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Brennan v. Dawson

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

September 7, 2017




         Plaintiff Joshua Brennan brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants Deputy James Dawson, individually and in his official capacity, Sheriff John Wilson, in his official capacity, and Clare County violated his Fourth Amendment rights. This matter is presently before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 14). Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall rule without oral argument. For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff was placed on probation on August 11, 2014, following an assault and battery conviction in Gladwin County. (Doc. 14-4 at PageID 113). On February 21, 2015, Clare County Sheriff's Department Deputy James Dawson traveled to 2184 Oakridge Drive in Farwell, Michigan, to conduct a probation check on plaintiff. (Doc. 14-3 at PageID 109). This check was to include a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT). (Id.). The eighth term of plaintiff's probation states that he must “[n]ot possess or consume alcoholic beverages nor enter any establishment which allows for the consumption of alcoholic beverages on its premises, nor be in the company of anyone consuming alcohol. You are subject to random PBT upon demand at your expense.” (Doc. 14-4 at PageID 113).

         Deputy Dawson was aware that Clare County Sargent Miller and Deputy Piwowar had attempted to check on plaintiff the night before, February 20, 2015. (Doc. 14-3 at PageID 109). An individual named Joshua Dishneau emerged from plaintiff's home as the officers arrived. (Id.). He indicated that plaintiff was awake inside the home. (Id.). Miller and Piwowar attempted to contact plaintiff by knocking and announcing for over a half hour, but no one answered. (Id.).

         Dawson arrived at plaintiff's mobile home at 8:18pm. (Doc. 14-3 at PageID 111). He approached and knocked on the front doors. (Doc. 14-3 at PageID 109). No one answered. (Id.). Dawson heard people moving and speaking inside the home and believed that someone was inside. (Id.). He walked around the home knocking on various windows. (Id.). No one answered, but Dawson continued to hear some movement and speech. (Id.). Dawson then returned to his vehicle and activated his emergency lights and siren. (Doc. 1 at PageID 4). Dawson also noticed surveillance cameras on plaintiff's porch. (Id.). Dawson adjusted the cameras to alter their viewpoint and thereafter obscured the lenses with caution tape. (Id.).

         Ashley Wright arrived at plaintiff's home around 9:12pm. (Doc. 14-3 at PageID 111). Dawson and Wright's interaction lasted approximately 20 minutes. Wright initially told Dawson that she received a call stating the home's occupant was on vacation and asking her to visit to determine why officers were present. (Doc. 14-3 at PageID 109). Dawson questioned Wright's story. In response, Dawson alleges that she changed her story to reflect that her brother had received a call from the home occupants. Dawson followed up on this story. Wright changed her statement again, stating that her father received a call. (Doc. 14-3 at PageID 109). Dawson spoke with Wright's father and determined that was not true. Wright became flustered and Dawson responded that she could leave and that he would simply wait for plaintiff or another occupant to answer. (Doc. 14-6).

         Plaintiff exited his home around 9:50pm. (Doc. 14-3 at PageID 109). He stated that he was ill and had been asleep. He submitted to a PBT. (Doc. 14-3 at PageID 110). Test results indicated that plaintiff had 0.000 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. (Id.). Dawson arrested plaintiff for violating his probation term ordering submission to PBT on demand. (Id.). These circumstances, where others told multiple lies to deceive officers about plaintiff's presence in the home, and the efforts plaintiff went to in order to remain inaccessible, could reasonably lead officers to believe that plaintiff was violating his conditions of probation by obstructing the administration of the PBT. Plaintiff was transported to the Clare County jail. (Id.). He remained there until his arraignment on February 24, 2015, where Magistrate Karen Willing of the 80th District Court dismissed the alleged probation violation. (Doc. 1 at PageID 5).

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 56(c) empowers a court to render summary judgment “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Williams v. Mehra, 186 F.3d 685, 689 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is “‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Amway Distrib. Benefits Ass'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). Mere allegations or denials in the non-movant's pleadings will not meet this burden, nor will a mere scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 252. There must instead be evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the non-movant. McLean, 224 F.3d at 800 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).The evidence and all reasonable inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff brings five claims against Dawson. Count I alleges that Dawson illegally entered the curtilage of plaintiff's home. Count II alleges that the PBT was an illegal search. Count III and V allege that plaintiff's arrest was an illegal seizure. Count IV alleges that Wilson and Clare County failed to adequately train Dawson and are liable for the resulting harm to plaintiff.

         Dawson asserts that he is entitled to summary judgment on the basis of a qualified immunity defense. “Qualified immunity shields federal and state officials from money damages unless a plaintiff pleads facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, (1982)). A right is clearly established if “the contours of a right are sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.” Id. at 741 (internal citations omitted). The Court has discretion to decide which element to address first. Id. (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)).

         A. Fourth Amendment Claims ...

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