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Clark v. Oliviera

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

November 21, 2016

OLIN CLARK and CHRIS CLARK, Plaintiffs,
v.
GILBERTO OLIVIERA, JAMES HANSON, ANDREW HAYES, MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS [12]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         In November 2013, Plaintiff Olin Clark, driving in snowy conditions, collided with Defendant Gilberto Oliviera's police cruiser. Defendant James Hanson investigated and concluded in his report that Olin was at fault. Olin and his father, Plaintiff Chris Clark, maintain otherwise. And they believe that the erroneous at-fault determination is, or soon will, adversely affect them. For example, they fear harm to Olin's reputation and increased costs for auto insurance. The Clarks thus filed this lawsuit, alleging that the erroneous police report has caused violations of their rights under the Constitution. They ask this Court to issue an injunction to correct the report and to declare unconstitutional the state process for contesting insurance rate increases.

         Defendants have moved for dismissal on various grounds. (R. 12.) Having reviewed the parties' briefs, the Court will forgo oral argument. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f). For the reasons set out below, the Court finds that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the Clarks' claims against the Michigan Department of State Police and over their claims based on Olin's blemished driving record. As for the Clarks' claim that Michigan provides constitutionally inadequate procedures for challenging insurance rate increases, the Court finds that claim implausible. As such, the Court will GRANT Defendants' motion.

         I.

         Given the nature of Defendants' motion, the Court presents the non-conclusory allegations of the Clarks' amended complaint as fact. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009); Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992).

         On November 13, 2013, Olin Clark was driving westbound on I-96 in Livingston County, Michigan. (R. 11, PID 42 ¶ 11.) The driving conditions were poor: snow was falling heavily with a “major accumulation of snow” already on the highway. (Id. ¶ 12.) Olin was driving in “approximately the left lane, ” and ahead of Olin on the left was a vehicle that had slid off the road. (See Id. ¶¶ 13, 14.) Michigan State Trooper Gilberto Oliveira, who had been driving in “approximately the center lane, ” apparently saw the disabled vehicle and “moved left into” Olin's “right of way[.]” (See Id. ¶ 15.) Olin “immediately” applied his breaks, but he “was unable to stop due to the infringement of his right of way and struck the right rear corner of Oliveira's patrol car.” (Id. ¶¶ 15, 18.) Defendant Andrew Hayes (also a state trooper) was a passenger in Oliveira's car. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         Michigan State Trooper James Hanson investigated the accident. (R. 11, PID 42 ¶ 20.) Hanson's report contained a number of errors, including that the “Crash Type” indicated a rear end collision instead of a right-of-way infringement; that Oliveira's “Hazardous Action” was “None”; that Clark's “Hazardous Action” was “speed too fast”; that the narrative portion of the report claimed that Oliveira's car was stationary at the time of collision (when in fact it was moving); and that the narrative said that Clark had “lost control” prior to the collision. (R. 11, PID 43-44; R. 27, PID 229-30.) Hanson neither interviewed Olin nor the passenger in Olin's vehicle in preparing his report. (R. 11, PID 45 ¶ 27.)

         In February 2014, apparently having reviewed the video from Oliveira's patrol car (which the Clarks maintain shows that Oliveira's car was not stationary at the time of collision but instead moving from right to left), the Clarks' lawyer sent an employee misconduct complaint to the Professional Standards Section of the Michigan Department of State Police, outlining the errors in Hanson's report. (R. 11, PID 44 ¶ 23-25.)

         A lieutenant with the Professional Standards Section responded to the Clarks via letter, agreeing with the Clarks to the extent that some “minor corrections . . . needed to be made on the UD-10 [report].” (R. 27, PID 238.) These included changing the number of lanes on I-96 (2 changed to 3), the direction of travel on the highway (eastbound changed to westbound), and Oliveira's status at the time of collision (stopped changed to slowing or stopping). (R. 27, PID 238.) But the letter also stated, “I have reviewed the applicable police reports and, in conjunction with other state police commanders, have determined that Mr. Clark was properly listed as the, [sic] at fault driver, in the traffic crash.” (Id.)

         In late March 2014, the Clarks' lawyer sent a letter to the Michigan Department of State Police Commander, asking that the UD-10 report be further corrected and that “the troopers be disciplined for their false statements.” (R. 11, PID 45 ¶ 29.) A captain replied that they would make no further corrections to the report and that they would take no disciplinary action against the troopers. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         The Clarks' counsel also contacted the Michigan Department of State asking that department to correct Olin's driving record. (R. 11, PID 46 ¶ 32.) The Department informed the Clarks that the only way that his driving record could be changed was if the Michigan Department of State Police submitted an amended report. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         Having not received the relief he sought from either the State Police or the Department of State, Olin and his father, Chris Clark, filed this lawsuit against the Michigan Department of State Police, Oliveira, Hayes, and Hanson. (Chris owned and insured the vehicle Olin was driving. (See R. 27, PID 201.)) Although their amended complaint is not a model of clarity, it appears that the Clarks believe they have been injured in four ways: that the “at-fault” designation on Olin's driving record may result in harm to Olin's reputation, that the at-fault designation may affect Olin's driving privileges, that the lessor of Oliveira's patrol car has demanded payment for the damage to the car, and that their insurance costs have risen or may rise. (See R. 11, PID 45 ¶ 30; R. 11, PID 46 ¶ 39; R. 27, PID 197-98, 206, 210.) The Clarks ask this Court to remedy these harms in two ways: by “enjoining Michigan State Police from maintaining the false and inaccurate report including, but not limited to, preparing a corrected report and submitting it to the Michigan Department of State Police and its lessor” and by declaring a number of state laws pertaining to the process of challenging insurance rates to be unconstitutional or inadequate. (R. 11, PID 51.)[1]

         II.

         Before turning to the merits, the Court must address two issues that pertain to its subject-matter jurisdiction: sovereign immunity and the Clarks' standing to pursue certain claims.

         A.

         “[T]he Eleventh Amendment is a true jurisdictional bar that courts can-but are not required to-raise sua sponte at any stage in litigation, and, once raised as a jurisdictional defect, must be decided before the merits.” Russell v. Lundergan-Grimes, 784 F.3d 1037, 1046 (6th Cir. 2015). Here, the Michigan Department of State Police asserts Eleventh Amendment, or perhaps more precisely, sovereign immunity. (R. 12, ...


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