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Landon v. City of Flint

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

June 27, 2017

CITY OF FLINT, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Karter Landon (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against Defendant City of Flint (“City” or “Flint”) on March 23, 2016, challenging the City's enforcement of its Comprehensive Rental Inspection Code in a manner Plaintiff claims violates his right to be free from warrantless searches, arbitrary and retaliatory fines, and civil and criminal charges. In an Amended Complaint filed June 22, 2016, Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment regarding the lawfulness of the City's policies, practices, and conduct. He also asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution (Counts I and II), and a state law unjust enrichment claim (Count III). The matter has been assigned to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford for all pretrial proceedings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B). (ECF No. 6.)


         On July 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, which this Court granted upon Magistrate Judge Stafford's recommendation in an Opinion and Order issued January 24, 2017. (ECF Nos. 37, 53.) The Court found that a property owner in Flint who refuses inspection of his or her rental property is unlawfully subject to civil infractions and denial of a certificate of compliance without enforcing officials obtaining a warrant or pursuing a pre-compliance review process. Flint's Comprehensive Rental Inspection Code (“Rental Inspection Code”) did not provide a warrant requirement or offer property owners pre-compliance review. The Court's order enjoined Flint from “conducting inspections of the City's rental properties or penalizing any person for refusing to allow an inspection of any rental property in the absence of a warrant, other pre-compliance review process, or the existence of exigent circumstances.” (ECF No. 53.)

         The City subsequently moved to dissolve the injunction, arguing that amendments to the Rental Inspection Code rendered the injunction moot. (ECF No. 56.) Specifically, Flint indicated that its City Council enacted a new ordinance regarding inspections of rental properties affording an opportunity for pre- compliance review, which the Receivership Transition Advisory Board (“RTAB”) approved. The amended ordinance, enacted on December 12, 2016, provides that “[i]n non-emergency situations, if permission to enter the rental property is denied, the enforcing agency shall seek an administrative search warrant before conducting the inspection.” (Id., Ex. G; ECF No. 56-8.)

         On February 28, 2017, Magistrate Judge Stafford issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) in which she recommends that this Court deny Flint's motion to dissolve the injunction. (ECF No. 58.) Magistrate Judge Stafford reasons that the ordinance allows for warrantless searches in emergencies and that an emergency ordinance, also passed by the Flint City Council on December 12, 2016, provides that there is an emergency with respect to the City's rental properties. (See Obj. to R&R, Ex. A; ECF No. 41-2.) Magistrate Judge Stafford further reasons that while the amended ordinance requires the enforcing agency to seek an administrative warrant if permission to conduct the inspection is denied, it contradictorily states that access to the property must be provided upon notification by the enforcing agency that an inspection is required.

         In the meantime, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF Nos. 43, 55.) On April 21, 2017, Magistrate Judge Stafford issued an R&R recommending that the Court grant in part and deny in part both motions. (ECF No. 63.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Stafford recommends that the Court: (1) grant Plaintiff's request for a declaration that the version of Flint's Rental Inspection Code in effect when this lawsuit was filed violated the Fourth Amendment; (2) grant the City's request for summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's equal protection claim; and (3) deny summary judgment to the City and Plaintiff with respect to Plaintiff's claims alleging unjust enrichment and violations of the “unconstitutional conditions” doctrine and Fourth Amendment.

         As to Plaintiff's request for declaratory relief with respect to Flint's Rental Inspection Code in effect when this lawsuit was filed, Magistrate Judge Stafford relies on her reasoning in granting Plaintiff's request for preliminary injunction to conclude that he is entitled to declaratory relief. (Id. at 5-9.) Magistrate Judge Stafford rejects Flint's argument that Plaintiff's claims are moot based on its amendments to the Rental Inspection Code because the amendments only require that the enforcing agency “seek” an administrative search warrant if permission to inspect is denied, while also stating that a landlord or owner “must” provide access to the property if notified of the need for an inspection. (Id. at 10-11.) Magistrate Judge Stafford points out that the code does not grant a property owner the right to deny permission or seek pre-compliance review. (Id.)

         Nevertheless, Magistrate Judge Stafford recommends that the Court deny Plaintiff's request for summary judgment on his Fourth Amendment claim because he failed to demonstrate that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in a structure entered by the enforcing agents without a warrant. (Id. at 12-13.) With respect to Plaintiff's claim under the unconstitutional conditions doctrine, Magistrate Judge Stafford rejects the City's argument that it is entitled to summary judgment because a four-part test applies to the claim and Plaintiff cannot satisfy the test. (Id. at 13-15.) Yet, Magistrate Judge Stafford concludes that Plaintiff is not entitled to summary judgment with respect to the claim because he has not established his standing with respect to the houses for which the City turned off the water as a penalty or that any late fees he was charged resulted from the lack of a pre-compliance review process. (Id. at 15.)

         Lastly, with respect to Plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim, Magistrate Judge Stafford finds that the City's argument in support of summary judgment is not sufficiently developed as it rests on its assertion that the Rental Inspection Code is valid and therefore there could be no inequity.

         At the conclusion of her R&Rs, Magistrate Judge Stafford alerts the parties of their right to file objections. Flint filed objections to both R&Rs. (ECF No. 60, 64.) Flint's objections to Magistrate Judge Stafford's R&R on its motion to dissolve the injunction overlap its objections to the magistrate judge's analysis of its mootness argument in support of its motion for summary judgment. Thus, this Court will address those objections together, below.

         Standard of Review

         When objections are filed to a magistrate judge's R&R on a dispositive matter, the Court “make[s] a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court, however, “is not required to articulate all of the reasons it rejects a party's objections.” Thomas v. Halter, 131 F.Supp.2d 942, 944 (E.D. Mich. 2001) (citations omitted). A party's failure to file objections to certain conclusions of the R&R waives any further right to appeal on those issues. See Smith v. Detroit Fed'n of Teachers Local 231, 829 F.2d 1370, 1373 (6th Cir. 1987). Likewise, the failure to object to certain conclusions in the magistrate judge's R&R releases the Court from its duty to review independently those issues. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985).

         Analysis Unconstitutional ...

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