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Shaffer v. Kalamazoo County Sheriff Department

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

October 12, 2016

Alonzo Shaffer, Plaintiff,
Kalamazoo County Sheriff Department, Defendant.



         This is a civil rights action brought pro se by a former Kalamazoo County inmate under 42 U.S.C. §1983. (Compl., ECF No. 1). Plaintiff alleges that he was assaulted by a fellow inmate on August 13, 2013; that sheriff deputies failed to timely and effectively intervene; and that a sheriff deputy used excessive force against plaintiff immediately after the assault. (Id., PageID.2). Plaintiff claims that he suffered serious back and neck injuries. (Id.).

         The matter is now before the Court on defendant's motion to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 6). Also before the Court is plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint, seeking to replace the Kalamazoo County Sheriff Department with two new defendants: Kalamazoo County and the Kalamazoo County Administrator. (ECF No. 14). Defendant objects to the motion to amend, arguing that the amendment would be futile, as it also fails to state a claim against the proposed defendants. (ECF No. 16).

         On October 11, 2016, I conducted a hearing on the motions. (Minutes, ECF No. 17). For the reasons set forth herein, I recommend that defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint against the Kalamazoo County Sheriff Department (ECF No. 6) be granted, and that plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint (ECF No. 14) be denied.

         I. The Kalamazoo County Sheriff Department's Motion to Dismiss

         Rule 12(b)(6) Standards

         Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes the dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must provide “ ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.' ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), and Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). While this notice pleading standard does not require “detailed” factual allegations, it does require more than labels and the bare assertion of legal conclusions. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Generally, when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in plaintiff's favor. See Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008). “[C]ourts ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.' ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 680-81 (2009); Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2010). Courts are not required to conjure up unpleaded allegations, nor accept unwarranted factual inferences. See Total Benefits Planning, 552 F.3d at 434. “To survive a motion to dismiss, [plaintiff] must allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Sch. Dist. v. Michigan Dep't of Educ., 615 F.3d 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by licensed attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Even the lenient treatment generally given pro se pleadings has its limits, however. See Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991). “A plaintiff must ‘plead [ ] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.' ” Albrecht, 617 F.3d at 893 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “A plaintiff falls short if [] he pleads facts ‘merely consistent with the defendant's liability' or if the alleged facts do not ‘permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct[.]' ” Albrecht, 617 F.3d at 893 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79).


         The complaint names as the only defendant the Kalamazoo County Sheriff Department. Under Michigan law, “a municipal police department is a creature of the municipality.” Haverstick Enterprises, Inc. v. Federal Financial Credit, Inc., 32 F.3d 989, 992 n.1 (6th Cir. 1991) (citing M.C.L. § 92.1). Thus, suit against the police department is actually a suit against the municipality. Id. (citing Moomey v. City of Holland, 490 F.Supp. 188, 190 (W.D. Mich. 1980); Michonski v. City of Detroit, 162 Mich.App. 485, 413 N.W.2d 438, 441 (1987)). The complaint, having named the wrong defendant, should be dismissed. See Boykin v. Van Buren Twp., 479 F.3d 444, 450 (6th Cir. 2007) (affirming district court's ruling that, under Michigan law, the township police department is subsumed within the township as a municipal entity to be sued under § 1983, and thus the police department was improperly included as a separate defendant (citing Laise v. City of Utica, 970 F.Supp. 605, 608 (E.D. Mich. 1997)); Watson v. Gill, 40 Fed. App'x 88, 89 (6th Cir. 2002) (holding that the county jail is simply a department of the county, and not the appropriate party to address plaintiff's suit); Vine v. Ci ty of Ingham, 884 F.Supp. 1153, 1158 (W.D. Mich. 1995) (holding that, under Michigan law, a sheriff department is not a legal entity subject to suit).

         II. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint

         Rule 15(a) Standards

         A plaintiff may amend his complaint once as a matter of course, assuming it is done within 21 days of serving the complaint, or within 21 days after service of a Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). Thereafter, the party must obtain either the opposing party's written consent or leave of court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). In this case, plaintiff's motion to amend was filed more than 21 days after the service of the Kalamazoo County Sheriff Department's ...

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