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Scott v. City of Port Huron

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

March 6, 2017

JOSEPH SCOTT, Plaintiff,

          Anthony P. Patti Magistrate Judge.



         A data-entry error in the expiration date of a personal protection order (PPO) led to Joseph Scott's wrongful arrest and imprisonment. When the two divorced, Coralee Scott obtained the PPO against Scott. In the County of St. Clair, these orders are entered into a law-enforcement database. Jeanette Thompson was tasked with entering Coralee's. The order was to expire in six months, but Thompson mistakenly entered a one-year expiration date. Eleven months later, Gerard Peczeniuk, a police officer for the City of Port Huron, pulled Scott over for not wearing his seatbelt. With Scott was Coralee. Peczeniuk ran a license check in the database, and it showed a valid order protecting Coralee from Scott. When Peczeniuk inquired into the PPO, Scott and Coralee both stressed that the order had expired. So Peczeniuk called dispatch. At dispatch, Scott Talmadge examined a copy of the order and verified it. But Talmadge did not look at the expiration date. Based on the database and the validation from dispatch, Peczeniuk arrested Scott. Scott ended up spending three days in jail before the whole issue was sorted out.

         Scott then filed this suit (actually two suits) against Thompson, Peczeniuk, Talmadge and others asserting, primarily, that he was unreasonably seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Defendants primarily argue that they cannot be held liable because they carried out their official duties in a reasonable manner. Defendants thus assert that they are entitled to summary judgment. (See Case No. 15-11773, R. 16; Case No. 16-11874, R. 17.)

         The Court has carefully reviewed the summary-judgment record and finds that oral argument will not aid in resolving the parties' dispute. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f). Scott's arrest was unfortunate. But the Court believes that Defendants acted reasonably in carrying out their official duties. Mostly for that reason, Defendants are not liable to Scott.


         Because Defendants say that no reasonable jury could find for Scott, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to Scott. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).


         On the morning of May 30, 2013, Scott and his ex-wife, Coralee Scott, were on their way to pay Scott's water bill and then to get breakfast or lunch. (R. 17, PID 126, 144.)[1] Gerard Peczeniuk, a City of Port Huron police officer, noticed that Scott was driving without his seatbelt, so he pulled Scott over. (See R. 17, PID 128, 145; Case No. 15-11773, Peczeniuk Video at 10:11.) Peczeniuk obtained Scott's license and insurance information and returned to his police cruiser to run a check on the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN). (R. 17, PID 128, 314; Peczeniuk Video at 10:12.) The LEIN check showed a “personal protection order on file.” (R. 17, PID 314.)

         Coralee had sought the PPO on the day of her divorce from Scott, June 15, 2012. (R. 17, PID 124, 142, 150-51.) In her PPO request, Coralee asserted that Scott had “threatened [her] life” and was “verbally abusive.” (R. 17, PID 151.) (At her deposition, Coralee said that several statements in her PPO request were false or misworded. (R. 17, PID 142-43.)) Despite the PPO, Coralee testified that the two remained “friends” after their divorce (R. 17, PID 144) and Scott testified that the two remained romantically involved (R. 17, PID 127). According to Scott, at the time of his encounter with Peczeniuk, the two were seeing each other “every day.” (R. 17, PID 127.)

         After completing the LEIN check on his computer, Peczeniuk returned to the Scotts' car. This conversation ensued:

PECZENIUK: What is your name ma'am?
CORALEE: Coralee Scott
PECZENIUK: Okay. Uh, do you have a personal protection order against-
CORALEE: -Nope. No, that expired a long, long time.
SCOTT: No, that's a long time ago.[2]
SCOTT: Oh yeah-
SCOTT: I know it's expired.
PECZENIUK: Okay, I will be back with you.

         (Peczeniuk Video at 10:14.)

         Peczeniuk then returned to his cruiser and radioed dispatch for the County of St. Clair. He provided Scott's information (full name, sex, race, and date of birth). (Peczeniuk Video at 10:15.) Scott Talmadge, a dispatcher with the County, radioed back. Due to unknown issues with the videos, only part of Peczeniuk and Talmadge's conversation was recorded. Based on what is available, Talmadge told Peczeniuk, “I have the order in hand, it has been served. It does show he is not supposed to have contact with her.” (Case No. 15-11773, Coleman Video at 10:21.)[3]

         Peczeniuk then returned to the Scotts' car and proceeded to arrest Scott. (Peczeniuk Video at 10:22.) During the arrest, Peczeniuk and Coralee had a conversation that was in part recorded; Peczeniuk is heard saying, “You gotta go get the PPO removed ma'am. [Inaudible response from Coralee.] At the courthouse right there, yeah.” (Coleman Video at 10:23.)

         After securing Scott in his cruiser, Peczeniuk returned to the Scotts' vehicle to talk with Coralee. The police video reflects the following:

PECZENIUK: You're the owner of the car, right?
CORALEE: So I just go here to the courthouse-
PECZENIUK: -yep, you go down to the courthouse but as of right now [inaudible] June 18.
CORALEE: -really? My lawyer told us January. My lawyer is right here-
PECZENIUK: -right [inaudible, apparently references his “computer”] . . . we have a hardcopy at our dispatch center.

(Coleman Video at 10:24.)

         At their depositions, although both indicated that the conversation occurred before Scott's arrest, Scott and Coralee testified that they told Peczeniuk that Coralee's lawyer was across the street and had a copy of the PPO. In particular, Coralee recalled, “I said, excuse me, officer, if you'll just give me a couple minutes, my lawyer's just right here and I will go and get a copy of it and show you that it's no longer [valid]. . . . I said, if you'll just give me a minute, my lawyer, Mike Bushar (phonetic), is just right here across the way, and I will go get a copy of the PPO.” (R. 17, PID 145.) Scott similarly recalled, “I says, no, I don't have [a PPO] against me. [The officer says, ] Yes, you do, you're under arrest. And [Coralee] had said to him, no, he doesn't have one. It's been expired. She said, my attorney is across the street. I can get the papers and show it to you. He said, No, just sit in the car. He's going to jail. And he handcuffed me and took me in the cop car.” (R. 17, PID 128.)

         During the drive to the jail, Scott experienced a panic attack, so Peczeniuk took him to the hospital. (R. 17, PID 128, 130.) After Scott was medically cleared, Peczeniuk proceeded to the jail. (R. 17, PID 130.) Scott ended up staying in jail for three days. (See R. 17, PID 131, 350.)


         It turned out that Scott and Coralee were right: the PPO had expired.

         The reason the LEIN informed Peczeniuk that the PPO was not expired was because of a data-entry error. In the County of St. Clair, after a judge enters a PPO, a copy of the order is brought (or faxed) to the County of St. Clair Central Dispatch Authority. (R. 17, PID 169-70.) One of the dispatchers, who is also responsible for answering calls, then manually enters the PPO into the LEIN. (R. 17, PID 174, 217, 221, 257.) The expiration date is typed in only once. (R. 17, PID 181, 199.) After that process is complete, the hardcopy is then handed over to another dispatcher (the parties refer to this person as the “second-party checker”), who calls up the entry in the LEIN and checks the entered data against the hardcopy. (See R. 17, PID 185, 219, 221-23, 261.) The hardcopy is then kept in a physical file at dispatch until the system informs the dispatchers that the PPO is expired. (R. 17, PID 192, 223-24, 263.) At that point, a dispatcher pulls the PPO and sends it back to the court. (R. 17, PID 223-24.)

         On the day that Coralee's PPO was brought over to dispatch, Jeanette Thompson was the dispatcher tasked with entering PPOs. (See R. 17, PID 180.) She mistakenly entered Coralee's PPO as expiring in one year, June 18, 2013. (R. 17, PID 237.) In fact, the PPO had an expiration date of six months, December 18, 2012. (R. 17, PID 155.) When later asked how the date got entered incorrectly, Thompson testified, “Probably because I was busy and I entered it in incorrectly.” (R. 17, PID 180.) Notably, only four dispatchers were working at the time, and, on average, dispatch received 700 to 800 calls in a 24-hour period. (R. 17, PID 174, 216.) Also, although she did not attribute ...

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