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Lechner v. County of Marquette

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

February 17, 2017

JOHN FRANCIS LECHNER, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF MARQUETTE et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney United States District Judge.

         This is a civil rights action originally brought by a former county jail pretrial detainee in the Marquette County Jail, for violations of the First, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, which the Court construes as an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] The action was removed to this Court by Defendant United States Marshals Service. 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. § 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 John Francis Lechner was a former federal pretrial detainee held at the Marquette County Jail (MCJ). He sues Marquette County, the Marquette County Sheriff's Department (MCSD), the Marquette County Board of Commissioners (MCBC), and the following individuals: MCBC Chair Gerald O. Corkin; MCBC Vice-Chair Debbie Pellow; MCBC Members Steve Pence, Paul Arsenault, Bruce Heikkila, and Greg Seppanen; MCSD Sheriff Michael H. Lovelace; MCSD Undersheriff Jack Schneider; MCSD Deputies “John Does A-Z” (Unknown Parties); Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch; and the United States Marshals Service.

         Plaintiff complains that while he was detained at MCJ between September 21, 2011, and July 18, 2012, the non-supervisory individual MCSD Defendants conspired to deprive him of his rights under the First, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments by refusing to deliver his personal and legal mail on various occasions. By refusing to deliver Plaintiff's legal mail, Defendants allegedly prevented him from assisting his attorney at his criminal trial. In addition, Plaintiff contends that Marquette County, the MCSD, the Sheriff, the Undersheriff, the MCBC and the individual MCBC members are liable for failing to supervise, failing to train, negligently hiring, and failing to discipline the other Defendants. He also alleges that Defendants' actions violated the state law torts of gross negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         For relief, Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment, together with compensatory and punitive damages.

         Discussion

         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)).

         State statutes of limitations and tolling principles apply to determine the timeliness of claims asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 268-69 (1985). For civil rights suits filed in Michigan under § 1983, the statute of limitations is three years.[2] See Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.5805(10); Carroll v. Wilkerson, 782 F.2d 44, 44 (6th Cir. 1986) (per curiam); Stafford v. Vaughn, No. 97-2239, 1999 WL 96990, at *1 (6th Cir. Feb. 2, 1999). Accrual of the claim for relief, however, is a question of federal law. Collyer v. Darling, 98 F.3d 211, 220 (6th Cir. 1996); Sevier v. Turner, 742 F.2d 262, 272 (6th Cir. 1984). The statute of limitations begins to run when the aggrieved party knows or has reason to know of the injury that is the basis of his action. Collyer, 98 F.3d at 220.[3]

         Plaintiff's complaint is untimely. He asserts claims arising between September 21, 2011 and July 17, 2012. Plaintiff had reason to know of the “harms” done to him at the time they occurred. Hence, his claims accrued not later than July 17, 2012. However, he did not file his complaint until January 9, 2017, well past Michigan's three-year limit. Moreover, Michigan law no longer tolls the running of the statute of limitations when a plaintiff is incarcerated. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.5851(9). Further, it is well established that ignorance of the law does not warrant equitable tolling of a statute of limitations. See Rose v. Dole, 945 F.2d 1331, 1335 (6th Cir. 1991); Jones v. Gen. Motors Corp., 939 F.2d 380, 385 (6th Cir. 1991); Mason v. Dep't of Justice, No. 01-5701, 2002 WL 1334756, at *2 (6th Cir. June 17, 2002).

         In addition to state actors and agencies, Plaintiff sues the United States Marshals Service, a federal agency, apparently because the Marshals Service had official custody over him during his pretrial detention on a federal claim. Section 1983 does not provide a cause of action against a federal agency. Instead, a federal agency is only subject to suit for tort claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. § 1346. The FTCA bars any tort claim against the United States unless it is presented in writing to the appropriate federal agency “within two years after such claim accrues.” 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b). A claim accrues within the meaning of § 2401(b) when the plaintiff knows both the existence and cause of his injury. United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 115 (1979).

         Plaintiff fails even to allege that he presented his claim to the Marshals Service, much less that he did so within two years. As with the § 1983 claims, Plaintiff was aware of his injuries and their causes not later than July 17, 2012. His claim against the United States Marshalls Service therefore is time-barred as well.[4]

         “If the allegations [of a complaint] show that relief is barred by the applicable statute of limitations, the complaint is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim . . . .” Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007). As a consequence, ...


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