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Ongori v. City of Midland

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

November 10, 2016

VINCENT ONGORI, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MIDLAND, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          GORDON J. QUIST, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, Plaintiff's action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff Vincent Ongori, a state prisoner currently confined at the Chippewa County Jail, filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants City of Midland and City Attorney James O. Branson, III. In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on July 23, 2015, Defendant Branson discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of his race in relation to a traffic violation. On September 23, 2015, Defendant Branson authored an email which defamed Plaintiff and destroyed his reputation. Plaintiff further claims that between July 23, 2015, and September 25, 2015, Defendant Branson colluded with Midland police and other agencies to falsely institute perjury charges against Plaintiff. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Branson fabricated evidence against him through coercion and intimidation of witnesses. Plaintiff seeks damages and equitable relief.

         Discussion

          I. Failure to state a claim

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement, ' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(I)).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994).

         Initially, the Court notes that Plaintiff's complaint consists entirely of conclusory assertions that his rights were violated, and is unsupported by specific factual allegations. Conclusory allegations of unconstitutional conduct without specific factual allegations fail to state a claim under § 1983. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-69 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         Moreover, a municipality, such as the City of Midland, may only be liable under § 1983 when its policy or custom causes the injury, regardless of the form of relief sought by the plaintiff. Los Angeles Cnty. v. Humphries, 131 S.Ct. 447, 453-54 (2010) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1974)). In a municipal liability claim, the finding of a policy or custom is the initial determination to be made. Doe v. Claiborne Cnty., 103 F.3d 495, 509 (6th Cir. 1996). The policy or custom must be the moving force behind the constitutional injury, and a plaintiff must identify the policy, connect the policy to the governmental entity and show that the particular injury was incurred because of the execution of that policy. Turner v. City of Taylor, 412 F.3d 629, 639 (6th Cir. 2005); Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 815 (6th Cir. 2003); Doe, 103 F.3d at 508-509. It is the court's task to identify the officials or governmental bodies which speak with final policymaking authority for the local government in a particular area or on a particular issue. McMillian v. Monroe Cnty., 520 U.S. 781, 784-85 (1997).

         Plaintiff's claim against the City fails at this first step because he does not identify a policy or custom. A “policy” includes a “policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated” by the sheriff. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690. Plaintiff has not asserted that there is an official policy. Nor has Plaintiff identified a custom. The Sixth Circuit has explained that a “custom”

. . . for the purposes of Monell liability must be so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law. In turn, the notion of “law” includes deeply embedded traditional ways of carrying out state policy. It must reflect a course of action deliberately chosen from among various alternatives. In short, a “custom” is a “legal institution” not memorialized by written law.

Claiborne Cnty., 103 F.3d at 507 (citations and quotations omitted).

         Where a plaintiff fails to allege that a policy or custom existed, dismissal of the action for failure to state a claim is appropriate. Rayford v. City of Toledo, No. 86-3260, 1987 WL 36283, at *1 (6th Cir. Feb. 2, 1987); see also Bilder v. City of Akron, No. 92-4310, 1993 WL 394595, at *2 (6th Cir. Oct. 6, 1993) (affirming dismissal of ยง 1983 action because the plaintiff's allegation of a policy or custom was conclusory). Therefore, the Court will dismiss ...


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