The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul D. Borman United States District Judge
(1) DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 14);
(2) GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 10); and
(3) ORDERING THE PARTIES TO SUBMIT EVIDENCE ON THE ISSUE OF DAMAGES This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 14) and Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 10). Both parties have filed responses and replies and a hearing on the matter was held on April 7, 2010. For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and ORDERS the parties to submit evidence on the issue of damages.
Plaintiffs claim that Defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights by entering their property without a judicially authorized warrant and seizing assets in satisfaction of an alleged tax debt from a detached structure located in back of their home, pursuant to a Michigan Department of Treasury "tax warrant." While Plaintiffs contest the underlying tax deficiency, they do not do so in this proceeding and challenge only the constitutionality of the seizure itself.*fn1
Defendants respond that the seizure of assets pursuant to a Michigan Department of Treasury "tax warrant" did not constitute an unconstitutional search, and that, if there was a constitutional violation, Defendants are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity because the law as to what constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment and what constitutes the "curtilage" of the home is so imprecise that a reasonable officer would not have known that a search warrant may have been required.
The Michigan Department of Treasury's tax claims against Plaintiff have resulted in continuous non-responses by Plaintiffs to communications from and visits by state tax agents. The State has alleged that Mr. Bollini's company failed to satisfy the single business tax liabilities for his company, Hardwood Stairs & Millwork ("Hardwood"), for several years beginning in 1995. (Defs.'s Resp. to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment, 3.) The State allegedly forwarded several notices to Mr. Bollini and ultimately authorized Defendant Bolden to proceed with the seizure of assets pursuant to two "tax warrants" issued by the Michigan Department of Treasury -Tax Collection Enforcement Division, signed by the Director of the Michigan Financial Services Bureau. (Pls.'s Mot. Ex. A, Deposition of Johnny Bolden, October 20, 2009 43-46, Exs. 5, 6.) These warrants were not judicially secured warrants.
On July 15, 2008, Defendant tax agent Johnny Bolden, and Michigan State Troopers Martin and Brown, proceeded to the Bollini home at 4097 Carriage Hill Drive, Metamora, MI 48455. (Defs.'s Mot. Ex. 1, Deposition of Lisa Bollini, October 27, 2009 p. 56.) Both warrants listed this same address for Mr. Bollini, and his former company -- the home address at 4097 Carriage Hill Drive, Metamora. (Pls.'s Mot. Ex. A, Bolden Dep. 43-46.) The Defendants arrived at the home at approximately 10:30 a.m. and first approached the attached garage, and knocked on the open entrance door to the garage. (Pls.'s Mot. Ex. A, Deposition of Johnny Bolden, October 20, 2009 p. 18-24.) Receiving no response, the Defendants entered the garage and walked toward the closed door from the garage to the home, where they encountered Plaintiff Lisa Bollini, who had seen the officers in the driveway and was exiting the door that leads from her home into the attached garage. (Defs.'s Mot. Ex. 1, Lisa Bollini Dep. 56-57, Pls.'s Mot. Ex. A, Bolden Dep. 30-31.)
Defendant Bolden informed Ms. Bollini that he was there to seize anything of value belonging to Mr. Bollini and that he planned to seize items that day. (Pls.'s Mot. Ex. A, Bolden Dep. 29.) Ms. Bollini informed the officers that she was going inside to call her lawyer at which point one of the officers, whom she alleges had his hand on his pistol or his taser, began to follow her toward the home. She told him he was not welcome in her home and she would be back out in a minute after she secured her children and her dogs in her home. (Defs.'s Mot. Ex. 1, Lisa Bollini Dep. 59-61.) The Trooper did not enter the home. Ms. Bollini returned shortly, with a phone, having called her attorney Jerry Abraham, and handed the phone to Defendant Bolden. (Pls.'s Mot. Ex. 3, Bolden Dep. 32.) Defendant Bolden testified that he told attorney Abraham to call Bolden's supervisor, and then proceeded with Defendants Brown and Martin*fn2 to a detached structure about 20 yards away, in back of the home at the end of Plaintiff's driveway.*fn3 (Pls.'s Mot. Ex. 3, Bolden Dep. 32; Pls.'s Mot. Exs. E, F, Photographs of home and back garage.)
Defendants entered the closed pole barn, inventoried and tagged the chosen items and changed the locks on the door before leaving Plaintiffs' property on July 15, 2008. (Pls.'s Mot. Ex. A, Bolden Dep. 37-39.) Defendant Bolden returned with a local moving company on or about July 31, 2008 and removed the items that were seized on July 15, 2008 without notifying anyone at the Bollini residence. (Id. at 39-41.) The seized items relating to Maurice Bolden and his woodworking business ultimately were sold at auction. Some of the seized items, later determined to be assets not subject to the tax judgment, including children's bikes and three-wheelers, children's golf clubs, pool cleaning equipment, a riding lawnmower, a weed-whacker and two snowmobiles, were returned to the Bollinis. (Pls.'s Mot. Ex. A, Bolden Dep. 55-57; Pls.'s Mot. Ex. A, Bolden Dep. Ex. 7.)
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a party against whom a claim, counterclaim, or cross-claim is asserted may "at any time, move with or without supporting affidavits, for a summary judgment in the party's favor as to all or any part thereof." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b). Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of an essential element of the nonmoving party's case on which the nonmoving party would bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "Of course, [the moving party] always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323; See also Gutierrez v. Lynch, 826 F.2d 1534, 1536 (6th Cir. 1987).
A fact is "material" for purposes of a motion for summary judgment where proof of that fact "would have [the] effect of establishing or refuting one of the essential elements of a cause of action or defense asserted by the parties. Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1984) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 881 (6th ed. 1979)) (citations omitted). A dispute over a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Conversely, where a reasonable jury could not find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial. Feliciano v. City of Cleveland, 988 F.2d 649, 654 (6th Cir. 1993). In ...