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Hency v. St. Clair County

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

December 12, 2017

GINNIFER HENCY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ST. CLAIR COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT KEYES'S MOTION TO DISMISS [6] AND GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS [5]

          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The case arises from a failed marijuana prosecution by St. Clair County. Three of the Plaintiffs were running what they thought were lawful medical marijuana enterprises. St. Clair County disagreed, and raided the homes and business of the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs' children were present for the raids, and the officers conducting the search allegedly went too far in their destruction and seizure of property. The Plaintiffs running the operation, and their children, brought suit against the county, a prosecutor, and the officers involved.

         Two motions to dismiss are now before the Court. Defendant Keyes seeks to dismiss all counts against her on immunity grounds. The remaining Defendants' motion seeks to dismiss only two counts: Count Five and Count Nine.[1] The Court held a hearing on the motions. For the reasons below, the Court will grant Keyes's motion, and partially grant the other Defendants' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The St. Clair County Prosecutor's Office suspected illegal marijuana sales were occurring at DNA Wellness, a "medical marijuana alternative wellness center" in Kimball, MI owned by Dale and Annette Shattuck. To establish probable cause for a search, the County used confidential informants, who posed as buyers and purchased marijuana at the store. On July 27, 2014, the St. Clair County Drug Task Force (DTF) used the informants' information to secure narcotics search warrants for three locations: (1) the DNA Wellness Center; (2) the associated growing facility down the street, and (3) the Shattucks' home in Port Huron. DTF executed the three search warrants the next day.

         At DNA, DTF took the Shattucks into custody and questioned them in the backroom of the store. One of the officers then "removed his police markings and assumed the role of an employee manning the reception desk." ECF 1, PgID 12. When Ginnifer Hency arrived at the store, the officer struck up a conversation, during which she explained that she was a medical marijuana caregiver. The officers searched Hency's backpack, found six ounces of marijuana, and placed her under arrest. The disguised officer also spoke with four other customers who came into the store and sold marijuana to them. One of the other customers was arrested, while the other three had their medical marijuana cards confiscated.

         Following Hency's arrest, DTF sought a search warrant for her home. When DTF arrived at the home, Mr. Hency was there with his children. They were allowed to leave before DTF searched the home. During the search, DTF seized a host of items, including a car and personal effects. Hency's and her daughter's underwear were also strewn about their respective rooms.

         Around that time, DTF also searched the Shattucks' home, where children were present. Here, however, DTF allegedly had more contact with the children before they left. DTF seized a wide swath of items at the Shattuck home and left it damaged and in disarray.

         The St. Clair County prosecutor brought charges against the Shattucks and Hency, but the circuit court dismissed the case on the grounds of entrapment by estoppel. The instant suit followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court may grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss if the complaint fails to allege facts "sufficient 'to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ' and to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)). The Court views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, presumes the truth of all well-pled factual assertions, and draws every reasonable inference in favor of the non-moving party. Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008). If "a cause of action fails as a matter of law, regardless of whether the plaintiff's factual allegations are true or not, " then the Court must dismiss. Winnett v. Caterpillar, Inc., 553 F.3d 1000, 1005 (6th Cir. 2009).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Keyes's Motion to Dismiss All Counts (ECF 6)

         Melissa Keyes is a St. Clair County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney. She did not prosecute the criminal case against the Plaintiffs, but allegedly communicated with the police, in advance of the raids, and made two statements: (1) she instructed the deputy "not to perform an inspection" of the Wellness Center, ECF 1, PgID 11, ¶ 49, and (2) she recommended that the police use confidential informants, posing as patients with medical marijuana cards, to establish the probable cause necessary to secure a narcotics search warrant, id. at ¶ 51. Other than these two paragraphs, Keyes is never again mentioned in the Complaint. She moves to dismiss the counts against her as failing to state a claim. She relies for authority on theories of sovereign and prosecutorial immunity.

         To the extent Keyes is sued for damages concerning actions she took in her role as prosecutor, she is protected by both forms of immunity. The Eleventh Amendment "bars § 1983 suits against a state, its agencies, and its officials sued in their official capacities for damages, " and, in Michigan, a prosecutor is a state agent when she prosecutes state criminal charges. Cady v. Arenac Cty., 574 F.3d 334, 342-43 (6th Cir. 2009). If Keyes was functioning as a prosecutor, the damages claims against her in her official capacity are barred. She is likewise protected in her personal capacity by prosecutorial immunity because a prosecutor is entitled to absolute immunity when she "acts as an advocate for the State and engages in activity that is intimately associated ...


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