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Ericksen v. Doe

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 1, 2015

J. DOE #1 et al., Defendants.



This Bivens federal civil rights action arises out of plaintiff Daniel Ericksen's arrest after marijuana and drug paraphernalia were found in the trunk of his vehicle at the United States and Canadian border at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan. Plaintiff alleges that the search of his vehicle and his arrest at the border crossing violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Defendants are four named Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") officers and two unnamed defendants. The named defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, to stay this action pending state criminal drug charges against plaintiff arising out of the search and seizure at issue here. Oral argument was heard on June 15, 2015. Because the complaint fails to plausibly allege facts that would make the border search exception inapplicable, and defendant's conduct is protected by qualified immunity, defendants' motion to dismiss shall be granted.

I. Background

In considering defendant's motion to dismiss, the court has carefully considered the allegations in the complaint as well as the opinion of the circuit court affirming the denial of his motion to suppress. Although the general rule is that when a party moves to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court may only consider the matters in the pleadings, matters of public record may also be taken into account. Kostrzewa v. City of Troy, 247 F.3d 633, 644 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Nieman v. NLO, Inc., 108 F.3d 1546, 1554 (6th Cir. 1997).

On June 22, 2012, plaintiff was en route to a summer camp in Michigan when he missed his turn and inadvertently ended up at the international border crossing to Canada at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Michigan. Plaintiff told Michigan Department of Transportation employees that he wished to turn around and not to cross the border into Canada. He was given a laminated card to present at an inspection booth. The card was prepared by CBP and stated on the front:

You are being allowed to turn around without traveling to Canada. Please present this card, along with your identification to an open CBP inspection booth prior to departing. Thank you.

The back of the card stated:

All persons, baggage, and merchandise arriving in the Customs territory of the United States or from places outside thereof are liable to inspection and search by a Customs official.

The laminated card allowed plaintiff to turn around without proceeding to Canada and paying a toll each way. When plaintiff presented at the primary inspection booth at the international border, a CBP agent searched his vehicle and discovered marijuana and drug paraphernalia in a backpack in his trunk. A canine also alerted to drugs. Plaintiff was arrested, and state authorities charged him with misdemeanor drug offenses of possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Plaintiff sought to suppress the evidence in his state criminal proceedings, and the state judge denied his motion. Plaintiff appealed the ruling, and the circuit court affirmed. Defendants seek dismissal for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and on the basis of qualified immunity. In the alternative, defendants argue this matter should be stayed pending the state criminal proceedings.

II. Rule 12(b)(6) Dismissal Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) allows the Court to make an assessment as to whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. Under the Supreme Court's articulation of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-56 (2007), the Court must construe the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, accept the allegations of the complaint as true, and determine whether plaintiff's factual allegations present plausible claims. "[N]aked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" are insufficient to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, plaintiff's pleading for relief must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Ass'n of Cleveland Fire Fighters v. City of Cleveland, 502 F.3d 545, 548 (6th Cir. 2007) ( quoting Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555) (citations and quotations omitted). Even though the complaint need not contain "detailed" factual allegations, its "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true." Id. ( citing Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555).

III. Analysis

A. Plaintiff Has Failed to Allege a Constitutional Violation

The Supreme Court has recognized that "[t]he Government's interest in preventing the entry of unwanted persons and effects is at its zenith at the international border." United States v. Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. 149, 152 (2004). Routine searches at the border do not require a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion. Id. (citing United States v. Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. 531, 537 (1985)). The law is well settled that "searches made at the border, pursuant to the longstanding right of the sovereign to protect itself by stopping and examining persons and property crossing into this country, are reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border." United States v. Ramsey, 431 U.S. 606, 616 (1977). Congress "has granted the Executive plenary authority to conduct routine searches and seizures at the border, without probable cause or a warrant, in order to regulate the collection of duties and to prevent the introduction of ...

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