County's policies, practices, and customs. (Id. , ¶¶ 67 & 76, PageID #11–12.) Specifically, the complaint identifies the policy, practice, or custom at issue as the County's direction to the Cleveland police not "to disclose exculpatory police reports and files in response to public records requests." (Id. , ¶ 76, PageID #12.)

In August 2016, she produced a set of documents so heavily redacted that the prosecutor's office effectively removed all substantive information from the records produced. (Id. , ¶¶ 68 & 70, PageID #11.) According to the complaint, Ms. Marburger knew that Mr. Jackson maintained his innocence and that he needed the information in the records requested to support his efforts to obtain post-conviction remedies. (Id. , ¶ 317, PageID #54.) At the time, information in a prosecutor's file did not qualify as a public record under Ohio's

586 F.Supp.3d 744

Public Records Act. State ex rel. Steckman v. Jackson , 70 Ohio St. 3d 420, 432, 639 N.E.2d 83, 92 (1994).

Several months later, the Cleveland police produced the same documents without redactions. (ECF No. 1, ¶ 69, PageID #11.) These documents contained extensive exculpatory information not previously produced. (Id. , ¶¶ 71–72, PageID #11–12.) By the time of this production, the Ohio Supreme Court limited the exemption for a prosecutor's file from the Public Records Act to the completion of trial. State ex rel. Caster v. City of Columbus , 151 Ohio St. 3d 425, 2016-Ohio-8394, 89 N.E.3d 598, ¶ 47. After the Cleveland police produced the documents unredacted, the prosecutor's office did so as well. (ECF No. 1, ¶ 75, PageID #12.) These records ultimately led to Mr. Jackson's exoneration. (Id. , ¶ 80, PageID #13.)


Based on these allegations involving Ms. Marburger and Cuyahoga County, Plaintiff asserts two counts against these Defendants. In Count 6, Plaintiff brings a claim for denial of access to the courts under the Constitution against Ms. Marburger in her individual capacity. (Id. , ¶¶ 316 & 317, PageID #54; see also id. , ¶ 14, PageID #5.) In Count 10, Plaintiff brings a claim under Section 1983 pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services , 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), against Cuyahoga County relating to Ms. Marburger's failure to produce the exculpatory materials when requested. (Id. , ¶ 357, PageID #60.)

These Defendants move to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 11; ECF No. 12.) Ms. Marburger claims absolute and qualified immunity and argues that Plaintiff failed to exhaust remedies in State court and brought his claim against her outside the statute of limitations. Cuyahoga County argues for dismissal of the Monell claim against it both because Ms. Marburger did not commit a constitutional violation for the reasons she argues and for failure to allege an applicable policy, practice, or custom that resulted in a deprivation of Mr. Jackson's constitutional rights.

Each Defendant attaches the following three documents to its motion to dismiss:

(1) A letter dated August 19, 2016 from Ms. Marburger to Mr. Jackson's counsel at the time transmitting the redacted records produced in response to the public records request described in the complaint. (ECF No. 11-1; ECF No. 12-1.) That letter invokes the Ohio Supreme Court's decision in Steckman as a basis for removing or redacting certain documents and information. (ECF No. 11-1, PageID #154–55; ECF No. 12-1, PageID #188–89.)

(2) A letter dated June 23, 2017 from Mr. Jackson's counsel to Ms. Marburger requesting the same records previously sought based on the Ohio Supreme Court's decision in State ex rel. Caster v. City of Columbus . (ECF No. 11-2; ECF No. 12-2.)

(3) A letter dated August 3, 2017 from Nora Graham, an assistant prosecutor, to Mr. Jackson's counsel responding to the letter of June 23, 2017 and transmitting the records requested. (ECF No. 11-3; ECF No. 12-3.)

Generally, these documents provide the back-up or context for the allegations Plaintiff makes in the complaint regarding Ms. Marburger's role in initially withholding or redacting materials in response to Plaintiff's public-records request before her office ultimately produced them. (See ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 68 & 69, PageID #11.)


To withstand a motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs must allege facts that "state a claim to

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relief that is plausible on its face" and raise their "right to relief above the speculative level." Cook v. Ohio Nat. Life Ins. Co. , 961 F.3d 850, 855 (6th Cir. 2020) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ). A claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

When analyzing a complaint under this standard, the Court construes factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepts them as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Wilburn v. United States , 616 F. App'x 848, 852 (6th Cir. 2015). But a complaint must offer more than "labels and conclusions" because "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (quotation omitted). Rule 8, along with Twombly and Iqbal , requires a plaintiff to "plead enough factual matter to raise a plausible inference of wrongdoing." 16630 Southfield Ltd. P'ship v. Flagstar Bank, F.S.B. , 727 F.3d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 2013) (cleaned up). This inference "depends on a host of considerations, including common sense and the strength of competing explanations for the defendant's conduct." Id. (citations omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" into the "realm of plausible liability." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955.

On a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court's inquiry is limited to the content of the complaint, although it may also consider matters of public record, orders, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to or made part of the complaint. Amini v. Oberlin College , 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001). In this case, Defendants attach three letters to their motions to dismiss, presenting a peculiar problem under the basic principles under which courts consider motions at the pleading stage. On the one hand, the letters themselves are not specifically described in, exhibits to, or quoted in the complaint. In this sense they are extraneous material the Court should ordinarily not consider. See Moderwell v. Cuyahoga Cnty. , 997...

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2 cases
  • Jackson v. City of Cleveland
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • April 6, 2023
    ...by the statute of limitations. Id. at 20 (Page ID #150). The district court denied her motion to dismiss. Jackson v. City of Cleveland, 586 F.Supp.3d 737, 754 (N.D. Ohio 2022). It reasoned that when Marburger responded to the public-records request, there were no legal proceedings pending, ......
  • Ward v. City of E. Cleveland
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Ohio
    • April 5, 2023
    ...deliberate indifference for an inadequate training claim,” which supports a finding of Monell liability. Jackson v. City of Cleveland, 586 F.Supp.3d 737, 752 (N.D. Ohio 2022) (quoting Brown v. Shaner, 172 F.3d 927, 931 (6th Cir. 1999)). Here, the Complaint cites to alleged deadly police cha......

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