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Butcher v. City of Alma

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

May 16, 2017

CITY OF ALMA, et al., Defendants.


          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge

         Plaintiff James Lee Butcher initiated the above-captioned matter by filing his complaint on March 28, 2016 against Defendants Gratiot County, City of Alma, Eric Leonard, Adam Walter, and Brian Fox. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the Fourth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by unlawfully seizing him for allegedly failing to pay child support. See Compl., ECF No. 1. Plaintiff also asserts claims of false arrest and imprisonment and gross negligence against all Defendants, and a claim pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) against Defendants Gratiot County and the City of Alma. Id. Defendants Gratiot County, Eric Leonard, and Brian Fox have since been dismissed from the case. See ECF Nos. 23 & 33. Accordingly, Defendants Adam Walter and City of Alma are therefore the only remaining defendants in this action.

         On March 13, 2017 Defendants Walter and City of Alma filed a motion for summary judgment. See ECF No. 37. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed because he was arrested pursuant to an outstanding bench warrant. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion will be granted and the claims set forth in Plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed with prejudice.


         Plaintiff James Lee Butcher is a resident of Alma, Michigan. See Butcher Dep. 15, ECF No. 37-5. At the time of the relevant events, Defendant Adam Walter was employed by the City of Alma Police Department. See Walter Dep. 11, ECF No. 37-2. Walter was assigned to a multi-jurisdiction task force - the Mid-Michigan Area Group Narcotics Enforcement Team (“MAGNET”) - along with Detective Eric Leonard and Sergeant Brian Fox. See Walter Dep. 12-13. The MAGNET officers worked in plain clothes and were assigned unmarked state vehicles. Id. at 13, 25.


         On December 28, 2014, the Family Division of the 29th Circuit Court in Gratiot County, Michigan, issued an order directing Plaintiff Butcher to appear and show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt for failure to pay $191.28 in past-due child support. See Mot. & Order, ECF No. 37-7. The hearing was scheduled for January 27, 2015 at 2:30 PM, and the order explained as follows:

The Friend of the Court will meet with individuals for Court from 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon. If arrangements for payment on your file are not successful, your hearing [will] be held before the Circuit/Probate Court Judge as noted above. If the named party fails to appear, he/she may be found in contempt and a bench warrant may be issued for his/her arrest. If contempt is found, the court may apply any enforcement remedy allowed under law.

Id. The order was signed by Gratiot County Probate Judge Kristin M. Bakker. Id. A nearly identical, “Amended” show cause order was entered on January 16, 2015, again stating that Plaintiff owed $191.28 in child support and again directing him to appear on January 27, 2015. It is not immediately apparent why the amended order was necessary, and the parties do not provide any possible rationale. The issuance of the amended order is ultimately irrelevant, however, as Plaintiff acknowledged that he received a copy of the show cause order. See Butcher Dep. 123-24.

         In response to the order Butcher visited the Friend of Court office in the Gratiot County courthouse in order to pay the past-due child support on January 27, 2017 at around 10:30 or 11:00 a.m.. See Butcher Dep. 19. Plaintiff received a receipt from the Friend of Court showing that he had paid $191.28. See Receipt, ECF No. 44-4. Having paid the delinquent amount, Plaintiff left without attending the hearing. See Butcher Dep. 24.

         Despite Plaintiff's payment, on January 28, 2015 Judge Bakker entered a support enforcement order against Butcher after he failed to appear at the January 27, 2015 hearing. See Support Enforcement Order, ECF No. 37-3. The order noted that Butcher had failed to appear as ordered, and noted that he owed $308.28 in past-due support. Id. The judge then issued a bench warrant for Butcher's arrest. See Bench Warrant, ECF No. 37-4. The warrant directed that Butcher be brought before the court immediately, or released upon the posting of a $500.00 cash-performance bond. Id. At 11:46 a.m. the warrant for Plaintiff's arrest was entered into the Law Enforcement Information Network (“LIEN”). See ECF No. 37-12.

         Later that same day, Judge Bakker issued an order recalling and discharging the bench warrant based on Plaintiff's payment of $191.28 to the Friend of Court. See ECF No. 37-4. The order advised Plaintiff that after making payments in the future he should “speak with his caseworker to make sure he is taken off of the docket.” Id. The order noted that Plaintiff still owed $117.00 in past-due child support, and adjourned the hearing on the support enforcement order to February 10, 2015. Id.


         In the meantime, during the early afternoon of January 28, 2017, Defendant Walter and Deputy Leonard ran a LIEN search for outstanding warrants See Walter Dep. 21. The LIEN search revealed the outstanding bench warrant for Plaintiff Butcher's arrest. Id. at 21. At around 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, Detective Leonard advised Walter that he had observed Plaintiff Butcher as a passenger in a Jeep pulling into a B&P gas station. See Id. at 25; Butcher Dep. 26. Defendant Walter therefore drove to the B&P gas station, where he observed Butcher exiting the store with a carton of milk ...

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