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Breakthrough Towing, LLC v. Hall

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

March 29, 2017





         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs Breakthrough Towing, LLC and Michael Dickerson's Motion to Compel Unredacted Version of Citizen's Complaints against Defendant Hall. (Docket no. 14.) Defendant City of Detroit responded to Plaintiffs' Motion (docket no. 16), and Plaintiffs replied to Defendant's Response (docket no. 18). The parties have also filed a Joint Statement of Resolved and Unresolved Issues regarding Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel. (Docket no. 34.) The Motion has been referred to the undersigned for consideration. (Docket no. 15.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings and dispenses with oral argument pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2). The Court is now ready to rule pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Dickerson is the sole member of Plaintiff Breakthrough Towing, LLC, a Michigan limited liability company that tows vehicles in the City of Detroit pursuant to contracts with businesses and insurance companies. (Docket no. 3 ¶ 10.) On December 26, 2014, one of Plaintiffs' tow-truck drivers towed a vehicle from the parking lot of a local McDonald's restaurant and subsequently went to the Third Precinct of the Detroit Police Department to have the vehicle entered into Michigan's Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN). (Docket no. 3 ¶ 17; docket no. 14 at 11; docket no. 14-3 at 3.) Defendant Hall, the sergeant on duty at the time, denied the driver's request on belief that the vehicle was unlawfully towed. (Docket no. 3 ¶ 17; docket no. 14 at 11; docket no. 16 at 10.) Plaintiff Dickerson then advised the driver to tow the vehicle to Plaintiffs' storage yard. (Docket no. 14-3 at 3.) According to Plaintiffs, that same evening, and without probable cause, a search warrant, or consent, Defendant Hall and two other officers went to Plaintiffs' storage yard to recover the vehicle in question; Defendant Hall instructed one of those officers to break the lock on the gate securing the lot; and Defendant Hall then proceeded to tow away Plaintiffs' tow truck. (Docket no. 14 at 11.) Defendant Hall admits that he impounded Plaintiffs' tow truck because he believed that it was involved in the unlawful towing of the subject vehicle. (Docket no. 16 at 10.)

         The next day, Plaintiff Dickerson filed a Citizen Complaint with the Detroit Police Department in which he alleged that Defendant Hall (1) prevented the LEIN Operator from entering a private property impound into the LEIN System; (2) broke the lock to gain entry onto his property; (3) removed a vehicle from his lot; (4) impounded his tow truck; and (5) referred University Liquor to another tow company. (Docket no. 14 at 11; docket no. 14-3 at 2.) Following an investigation, the Office of the Chief Investigator exonerated Defendant Hall on the portion of Plaintiff Dickerson's complaint regarding entry of the vehicle into the LEIN System, and it found that the portion of the complaint regarding Defendant Hall and University Liquor was unfounded. But the Office of the Chief Investigator sustained Plaintiff Dickerson's complaint on the allegations that Defendant Hall broke the lock to gain entry onto Plaintiffs' property, removed a vehicle from the lot, and impounded Plaintiffs' tow truck. (Docket no. 14-3 at 13-18.) Based on its investigative findings, in March 2015, the Office of the Chief Investigator recommended that Plaintiff Dickerson's Citizen Complaint be forwarded to the Chief of Police for the appropriate corrective or disciplinary action. (Id. at 18-19.)

         On July 15, 2015, Plaintiffs filed the instant action against Defendants Hall and City of Detroit regarding the December 2014 incident described above.[1] In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege, in relevant part, that (1) Defendant Hall violated Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment right to be from unlawful search and seizure; and (2) Defendant City of Detroit created policies, practices, and customs regarding the police department's constitutional obligation to refrain from entering an individual's property for the purpose of seizing personal property without a search warrant, which policies, etc. demonstrated “deliberate indifference” to the constitutional rights of its citizens and was the moving force behind Defendant Hall's violation of Plaintiffs' rights. (Docket no. 3 ¶ 34.) A Stipulated Order for Partial Summary Judgment was entered against Defendant Hall on August 5, 2016, holding that he is liable for violating Plaintiffs' clearly established Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure, irrespective of the existence or non-existence of probable cause. (Docket no. 25.)

         The disputed discovery in this matter is Defendants' production of three redacted citizen complaint investigation reports filed against Defendant Hall, including the one filed by Plaintiff Dickerson, produced in response to Plaintiffs' Request for Production (RFP) no. 13, which requested “All documents relating to any internal police investigation arising out of the seizures of Plaintiffs' property on November 16, 2014 and/or December 27, 2014.” (See docket no. 14 at 12; docket no. 14-5 at 9 (emphasis omitted).) On December 30, 2015, Defendants produced the three investigation reports and other documents informally via email in response to Plaintiffs' informal email request to receive the documents requested before the holidays. (Docket no. 16-3 at 1.) Defendants' production was accompanied by the following disclosure:

You will note that we have produced internal police documents regarding complaints and investigations regarding Sergeant Hall, and his personnel file, but I have redacted certain portions based on confidentiality concerns, the deliberative process privilege and the law enforcement privilege.

(Id.) As Defendants' counsel further explained a few days later, all of the witness statements and factual matters were reviewed; the nature of the charges and allegations, and the final decisions reached were not redacted from the investigation reports; the only portions of the reports that were redacted are those in which the police department was evaluating the allegations, facts, and law. (Docket no. 16-4 at 1.) Later, in their January 20, 2016 formal response to Plaintiffs' RFP no. 13, Defendants stated, “On information and belief, all of these documents were provided to Plaintiffs on December 30, 2015.” (Docket no. 14-5 at 9.) Plaintiffs now seek production of the unredacted versions of the citizen complaint investigation reports through the instant Motion to Compel. (Docket no. 14.)


         The scope of discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is traditionally quite broad. Lewis v. ACB Bus. Servs., 135 F.3d 389, 402 (6th Cir. 1998). Parties may obtain discovery on any matter that is not privileged, is relevant to any party's claim or defense, and is proportional to the needs of the case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). “Relevant evidence” is “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. Information need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). But the scope of discovery is not unlimited. “District courts have discretion to limit the scope of discovery where the information sought is overly broad or would prove unduly burdensome to produce.” Surles ex rel. Johnson v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 474 F.3d 288, 305 (6th Cir. 2007).

         Rules 33 and 34 allow a party to serve interrogatories and requests for production of documents on an opposing party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33, 34. A party receiving these types of discovery requests has thirty days to respond with answers or objections. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(2), 34(b)(2)(A). If the party receiving discovery requests under Rules 33 or 34 fails to respond properly, Rule 37 provides the party who sent the discovery the means to file a motion to compel. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B). If a court grants a Rule 37 motion to compel, or if discovery is received after a Rule 37 motion is filed, then the court must award reasonable expenses and attorney's fees to the successful party, unless the successful party did not confer in good faith before the motion, the opposing party's position was substantially justified, or other circumstances would make an award unjust. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(5)(A).

         III. ...

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