United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION & ORDER (I) GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT
RICK SOLLARS'S MOTION TO DISMISS (DKT. 40), (II) GRANTING
IN PART DEFENDANT HERMAN RAMIK'S MOTION TO
DISMISS (DKT. 41), (III) AND GRANTING DEFENDANT CITY
OF TAYLOR'S MOTION TO DISMISS (DKT.
A. GOLDSMITH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
City of Taylor police chief John Blair approached Plaintiff
Patrick Raboczkay, a retired Taylor police officer, and asked
whether he thought J and M Towing should be awarded the
City's exclusive towing contract. Based on his experience
as a police officer, Raboczkay told Blair that J and M Towing
was untrustworthy and had questionable drivers with criminal
records. Blair relayed this information to Defendants Rick
Sollars (Mayor of Taylor), and Herman Ramik (a Taylor city
council member). According to Raboczkay, Sollars and Ramik
received “kick backs” from J and M Towing, and
they retaliated against Raboczkay for his statement by
causing criminal investigations into his work as a Taylor
salvage vehicle inspector and making false public statements
about him in the press. Sollars, Ramik, and Defendant City of
Taylor have all filed motions to dismiss (Dkts. 40-42). The
matters are fully briefed. For the reasons discussed below,
Sollars's and Ramik's motions are granted in part;
the City of Taylor's motion is granted.
following allegations are taken as true for the purposes of
the pending motions. Raboczkay served as a City of Taylor
police officer from 1997 through 2017. 2d Am. Compl. ¶
11 (Dkt. 39). He retired in October 2017. Id. ¶
19. Shortly after his retirement, Raboczkay entered into a
personal service contract with the City of Taylor and
Defendant Sollars to serve as the “CMV Weigh
Master/Motor Carrier Officer, ” performing salvage
vehicle inspections on behalf of the City. Id.
¶¶ 13-20. For a fee, salvage vehicle inspectors
verify that salvaged vehicles do not contain any stolen parts
and that the vehicles are street worthy. 4/12/2018 Detroit
News Article, Ex. D to Compl. (Dkt. 6-3).
March 2018, after working hours, then police chief John Blair
approached Raboczkay and one of his colleagues to inquire
about non-party J and M Towing's reputation. 2d Am.
Compl. ¶ 25. The City was considering making J and M
Towing its exclusive towing service. Id. Blair did
not seek Raboczkay's opinion as the City's CMW Weigh
Master, but rather sought his opinion as a private citizen
“off the record.” Id. ¶¶
25-30. Raboczkay told Blair that J and M Towing was not
trustworthy and had questionable drivers with criminal
records. Id. ¶ 31.
subsequently shared Raboczkay's opinion with the City
Council, where Sollars and Ramik were in attendance.
Id. ¶ 32. After the city council meeting, Ramik
began sending false and defamatory letters to the Michigan
Secretary of State requesting a criminal investigation into
the City's salvage vehicle inspection program; he also
urged Sollars to initiate an investigation. Id.
¶ 35. According to Raboczkay, Ramik has a close
relationship with J and M Towing and had been pressuring the
City to award J and M Towing its exclusive towing contract.
Id. ¶ 36. Raboczkay alleges that Ramik falsely
advised Sollars that Raboczkay and his colleague were
“going to prison.” Id. ¶ 38.
April, the Michigan Secretary of State informed Raboczkay
that, based on Ramik's complaint, the salvage vehicle
inspection program was under investigation. Id.
¶ 39. Raboczkay's position was suspended pending the
outcome of the investigation. Id. ¶ 40. In a
statement to the Detroit News, Ramik said that he blew the
whistle on two former Taylor police officers, alleging that
they had committed fraud by not turning over
vehicle-salvage-inspection fees to the City. 4/12/2018
Detroit News Article. In the same article, Blair noted that
his department was cooperating with the Secretary of State;
the article also quoted Sollars as stating that
“concerns were raised that some questionable actions
may have occurred” and that “while this
investigation is ongoing, the two officers have been placed
on administrative leave until further notice.”
Id. A few days later, Ramik appeared on Fox 2 News
and again falsely accused Raboczkay of fraud, theft, and
embezzlement. 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 43.
August 2018, Raboczkay was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing
with respect to the vehicle salvage inspection program.
Despite being cleared, Raboczkay was not reinstated into his
previous position. Id. ¶ 98. In December, the
City's Human Resources Department offered to meet with
Raboczkay about entering into a voluntary agreement to resign
his position and agree not to sue the City or its officials.
Id. ¶ 99. Raboczkay's attorney contacted
the City to resolve matters and to avoid litigation, but the
City ignored the request and terminated Raboczkay's
employment on December 28, 2018. Id. ¶¶
99-102. Raboczkay alleges that Sollars ordered the Human
Resources Department to terminate Raboczkay's employment.
Id. ¶ 103. According to Raboczkay, Sollars and
Ramik receive financial “kick backs” from J and M
Towing, and their actions against Raboczkay were retaliation
for speaking out against J and M Towing and threatening to
bring this action against them. Id. ¶¶ 56,
filed this action alleging First Amendment retaliation,
violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection
Clause, and a state law defamation claim against Defendants
Sollars and Ramik. There are no claims brought against
Defendant City of Taylor. Sollars, Ramik, and the City of
Taylor all filed motions to dismiss (Dkts. 40-42) under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), “[t]he defendant has the burden of showing
that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for
relief.” Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d
471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Carver v. Bunch,
946 F.2d 451, 454-455 (6th Cir. 1991)), cert.
denied, 552 U.S. 1311 (2008). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to state a
claim to relief above the speculative level, such that it is
“plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The plausibility
standard requires courts to accept the alleged facts as true,
even when their truth is doubtful, and to make all reasonable
inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555-556.
a complaint's plausibility is a “context-specific
task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its
judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 679. Although a complaint that offers no more
than “labels and conclusions, ” a
“formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action, ” or “naked assertion[s]” devoid of
“further factual enhancement” will not suffice,
id. at 678, it need not contain “detailed
factual allegations, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555; see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93
(2007) (“[S]pecific facts are not necessary . . .
.”). Rather, a complaint needs only enough facts to
suggest that discovery may reveal evidence of illegality,
even if the likelihood of finding such evidence is remote.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.
argue that Raboczkay has failed to state a claim for First
Amendment retaliation, Equal Protection, and defamation. In
his response brief, Raboczkay agrees to dismiss his Equal
Protection claim. Resp. at 27 (Dkt. 46). The First Amendment
and defamation claims will be taken in turn.
First Amendment Retaliation
survive a motion to dismiss a claim under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) the defendant
acted under color of state law; and (2) the defendant's
conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights secured under
federal law. Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 677 (6th
Cir. 1998). Defendants do not dispute that Raboczkay alleged
that Sollars and Ramik were acting under the color of state
law. Defendants dispute whether Raboczkay has been deprived
any right secured under federal law.
establish a First Amendment retaliation claim, the plaintiff
must show “‘(1) he was engaged in a
constitutionally protected activity; (2) he was subjected to
adverse action or deprived of some benefit; and (3) the
protected speech was a ‘substantial' or
‘motivating factor' in the adverse
action.'” Haddad v. Gregg, 910 F.3d 237,
243 (6th Cir. 2018) (quoting Farhat v. Jopke, 370
F.3d 580, 588 (6th Cir. 2004)). ...