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Lake v. City of Southgate

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

February 28, 2017

CITY OF SOUTHGATE, et al., Defendants.


          Nancy G. Edmunds United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Christina Lake is suing Defendant City of Southgate under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for allegedly violating her constitutional rights. Plaintiff specifically claims that Southgate violated her right to substantive due process by failing to enforce city ordinances with respect to her residence, which contained toxic mold and backed-up sewage. The matter now before the Court is Southgate's motion to dispose of Plaintiff's claim either through judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment. For the reasons below, the Court treats Southgate's motion purely as a motion for summary judgment and GRANTS the motion.

         I. Background

         This case centers on a residence that Plaintiff rented in Southgate, Michigan for a large portion of 2015. The relevant facts date back to June 2014, when Southgate corresponded with the owner of record for the residence, H&E Holdings, LLC. Southgate advised H&E that the City Code requires inspections for single family residential rental units each time they are rented, re-rented, or every three years. (Dkt. 25-1, at 2.) In response, the principal owner of H&E, Hysen Elmazaj, applied for a Certificate of Occupancy. (Dkt. 21-8.) Southgate then conducted an inspection, identified several items in need of repair, and refused to issue a Certificate. (Dkt. 21-9.) The City also informed Elmazaj that the property could not be occupied until a Certificate was obtained. (Id.)

         Ignoring this admonition, Elmazaj sought to rent the property without approval, and, in early January 2015, he and Plaintiff entered into a rental agreement. (Dkt. 21-2, at 6.) On January 9, Plaintiff moved into the residence. (Id.) Before then, Plaintiff did not ask Elmazaj if the property had a valid Certificate of Occupancy, nor did she contact Southgate. (Id. at 6-7.) Her first contact with Southgate occurred on January 9 or 10, when she called the Water Department to turn on the water. (Id. at 6.)

         Then, in March 2015, raw sewage began building up in the home, so Plaintiff called Southgate's Building Department to discuss the residence. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, this call ended with a woman's stating that someone would call Plaintiff back; however, nobody followed up. (Id.) Plaintiff subsequently made no attempt to contact Southgate again until June 2015, when she complained of a musty smell coming from the basement. (Id.) At that time, Southgate informed her that the property should not have been rented, and it sent a plumbing inspector to inspect the property. (Id. at 10.) When the inspection ended, the inspector informed Plaintiff that the property was going to be condemned. (Id.)

         Around the same time, Plaintiff contacted an environmental group to test for molds and other toxins. (Id.) That group conducted a test in July that revealed that the home contained toxic mold. (Dkt. 25-4.) Following that revelation, Plaintiff confronted Elmazaj about all she had learned. He told her the "City was full of crap and that he would handle it." (Dkt. 21-2, at 10.) He then stopped communicating with Plaintiff. (Id. at 11.)

         Two months later, in September 2015, the news media began reporting on Plaintiff's situation. (Dkt. 21-4.) Also in September, Plaintiff moved out of the residence and contacted the Mayor's office regarding the property. (Dkt. 21-2, at 11.) The office told Plaintiff how to obtain city records for the property, which she subsequently received. (Id. at 12-13.) Soon after, on September 11, Southgate issued a civil citation against Elmazaj for renting the property without a Certificate of Occupancy. (Dkt. 21-10.)

         Meanwhile, Elmazaj sued Plaintiff in state court because she had stopped paying rent after she moved out. The court ruled in Plaintiff's favor on September 18, and it ordered the placement of red tags on the property to indicate that it was condemned. (Dkt. 21-5.) A second tag was placed on the property on September 26, 2015, and a third was placed on October 20, 2015. (Dkt. 21-7.) According to Plaintiff, Elmazaj was removing the tags. (21-2, at 13.)

         Plaintiff then commenced this action on November 10, 2015 by filing a complaint in state court against Southgate, Elmazaj, H&E, and MK Painting, Inc. (Dkt. 1.) On January 25, 2016, the matter was removed to this Court based on the § 1983 claim against Southgate. (Id.) Following a motion to remand by Plaintiff, this Court remanded the claims against Elmazaj, H&E, and MK Painting to state court. (Dkt. 10.) As a result, only the § 1983 claim remains before the Court. (Id.)

         At issue here is Southgate's motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56(a). Both parties have submitted briefs and exhibits related to the motion, and the Court heard arguments from both sides at a hearing on February 23, 2017. The Court now decides the motion as follows.

         II. Treatment of Southgate's Motion Purely as a Motion for Summary Judgment

         If, on a motion under Rule 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[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). And if a court coverts a motion into one for summary judgment, "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." Id. Here, discovery is complete, and both parties have submitted briefing and exhibits related to Southgate's motion for summary judgment. The Court also heard oral argument regarding the propriety of summary judgment. As a result, the Court finds that it is proper and equitable to consider Southgate's motion purely as one for summary judgment. See Max Arnold & Sons, LLC v. W.L. Hailey & Co., 452 F.3d 494, 503 (6th Cir. 2006) ("[Rule 12(d)] requires only one action by the district court for the conversion to a summary judgment motion to occur: failure to exclude presented outside evidence."); Pierzynowski v. Police Dept. City of Detroit, 941 F.Supp. 633, 639-40 (E.D. Mich. 1996) (ruling on converted motion where plaintiffs had opportunity to respond but never did so).

         III. Summary ...

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