Rodriguez v. City of Cleveland

Decision Date26 May 2009
Docket NumberCase No. 1:08-CV-1892.
Citation619 F.Supp.2d 461
PartiesJose RODRIGUEZ, et al., Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF CLEVELAND, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio

Christopher G. Thomarios, Edward R. Larue, Sylvester Summers, Jr., Leonard W. Yelsky, Yelsky & Lonardo, Cleveland, OH, for Plaintiffs.

L. Stewart Hastings, Jr., Thomas J. Kaiser, William F. Gibson, Amy E. Marquit-Renwald, Thomas J. Kaiser, William F. Gibson, City Of Cleveland, Department of Law, Cleveland, OH, for Defendants.

JAMES S. GWIN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Karen Palmer and Plaintiffs Jose and Carmen Rodriguez (collectively, the "Plaintiffs") move for partial summary judgment in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. [Docs. 90, 101.] Defendants City of Cleveland, Robert Miller, Gerald Hall, Rasco Davis, and Michael McGrath (collectively, the "Defendants") cross-move for summary judgment. [Doc. 117.] The Defendants also oppose the motions for partial summary judgment filed by the Plaintiffs, [Doc. 118], while the Plaintiffs oppose the summary judgment motion filed by the Defendants, [Doc. 126.] For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS the partial summary judgment motion of the Rodriguez Plaintiffs, DENIES the partial summary judgment motion of Plaintiff Palmer, and GRANTS the Defendants' summary judgment motion with respect to the following claims: (1) Palmer's Fourth Amendment search and seizure claim; (2) Palmer's Fourth and Fifth Amendment malicious prosecution and illegal attachment claim; (3) the Rodriguez Plaintiffs' malicious, wanton conduct claim; (4) the Rodriguez Plaintiffs' intentional infliction of emotional distress claim; (5) the Rodriguez Plaintiffs' malicious abuse of process claim; and (6) the Rodriguez Plaintiffs' loss of consortium claim.

I. Background

Plaintiff Jose Rodriguez ("Rodriguez"), along with his wife, Carmen Rodriguez, has filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit against Defendants City of Cleveland, former Lieutenant Robert Miller, Detectives Gerald Hall, Rasco Davis, and Brian Curry, Chief of Police Michael McGrath, and John Does 1-5. This suit arises out of the actions taken by the Defendants in July 2006 and thereafter. Plaintiff Karen Palmer, who sold or was in the process of selling certain property to Rodriguez that was allegedly subject to the Defendants' actions, is also a party to this case.1

Plaintiff Rodriguez entered into a series of agreements in October 2004, December 2005, and January 2006 with Plaintiff Karen Palmer, the fiduciary of the estate of Eugene Palmer.2 [Doc. 90-1 at 1.] Under their agreements, Palmer was to transfer to Rodriguez the real estate, inventory, and equipment comprising M & M Auto Body and Towing ("M & M"), located at 7010 Harvard Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio. [Id. at 2.] Starting from January 2006, Rodriguez operated M & M and paid all of the expenses associated with the business. [Id.] The sale documents and lease agreement stated, however, that the completion of the sale of M & M and the other assets could take up to a year from the date that the documents were signed (January 21, 2006) or at least until December 31, 2006. [Doc. 101-1 at 3.] Further, according to the Plaintiffs, they had an understanding that Palmer had full ownership of the all of the assets included in the sale documents, including M & M itself, until Rodriguez finished paying for these assets. [Id.]

On July 7, 2006, members of the Cleveland Police Department ("CPD")3 arrived at M & M and arrested Plaintiff Rodriguez based solely upon information provided by an anonymous informant that Rodriguez had received stolen property and possessed criminal tools. [Doc. 90-1 at 4.] According to Defendant Hall, in the morning of July 7, 2006, he received a call at the CPD's Auto Theft Investigation Unit from "someone saying he had information about a stolen [white] dump truck [in the back corner of the side lot next to the M & M building] . . . . He [also] said the dump truck didn't run, and had been towed to M & M using an M & M tow truck." [Doc. 117-5 at 1-2.] This individual stated that he had been a former, long-time employee of M & M. [Id. at 1.] The informant did not leave his name or contact information; Hall gave the informant his cell phone number and told him to call if he had any other information. [Id. at 2.]

Hall told Miller about the tip and, later in the day, Hall, Miller, and Detective Rasco Davis went to M & M to conduct a § 601.15 inspection.4 [Id.] The officers did not have a warrant. [Doc. 90-1 at 4.] When the officers arrived at M & M, they told Plaintiff Rodriguez that they were there to do an inspection and he unlocked the gate to the lot and showed them the shop floor. [Doc. 117-5 at 2.] The officers requested a zone car with uniformed CPD officers apparently to assist in running the VIN numbers of the vehicles. [Id.] While Davis and Hall were outside inspecting vehicles, Hall saw a vehicle matching the description provided to him by the anonymous informant—a 2004 Ford Carry-All with Vin # 1FDWF37P34EB32882. [Id.] According to Hall, this vehicle had cut marks in places where large equipment would normally be, including the plow and the hydraulic lift; the dump truck's steering column was also missing. [Id.] The officers ran the vehicle's VIN number and discovered that it had been reported stolen from Medina in 2006. [Id. at 3.] After Hall told Rodriguez that the vehicle had been reported stolen, a woman working at M & M allegedly provided them with a receipt for $2,200.00 of the $3,200.00 purchase price of the vehicle that was suspected of being stolen.5 [Doc. 90-1 at 9.] At this point, Hall arrested Rodriguez for being in possession of the stolen dump truck and criminal tools (tools that Hall believed had been used to disassemble the truck)6 and requested that the truck be towed. [Doc. 117-5 at 3.]

The stolen property charge alleged that, on July 7, 2006, Rodriguez "did receive, retain, or dispose of property of another, knowing and having reasonable cause to believe it had been obtained through commission of a theft offense, to wit: a 2004 Ford F-350 white on white dump truck with a VIN # of 1FDWF37P34EB32882." [Doc. 90-1 at 6; Doc. 90-3 at 1.]

In addition to the charge mentioned above, one count of the arrest warrant— issued on July 9, 2006—alleged that Plaintiff Rodriguez "did possess or have under his control any substance, device, instrument, or article, with purpose to use it criminally, to wit: ten ton floor jack, blue tool chest with tools, welding torch set on dolly." [Id. at 6; Doc. 90-3 at 3.] Another count alleged that Rodriguez, on July 7, 2006, "did possess or have under his control, any substance, device, instrument, or article with purpose to use it criminally, to wit: a 1995 Freightliner flatbed truck bearing Ohio License Plate No. PFA5423 and bearing the VIN # of 1FV6GFAC6WH923275." [Doc. 90-3 at 5.] According to Rodriguez, the latter criminal allegation was never pursued. [Doc. 90-1 at 7.]

While at M & M on July 7, 2006, Defendant Miller apparently noticed that the M & M tow trucks that were returning back to M & M along Harvard Avenue did not have proper markings on the side and did not have tow truck license plates on the bumpers in violation of Cleveland Codified Ordinance § 677A.10.7 [Doc. 117-4 at 2.] Miller instructed Defendant Davis to check each truck for violations of this Ordinance. [Id.] According to Davis, none of the tow trucks he saw were licensed by the City of Cleveland or had the required license plates displayed on the bumper. [Doc. 117-7 at 1.] After Davis conveyed this information to Miller, Miller authorized the impounding of these tow trucks. [Doc. 117-4 at 2.]

On July 10, 2006, after being in jail for three days, Rodriguez appeared before a Cleveland Municipal Court judge, posted $15,000 for bail, and was released. [Doc. 90-1 at 7.] Three days later, on July 13, 2006, Rodriguez states that Detective Miller requested that Rodriguez meet with him at M & M.8 [Id.] At that time, CPD officers "arrived with members of the television media who had been briefed on alleged criminal practices within the towing company business, and who then filmed as Plaintiff [Rodriguez] was arrested and escorted from [M & M], and collapsed, unconscious on the ground."9 [Id.] The basis for Rodriguez's second arrest was the allegation that an engine in an M & M-owned vehicle that was confiscated from Rodriguez on July 7, 2006 was stolen.10 [Id.] While at M & M, the CPD confiscated M & M's remaining tow trucks,11 because, according to Defendant Hall, they did not have the required City of Cleveland towing licenses on the bumpers, [Doc. 117-4 at 5], thereby permanently shutting down M & M.12 [Doc. 90-1 at 8.] Either Rodriguez or M & M held title to the confiscated trucks. [Id. at 9.] In effect, the Defendants confiscated M & M's most important business assets, though these tow trucks were owned by M & M.

The Defendants' confiscation of M & M's tow trucks spelled disaster for M & M. Before the confiscation, AAA had a towing services contract with M & M. Following the confiscation, on July 14, 2006, AAA rescinded its towing contract with M & M due to M & M's failure to perform. [Id. at 8.] Also on this date, Plaintiff Rodriguez's employer, Gibraltar Strip Steel, Inc. ("Gibraltar"), placed him on unpaid personal leave pending the disposition of the charges against him. [Id.; Doc. 90-3 at 7.] Gibraltar ultimately terminated Rodriguez's employment on November 17, 2006. [Doc. 90-1 at 12; Doc. 90-3 at 38.]

Plaintiff Rodriguez was released from jail following his second arrest on July 14, 2006 without any criminal charges being filed against him. [Doc. 90-1 at 9.] On this date, Defendant Davis issued summons for misdemeanor citations on nine of...

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