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Cain v. City of Detroit

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

November 14, 2016

CITY OF DETROIT, a municipal corporation, and BRANDON SHORTRIDGE, Sgt. MICHAEL JACKSON, JEFFREY ELGERT, ADAM VERBEKE, in their individual and official capacities, Jointly and Severally, Defendants.




         Plaintiff in this case is the driver of a vehicle that was stopped, searched and impounded by the Detroit Police on February 1, 2012. Plaintiff claims that in the course of this stop and search Defendants, three individual police officers, their supervisor and the City of Detroit, violated his First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and that Defendants are liable under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which permits federal lawsuits for violations of constitutional rights. After conducting discovery, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims, asserting qualified immunity, and Plaintiff filed a Response (Dkts. 47, 49). The Court heard oral argument on Defendants' motion on October 11, 2016 in Flint, Michigan.

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED with respect to Plaintiff's municipal liability, supervisor liability, and Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment claims and DENIED with respect to Plaintiff's First and Fourth Amendment claims.

         I. Background

         The general outline of what happened on February 1, 2012 is not disputed. At approximately 8:30 p.m., Defendant Officers Brandon Shortridge, Jeffrey Elgert and Adam Verbeke (“the Officers”) were working in the area of E. Seven Mile Road and Hull Street in Detroit, Michigan. They were assigned to “Special Operations, ” a patrol focused on “major crime involvement.” (Dkt. 49, Ex. 3 at 7). The Officers initiated a traffic stop of Plaintiff Christopher Cain, a veteran with a physical disability that impedes his walking. They directed Plaintiff to exit his vehicle, patted him down (the parties dispute the degree of force used here), issued him a ticket for failing to possess a driver's license and drove his vehicle to the police station before impounding it. After the incident, Plaintiff called the Officers' supervisor, Sergeant Michael Jackson, to relay what occurred and ask how to recover his car.

         The parties' accounts differ regarding the details of what happened during the incident and its aftermath. Officer Shortridge testifies that the Officers pulled Plaintiff over because he was speeding. (Dkt. 49, Ex. 1 at 6). Defendants state in their brief that upon approaching Plaintiff's vehicle, they observed him reach between the door and the seat, in a manner consistent with attempting to conceal a weapon. (Dkt. 47 at 4).[1] The brief further states, with no citation to the record, that Officer Shortridge then asked Plaintiff to exit his car, patted him down for weapons, and issued him a ticket and impounded his vehicle because he was unable to produce his driver's license. (Id.). In their deposition testimony, the Officers do not recall any details of the incident except that Plaintiff was issued a citation and his vehicle was impounded. (Dkt. 49, Ex. 1 at 7; Ex.2 at 5; Ex.3 at 7).

         According to Plaintiff's testimony, he recalled exactly what happened. Plaintiff denies that he was speeding and states that the Officers were in no position to have made this determination because they drove toward his vehicle from a side street at a high rate of speed. (Dkt. 49, Ex. 5). Plaintiff specifically denies that he made any type of reaching movement as the Officers walked toward his vehicle. (Id.) He notes too that they could not have seen inside his car because it has heavily tinted windows. (Id.). Plaintiff adds that when the Officers surrounded his car, they were in black tactical gear without badges and Officer Verbeke had his gun drawn. (Dkt. 49, Ex. 4 at 17-19).[2]

         According to Plaintiff, Officers Elgert and Shortridge pulled him out of his car, without explanation, and placed him in a “subdue position, ” injuring his arm and wrist. (Dkt. 49 at 16-17). Specifically, Plaintiff testifies that Officer Elgert “took my right hand, put it up behind my back and basically spreaded [sic] my legs” on the “hood” of the police car. (Dkt. 49, Ex. 4 at 6-7). Officer Elgert then searched Plaintiff, taking his wallet from his pants' pocket, while Officers Verbeke and Shortridge searched his entire vehicle and strew his property, including his cane, on the ground outside. (Id. at 17). When Plaintiff questioned the Officers' right to take these actions, he said that Officer Shortridge replied, inter alia, “Detroit is a dangerous city. We don't need a damned search warrant.” (Id.). Plaintiff states that the Officers then demanded his license and registration and he responded that they were probably in the car but the Officers refused to let him look for them. (Id.). Instead, against the backdrop of Plaintiff's continued protestations and demands for the Officers' information, Officer Verbeke drove Plaintiff's car away and Officer Shortridge stated (presumably to Officer Elgert), “Fuck it. Do you want to take him to jail?” (Id. at 18). Plaintiff then stated, inter alia, “I don't understand why you guys can do this? You don't know the damn law? I don't see a badge, I don't see anything, you didn't give me your name, ” to which he stated that Officer Shortridge replied, “fine I'll give you a ticket for no identification.” The Officers then drove away, leaving Plaintiff stranded. (Id. at 18-19).

         After Defendant Officers Elgert and Shortridge drove away, Plaintiff testifies, he called Sergeant Jackson to explain what happened, request a ride home and inquire about retrieving his car. Plaintiff states that Sgt. Jackson told him the police could not transport him, that he did not know where Plaintiff's car was and that he should call back. (Id. at 19).[3] Finally, Plaintiff testifies that his knee popped out on his walk home that night, he had to pay $150 to get his car back, the ticket he received was eventually dismissed and his license was actually inside the vehicle when he retrieved it from the tow lot. (Id. at 20).

         II. The Summary Judgment Standard in Qualified Immunity Cases

         To succeed on summary judgment the movant must “show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). According to the doctrine of qualified immunity, however, government officials are shielded “from standing trial for civil liability in their performance of discretionary functions unless their actions violate clearly established rights.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Consequently, at the summary judgment stage of a § 1983 action against police officers, even where the officers are the movants, plaintiff has the burden to show that (1) the officers violated a constitutional right and (2) that right was clearly established. Quigley v. Tuong Vinh Thai, 707 F.3d 675, 680 (6th Cir. 2013)). Stated differently, plaintiff must first make out a prima facie case for a violation of a constitutional right and second, must establish that the law was so clear at the time of the incident that a reasonable officer in such a scenario would have known she was violating it. Smith v. City of Wyoming, 821 F.3d 697, 708-09 (6th Cir. 2016).

         Although plaintiff carries the burden of production where defendant asserts qualified immunity, on summary judgment the Court must still view the evidence, and draw all reasonable inferences, in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). In addition, “[a] party may object that the material cited to support … a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2), and “the burden is on the proponent to show that the material is admissible as presented or to explain the admissible form that is anticipated.” Id. advisory committee's note to 2010 amendment.

         If the district court determines plaintiff's evidence creates a genuine issue of fact-i.e. is evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for plaintiff-it must deny Defendant summary judgment. DiLuzio v. Vill. of Yorkville, 796 F.3d 604, 609 (6th Cir. 2015); see also Gradisher v. City of Akron, 794 F.3d 574, 586 (6th Cir. 2015) (“[w]here…the legal question of qualified immunity turns upon which version of the facts one accepts, the jury, not the judge, must determine liability.”). The Sixth Circuit has “explicitly found that a plaintiff's testimony is itself sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact.” Moran v. Al Basit LLC, 788 F.3d 201, 206 (6th Cir. 2015).

         III. Discussion

         A. Plaintiff's Municipal Liability, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment Claims

         As an initial matter, the Court will enter summary judgment in favor of Defendants where Plaintiff's claims are voluntarily conceded, admitted to have been unintentionally brought or found to be redundant of other claims. At oral argument, Plaintiff's counsel conceded that Plaintiff's municipal liability claim was unfounded.[4] Plaintiff also admitted that his inclusion of claims under the Fifth and Sixth Amendment in the Amended Complaint was in error; he did not intend to make such claims. (Dkt. 26). In addition, Plaintiff's counsel stated that the Amended Complaint invoked the Fourteenth Amendment only for purposes of the incorporation doctrine. Because Congress intended § 1983 to provide statutory authority to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, it is “redundant” to raise a Fourteenth Amendment claim solely for incorporation purposes in a § 1983 claim. Terrace Knolls, Inc. v. Dalton, Dalton, Little & Newport, Inc., 571 F.Supp. 1086, 1090 (N.D. Ohio 1983), ...

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