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THE NATIONAL CRIME VICTIM BAR ASSOCIATION CIVIL JUSTICE DATABASE

Bloch v. Ribar
156 F.3d 673, 6th Cir., OH, 09/21/1998
Category Victim v. Perpetrator 
Topic Theory of Liability, General 
Filename Miscellaneous 
Crime Sexual Assault 
Location Not Given 
Prevailing Party Plaintiff in part 
Other Parties None 
Holding

Statement of Facts: After Cynthia Bloch was raped by an unknown assailant, she promptly reported the rape to the Medina County Sheriff's Department and gave a detailed statement to the authorities. When 18 months passed with no apparent progress in the investigation, Cynthia and her husband, Thomas, went to the media with their story. Articles about the case appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon Journal. The articles were critical of the Medina County Sheriff's Department and of Sheriff L. John Ribar personally. Thereafter, Ribar called a press conference, at which he announced that he was going to have a grand jury investigate Cynthia's rape claim. During the same press conference, Ribar unnecessarily and illegally released "highly personal and extremely humiliating details" about the rape, causing the Blochs to suffer humiliation, embarrassment and severe mental distress. The Blochs sued Ribar under 1983, claiming that he violated their constitutional rights by holding the press conference and releasing the confidential and highly personal information, and that he did so in retaliation for the Blochs publically criticizing his lack of diligence in investigating the claim. Ribar moved to dismiss. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio granted the motion to dismiss, finding that Ribar was entitled to qualified immunity on both the retaliation claim and the privacy claim. The Blochs appealed. Holding: The U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. The Court first considered the Blochs' claim of retaliation. To prove a claim for retaliation, a plaintiff must establish that (1) she was engaged in a constitutionally protected activity; (2) the defendant's adverse action caused the plaintiff to suffer an injury that would likely chill a person of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in that activity; and (3) the adverse action was motivated at least in part as a response to the exercise of the plaintiff's constitutional rights. The Court noted that, with regard to the first prong, the First Amendment clearly protected the Blochs' right to criticize Ribar in his role as a public official. The Court held further that the Blochs properly alleged that Ribar's adverse action caused them to suffer embarrassment and humiliation that would chill people of ordinary firmness from continuing to engage in their constitutionally protected activity. Finally, the Court concluded that the Blochs alleged facts that, if proven, supported their claim that Ribar, at least in part, was motivated to release highly personal information about the rape as a response to the Blochs' exercise of their First Amendment rights. Since Ribar was not entitled to qualified immunity from the Blochs' retaliation claim, the district court erred in dismissing the retaliation claim. With regard to the privacy claim, the Court concluded first that a rape victim has a fundamental right of privacy in preventing governmental officials from gratuitously and unnecessarily releasing the intimate details of the rape where no penalogical purpose is being served. However, the Court found that a reasonable public official would not be on notice that the release of such intimate details of a rape constituted an actionable violation of a rape victim's privacy interests. Thus, Ribar's defense of qualified immunity was justified with regard to this claim. 


Damage Award Not tried 
Victim's Counsel     
Plaintiff's Counsel Richard J. Marco, Sr., Steve C. Bailey, Medina 
Plaintiff's Expert      
Defense Counsel Mark D. Landes, Terri B. Gregori, Columbus 
Defense Expert

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