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Donaldson v. Ausable Township

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

February 28, 2017

AUSABLE TOWNSHIP, et al Defendant.

          Patricia T. Morris Magistrate Judge


          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge

         On January 20, 2016, Plaintiff Mark P. Donaldson filed suit in Roscommon County Circuit Court against Defendants Au Sable Township, Joe Meadows, and Mark Smith. ECF No. 1. This case was removed on April 29, 2016. Donaldson's initial complaint brought eleven state law claims related to violations of the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. However, Donaldson filed an amended complaint on April 8, 2016. That first amended complaint included allegations that Defendants' conduct violated the Fourteenth Amendment. On the basis of those allegations, Defendants removed the case. ECF No. 1.

         On May 5, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Counts 13, 14, and 15 of Donaldson's first amended complaint. ECF No. 3.[1] Several days later, all pretrial matters in this case, including that motion, were referred to Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris. ECF No. 6. On May 18, 2016, Donaldson filed a “Motion for Immediate Consideration, ” ECF No. 9, seeking reconsideration of a previous order which directed Donaldson to reply to the Defendants' motion to dismiss by May 24. On May 26, 2016, Donaldson filed a motion requesting that the Court sever his state law claims and remand them to state court. ECF No. 12. He also filed a second amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1)(B). ECF No 13. In the introduction to that second amended complaint, Donaldson alleges that Defendants erected “roadblocks to a resident of AuSable Township, ” repeatedly violated the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, Mich. Comp. L. § 15.231, repeatedly violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act, Mich. Comp. L. § 15.261, violated Donaldson's due process and civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, and failed to enforce a local zoning ordinance. Sec. Am. Compl. at 2.

         On June 16, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Counts XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, and XVII of the second amended complaint. ECF No. 20. Two weeks later, Donaldson filed a motion seeking an order requiring the Defendants to produce a copy of all records from the state court proceeding and extending the deadline for Donaldson to reply to Defendants' motion to dismiss. ECF No. 23. At the same time, Donaldson filed a motion for sanctions against Defendants, asserting that Defendants falsely represented to the Court that they had sought concurrence before filing their motion to dismiss. ECF No. 24. On July 25, 2016, Donaldson filed two more motions. In the first motion, Donaldson requested that Judge Morris issue a scheduling order and institute a discovery plan. ECF No. 31. In the second motion, Donaldson sought leave to file a third amended complaint. ECF No. 32.

         On August 26, 2016, Judge Morris issued a report recommending that Defendants' second motion to dismiss be granted, Donaldson's federal constitutional claims be dismissed with prejudice, his state law claims be dismissed without prejudice, and that all his other pending motions be denied as moot. ECF No. 35. Donaldson filed nineteen objections to Judge Morris's report and recommendation on September 8, 2016. For the reasons stated below, Donaldson has not stated a claim arising out of federal law. Accordingly, his federal claims will be dismissed and his state claims will be remanded.


         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72, a party may object to and seek review of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2). Objections must be stated with specificity. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 151 (1985) (citation omitted). If objections are made, “[t]he district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). De novo review requires at least a review of the evidence before the magistrate judge; the Court may not act solely on the basis of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. See Hill v. Duriron Co., 656 F.2d 1208, 1215 (6th Cir. 1981). After reviewing the evidence, the Court is free to accept, reject, or modify the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge. See Lardie v. Birkett, 221 F.Supp.2d 806, 807 (E.D. Mich. 2002).

         Only those objections that are specific are entitled to a de novo review under the statute. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986). “The parties have the duty to pinpoint those portions of the magistrate's report that the district court must specially consider.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A general objection, or one that merely restates the arguments previously presented, does not sufficiently identify alleged errors on the part of the magistrate judge. See VanDiver v. Martin, 304 F.Supp.2d 934, 937 (E.D. Mich. 2004). An “objection” that does nothing more than disagree with a magistrate judge's determination, “without explaining the source of the error, ” is not considered a valid objection. Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). Without specific objections, “[t]he functions of the district court are effectively duplicated as both the magistrate and the district court perform identical tasks. This duplication of time and effort wastes judicial resources rather than saving them, and runs contrary to the purposes of the Magistrate's Act.” Id.


         In her report and recommendation, Judge Morris concludes that Donaldson has not alleged any cognizable federal claims. Accordingly, Judge Morris recommends dismissing those counts and dismissing without prejudice Donaldson's state law claims. In response, Donaldson has filed nineteen objections. Objections, ECF No. 40. They can be summarized as follows: In several objections, he asserts that Judge Morris mischaracterized standards to be applied to Donaldson's complaint or the motions he has filed. He similarly contends that Judge Morris made “[n]o findings of facts.” Objections at 6-7. He argues that Judge Morris should have remanded his state claims (not dismissed them without prejudice), and argues that his motion for sanctions should have been separately addressed. Donaldson faults Judge Morris for her analysis of his motion to file a third amended complaint. He further objects to this Court's denial of his motion for a page extension for objections. Donaldson also requests that, if the case is rejected and sent back to a magistrate judge, Judge Morris not be assigned to the case. Finally, and most importantly, Donaldson asserts in objections ten through seventeen that Judge Morris improperly analyzed his federal claims.


         Rather than addressing each of Donaldson's objections to Judge Morris's analysis of his federal claims individually, those claims will be analyzed anew. Donaldson's second amended complaint contains two federal claims. In Count XV, Donaldson argues that his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights were violated by Defendants. Sec. Am. Compl. at 41, ECF No. 13. Donaldson explains that he “filed a zoning complaint with the Township” that challenged a sign with “moving illumination” which had been placed on Sunset Drive. Id. Donaldson lives in the Running Deer Estates subdivision, which is only accessible through County Road 603 (also known as Sunset Drive). In Count XV, Donaldson also references exhibits 26, 27, and 28 of his second amended complaint. Id. Those exhibits reveal that Donaldson was asserting that a nearby firearms range and several related billboards were in violation of local zoning ordinances. According to Donaldson's complaints, the Township Board took no action on these complaints or related FOIA requests because Donaldson had not paid the bill for prior FOIA requests he has made. Id. at 43.

         In Count XVI, Donaldson again alleges that Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights. Id. at 44. In this claim, he argues that the Defendants had “developed and/or state personal bias” regarding his zoning complaint. He also asserts that, based on existing zoning ordinances, his complaint revealed that the firing range and billboards in question were noncompliant. He also alleges that he has a First Amendment right “to speak at the public meeting” in challenge to the billboard he believes should be removed.

         In his motion to file a third amended complaint, Donaldson attached a copy of the proposed complaint. The proposed third amended complaint contains an additional count and defendant. Specifically, Donaldson alleges in Count XVIII that “Kathy Wray Intentionally Violated ...

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