Ratcliff v. Moore

Decision Date24 April 2009
Docket NumberNo. 1:05-CV-00582.,1:05-CV-00582.
Citation614 F.Supp.2d 880
PartiesJason RATCLIFF, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Ernie MOORE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

Jason Ratcliff, Lucasville, OH, pro se.

Alfar Kynwulf, Overpeck, OH, pro se.

Jason Hysell, Lucasville, OH, pro se.

Chris Roy, Lebanon, OH, pro se.

Jeff Weisheit, Leavittsburg, OH, pro se.

Laura D. Wood, Columbus, OH, Mary Anne Reese, Attorney General of Ohio, Cincinnati, OH, for Defendants.


S. ARTHUR SPIEGEL, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's October 1, 2008 and October 15, 2008 Report and Recommendations (docs. 174, 181), Plaintiff's Objections (docs. 180, 185, 193), Defendant's Response (doc. 196), and Plaintiff's Sur Reply (doc. 198). For the reasons stated herein, the Court AFFIRMS the Report and Recommendations, DENIES Plaintiffs' motions for Partial Summary Judgment (docs. 82, 96, 110, 115), motion to Appoint Counsel (doc. 112), motion for a Preliminary Injunction (doc. 81), and Brian Timms' motions to Join (docs. 83, 97), and GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (doc. 71) and motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. 124).

I. Background

Plaintiffs, Jason Ratcliff (Southern Ohio Correctional Facility), Darryl Blankenship (Ross Correctional Institution), Jason Hysell (Southern Ohio Correctional Facility), Chris Roy (Marion Correctional Institution), and Jeff Weisheit (Trumbull Correctional Institution), prisoners in the custody of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction ("ODRC"), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging, inter alia, a failure to accommodate their Asatru religious practices, seeking declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and monetary recovery (doc. 1). In response, Defendants maintain that such claims and motions should be dismissed as vague, conclusory, and nonjusticiable (doc. 71). On May 16, 2008, the Magistrate Judge entered his Report and Recommendation, recommending that Defendants' motion to dismiss (doc. 71) be granted; Plaintiffs' motions for partial summary judgment (docs. 110, 115) be denied; and Plaintiffs' motion to appoint counsel and certify class (doc. 112) be denied (doc. 144). After this Court referred the matter back to the Magistrate Judge requesting that he reconsider his May 16, 2008 Report and Recommendation in light of information contained in a letter from Plaintiff's counsel in another case, as well as Plaintiff's objections, the Magistrate Judge withdrew his previous Report and Recommendation and entered a new one dated October 1, 2008 addressing the same motions (doc. 174).

The Magistrate Judge entered an additional Report and Recommendation (doc. 181) on October 15, 2008, addressing Plaintiff Blankenship's motions for injunctive relief (doc. 81) and partial summary judgment (docs. 82, 96); Brian Timms' motions to join (docs. 83, 97); and Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment (doc. 124). Each Report and Recommendation and the objections and responses thereto will be discussed in turn.

II. October 1, 2008 Report and Recommendation

In his October 1, 2008 Report and Recommendation, the Magistrate Judge first considered Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims regarding their Asatru religious practices (doc. 174).1 The Magistrate Judge determined that Plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed, reasoning that each Plaintiff is also a Plaintiff in Miller, et al. v. Wilkinson, et al., Case No. 2:98-cv-275, a previously filed class action lawsuit currently pending in the Eastern Division of this United States District Court, and that Plaintiffs' claims in this case are substantially the same as the claims in Miller (doc. 174).

In support of this conclusion, the Magistrate Judge, recognizing the federal courts desire to avoid "duplicative litigation," cited Zide Sport Shop of Ohio, Inc. v. Ed Tobergte Associates, Inc., 16 Fed.Appx 433, 437 (6th Cir.2001), noting the "first-filed rule" that the court presiding over the earlier filed action should generally be permitted to proceed to judgment. The Magistrate Judge further acknowledged that "deferral to the earlier filed action is appropriate, only where the litigation is truly duplicative," such that a "determination in one action leaves little or nothing to be determined in the other". Smith v. Securities and Exchange Comm'n, 129 F.3d 356, 360 (6th Cir.1997). In considering Plaintiffs' contention that the instant case has some factual differences, the Magistrate Judge concluded that because of the nature of the system wide relief sought in Miller, the differences here are of no consequence (Id.).

Similarly, the Magistrate Judge denied Plaintiffs' motions to appoint counsel and certify class, and stayed Plaintiffs' claims for damages preserving their right to recover if the Miller Court finds a constitutional violation (doc. 174). Citing the standard for a dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6), the Magistrate Judge found that the Plaintiffs' allegations with respect to the non-religious claims lack any supporting factual allegations, and simply assert that ODRC's policies unconstitutionally favor Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) to the detriment of non-Abrahamic religions, and that ODRC's "Security Threat Group" designations violate the Constitution (Id.). However, as the Magistrate Judge acknowledged, these allegations "do not link with any particular defendant, nor do they include basic information such as: who, what, when or where" (Id.).

The Magistrate Judge next considered Plaintiffs' motions for partial summary judgment and concluded that they should be denied (Id.). The Magistrate Judge found Plaintiffs' contentions that the ODRC's policies are overbroad and unconstitutionally vague, conclusory, and failed to meet the Supreme Court's "unreasonableness" standard for determining whether prison policies or regulations unconstitutionally infringe prisoners' rights (Id.). Therefore, the Magistrate Judge concluded Plaintiff failed to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact with respect to these claims, and further recommended they be dismissed (doc. 174.).

A. Plaintiffs' Objections

Plaintiffs filed a timely objection to the Report and Recommendation, primarily reasserting their original claims and arguing that the Magistrate Judge's recommended dismissal is incorrect because, as Pro Se Plaintiff's they met the liberal construction requirements under Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a) (doc. 180). The Plaintiffs further aver that the Magistrate Judge erroneously recommended denial of Plaintiffs' two motions for Summary Judgment, arguing that the Magistrate failed to adequately examine the full record and that Plaintiffs established that there are no genuine issues of material fact because the policies in question are not reasonably related to legitimate penological interests (Id.). In addition, Plaintiffs argue that because the Magistrate Judge only recommended that their partial summary judgment motions be denied, he did not dismiss their claims, and as such, they should be allowed to proceed (Id.). Lastly, in Plaintiffs' supplemental objections to the Report & Recommendation, Plaintiffs argue that dismissal of their allegedly "duplicative" religious claims is incorrect, citing Defendants contradictory positions taken in the Miller case and in this Court (doc. 193). Plaintiffs assert that in the interest of fair play and justice, they should be allowed to bring these claims now, in this Court because they are not "entirely duplicative" of those brought in the Miller case (Id.). On October 14, 2008 when Plaintiffs filed a motion with the Miller Court to present their religious claims in this case, the Defendants responded by arguing that these religious claims should not be litigated in Miller because they are different claims, or Plaintiffs are attempting to add new claims (doc. 193). It appears that Plaintiffs primarily assert that Defendants are intentionally attempting to prevent them from arguing these allegedly new religious claims in either court system and in the interest of justice, should be allowed to continue this litigation to present these claims (Id.).

B. Defendants' Response

Defendants' response to Plaintiffs' objections urge this Court to adopt the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, arguing that the Magistrate Judge properly distinguished those claims that are appropriate for this case and those that should be stayed or dismissed in order to be litigated in the earlier-filed class action of Miller (doc. 196). Asserting that once the claims have been sorted out, as was done by the Magistrate Judge, the claims that remain in this case should be dismissed as vague, generalized, and conclusory (Id.). Primarily, Defendants point to Plaintiffs' claims regarding unconstitutional establishment of Abrahamic religions, selective enforcement of the "unauthorized group activity" policy, equal protection, and free speech and political association, contending that they "were devoid of any factual allegations or support" (Id.). Citing a recent Sixth Circuit case, Defendants argue that "[I]n the context of a civil rights claim, ... conclusory allegations of unconstitutional conduct without specific factually allegations fail to state a claim." Harden-Bey v. Rutter, 524 F.3d 789, 796 (6th Cir.2008), quoting Lillard v. Shelby Bd. Of Educ., 76 F.3d 716, 726 (6th Cir.1996).

C. Plaintiffs' Reply

The Plaintiffs' reply primarily reasserts their argument that the religious claims should not be dismissed as duplicative of those in the Miller case (doc. 198). Plaintiffs further argue that because the Defendants failed to respond to their specific objections regarding their allegedly conflicting positions in this court and in the Miller court regarding the Plaintiffs' religious claims this Court should not adopt the Judge's Report...

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