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Wheeler v. Dayton Police Dep't

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

December 4, 2015

ERIC D. WHEELER, Plaintiff-Appellant,

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Dayton. No. 3:13-cv-00300--Michael J. Newman, Magistrate Judge.

ON BRIEF: Charles E. McFarland, New Castle, Kentucky, for Appellant.

John C. Musto, DAYTON LAW DEPARTMENT, Dayton, Ohio, for Appellees.

Before: COLE, Chief Judge; SUTTON, Circuit Judge; BELL, District Judge.[*]


Page 765

SUTTON, Circuit Judge.

In June 2012, Eric Wheeler filed a lawsuit alleging that two police officers violated his constitutional rights during a 2009 arrest. A district court dismissed his complaint, and we affirmed. Now Wheeler brings a new lawsuit stemming from the 2009 arrest--namely a challenge to a bench warrant arrest in April 2012 for failing to appear on one of the two charges that arose from the 2009 arrest--raising similar constitutional challenges. Similar allegations arising from the same underlying dispute lead to a similar result: The trial court rejected the second action on claim-preclusion grounds, and so do we.

On May 19, 2009, Dayton police officers Ryan Halburnt and Michael Fuller arrested Wheeler for possession of marijuana and cocaine. The arrest led to two charges: one for felony drug possession (for the cocaine) in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court and the other for misdemeanor drug possession (for the marijuana) in Dayton Municipal Court. The municipal court scheduled a trial for Wheeler's misdemeanor charge, but he failed to appear. The court issued a bench warrant for his arrest.

A few months later, Wheeler pleaded guilty to the felony charge in the court of common pleas, and he received a two-year prison sentence. He served his time, but in April 2012, shortly after his release, Dayton police officers arrested him again--this time on the outstanding bench warrant. Wheeler posted bail, and the prosecutor dropped the misdemeanor charge two days after the arrest.

In June 2012, Wheeler filed his first federal lawsuit arising from the 2009 arrest. He filed the action against Halburnt, Fuller, and the Dayton Police Department and alleged that, during the 2009 arrest, the officers had violated his constitutional rights by conducting an illegal search and using excessive force. He also alleged that Halburnt had " planted" marijuana on him. R. 20-2 at 11. The district court dismissed Wheeler's complaint, finding that the statute of limitations had run on his claims. We affirmed but on slightly different grounds. We noted that the Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994), prevents plaintiffs from " recover[ing] damages for [an] allegedly unconstitutional conviction" unless the conviction has been reversed or otherwise invalidated. S ee Wheeler v. Dayton Police Dep't, No. 12-4029, slip op. at 3 (6th Cir. Mar. 15, 2013). We held that, to the extent Wheeler challenged the constitutionality of his felony conviction, Heck barred his claims, while the statute of limitations blocked the remaining challenges. Id. at 3-4.

Page 766

In 2013, Wheeler returned to federal court, filing an action against the same defendants (Halburnt, Fuller, and the Dayton Police Department) plus the City of Dayton itself. This time, instead of directly attacking the 2009 arrest, Wheeler alleged that his April 2012 arrest on the outstanding bench warrant was unconstitutional. His theory was that, because Halburnt and Fuller allegedly fabricated evidence and falsified the misdemeanor citation, the marijuana charge should never have been brought, which means the bench warrant should never have issued. A magistrate judge (who, with the parties' consent, entered a final judgment in this case) found that claim preclusion barred Wheeler's suit. He appealed.

Claim preclusion prevents parties from litigating matters that " should have been advanced in an earlier suit." Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 77 n.1, 104 S.Ct. 892, 79 L.Ed.2d 56 (1984). To establish claim preclusion, the defendants need to show (1) " a final judgment on the merits" in a prior action; (2) " a subsequent suit between the same parties or their privies" ; (3) an issue in the second lawsuit that should have been raised in the first; and (4) that the claims in both lawsuits arise from the same transaction. Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153, 99 S.Ct. 970, 59 L.Ed.2d 210 (1979) (quotation omitted); Wilkins v. Jakeway, 183 F.3d 528, 532, 535 (6th Cir. 1999).

The defendants satisfy all four elements. One: Wheeler's previous lawsuit ended with a judgment on the merits. We affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss that action with prejudice, and dismissals with prejudice generally are judgments on the merits that bar plaintiffs from refiling their claims in the court that dismissed them. See Semtek Int'l ...

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