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Joy v. Godair

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

December 19, 2016

SCOTT GODAIR, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff brings an action alleging civil rights violations under 28 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter is before the Court on Defendants Godair, Murdock, and the City of Mason's motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 37.) Plaintiff has filed a response (ECF No. 48), and Defendants have filed a reply (ECF No. 49).


         On March 12, 2014, Defendant Godair, an officer with the City of Mason Police Department, saw Plaintiff's car traveling on US-127 in the passing lane without passing any cars. After several minutes, Defendant Godair pulled over the car. When Plaintiff rolled down his window, Defendant Godair smelled marijuana. Plaintiff gave Defendant Godair his license, registration, and proof of insurance. Defendant Godair then asked Plaintiff to step out of the vehicle, and Plaintiff refused. Plaintiff gave Defendant Godair his medical marijuana card, and again, refused to step out of the vehicle. Defendant Godair returned to his vehicle to wait for back up. Defendant Murdock, a Mason police officer, and Defendant Spencer, a Michigan State trooper, then arrived. The officers approached Plaintiff's car, and asked Plaintiff to step out. Plaintiff complied, and Defendant Godair patted him down but no weapons were found. Defendant Godair asked Plaintiff if there was any marijuana in the car. At first Plaintiff denied this, but then he responded, “I might have a roach in there.” Defendant Godair searched the car for marijuana, including a locked glove box where Defendant Godair found a handgun. After finding the handgun, Defendants Godair and Spencer placed Plaintiff in handcuffs. Defendant Godair continued to search the car and found a bag of marijuana in between the passenger seat and the console. He also found two alcohol bottles on the floor of the backseat. The passenger explained that the alcohol was hers, but the marijuana belonged to Plaintiff. Defendants told Plaintiff that he was under arrest for a concealed-weapon violation and possession of marijuana, and took him to Ingham County Jail. Defendant Godair's dash camera recorded most of this interaction. Upon arrival at the jail, Defendant Godair removed Plaintiff's handcuffs, and transferred custody of Plaintiff to the Ingham County Sheriff's Department. He also gave Plaintiff a ticket for improper lane use. During a pat-down search at the jail, a small amount of marijuana was found in one of Plaintiff's pockets.

         The Ingham County Prosecutor's Office authorized a four-count felony warrant. A magistrate judge signed and validated the warrant, and set a $45, 000 bond. Defendant Godair testified at the preliminary examination, and the court found that there was probable cause for all counts. Two months later, the Chief Deputy Assistant Prosecutor signed a motion for nolle prosequi for all charges, and the court granted the motion to dismiss the case with prejudice.

         On July 5, 2016, the Chief Assistant Prosecutor for Ingham County sent a letter to the Mason Police Chief, which explained why the office dismissed Plaintiff's charges in 2014. In April of 2014, the Ingham County Prosecutor issued a memorandum to all police agencies regarding the constitutionality of the transporting marijuana statute, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.474. He explained that, on March 4, 2014, a district court judge in Ingham County found that this statute was unconstitutional. He also indicated that, moving forward, the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office would not support a finding of violation of transporting marijuana as a basis for a stop, detention, or further search.


         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(c), or alternatively, a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. (ECF No. 36.) “If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Thus, because the Court will consider matters outside of the pleadings, it will construe this as a motion for summary judgment.

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the Court to grant summary judgment “if the movant shows 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). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment the Court must look beyond the pleadings and assess the proof to determine whether there is a genuine need for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, “the district court must construe the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Martin v. Cincinnati Gas & Elec. Co., 561 F.3d 439, 443 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Jones v. Potter, 488 F.3d 397, 403 (6th Cir. 2007)). Nonetheless, a “plaintiff must do more than rely merely on the allegations of her pleadings or identify a ‘metaphysical doubt' or hypothetical ‘plausibility' based on a lack of evidence; [a plaintiff] is obliged to come forward with ‘specific facts, ' based on ‘discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits[.]'” Chappell v. City of Cleveland, 585 F.3d 901, 912 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87). The proper inquiry is whether the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986); see generally Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1476-80 (6th Cir. 1989).


         In Plaintiff's complaint, he raises several violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as violations of Michigan law. In Count One, he alleges false arrest and false imprisonment under Michigan law. In Count Two, he alleges a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim relating to the force used while handcuffed. In Count Three, Plaintiff alleges a warrantless search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In Count Four, he alleges a Fourteenth Amendment excessive-force claim for handcuffing and a claim of denial of medical treatment for alleged injuries from the handcuffs. In Count Five, he alleges a malicious prosecution claim under state law. In Count Six, he alleges a Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim. Finally, in Count Seven, he alleges a Monell claim for liability against the City of Mason.

         A. Qualified Immunity

         Defendants argue that Officers Godair and Murdock are entitled to qualified immunity on all of Plaintiff's federal claims. Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense that extends to government officials performing discretionary functions. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 817-18 (1982). Government officials acting within the scope of their authority are entitled to qualified immunity as long as their conduct does “not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Id. at 818. It protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Humphrey v. Mabry, 482 F.3d 840, 847 (6th Cir. 2007). The Sixth Circuit applies a t w o - p a r t test to determine whether a government official is entitled to the defense of qualified immunity: (1) whether the plaintiff has shown a violation of a constitutionally-protected right; and, if so, (2) whether that right was clearly established such that a reasonable official would have understood that his behavior violated that right. Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 299-300 (6th Cir. 1999). The purpose of the clearly-established prong is to ensure that officials are on notice that their alleged conduct was unconstitutional. Baynes v. Cleveland, 799 F.3d 600, 610 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002)). The salient question is “‘whether the state of the law ...

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