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Thomas v. Briggs

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

January 19, 2018

ROBERT P. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
LORI A. BRIGGS, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S 12(C) MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS [ECF NO. 35]

          LINDA V. PARKER U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Robert P. Thomas (“Plaintiff”) filed this lawsuit against Defendants Lori A. Briggs (“Defendant Briggs”) and Melissa Borden (“Defendant Borden”) (collectively “Defendants”) stemming from the alleged unlawful seizure and possession of Plaintiff's two dogs. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 3, 4.) Plaintiff filed his complaint on January 20, 2015, alleging Defendants violated his civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims for conversion and replevin. (Id.)

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (ECF No. 35.) For the reasons that follow, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This dispute surrounds the ownership of two dogs. Plaintiff alleges that he is the owner of Swimmer and her offspring, Katrina. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 10.) On October 8, 2014, Defendant Briggs, a Detroit police officer employed by the Evidence Technician Unit, captured Swimmer and Katrina by “luring them from [the] property where they had a right to be.” (Id. ¶¶ 11, 16.) Defendant Briggs then transported the dogs to Defendant Borden, the owner of an animal rescue, rehabilitation, and adoption facility located in Newport, Michigan. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 28.) Defendant Borden brought the dogs to her facility, the Devoted Barn, a nonprofit shelter located in Monroe County, Michigan. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 29.)

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant Briggs had no authority to seize his dogs from his property. Plaintiff's complaint states Defendant Briggs is not affiliated with the Detroit Animal Control Center and did not seize the dogs in connection with any case in her capacity as a police officer. (Id. ¶¶ 19-21.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Borden has conspired with Defendant Briggs over the seizure of his dogs. (Id. ¶ 72.) As of the filing of the complaint, Defendant Borden has continued to exercise dominion over Plaintiff's dogs. (Id. ¶ 36.) On September 6, 2015, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and in the alternative, a motion for a protective order and/or security for costs and fees. (ECF No. 17.) This Court denied Defendants' motion on September 28, 2016. (ECF No. 24.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is subject to the same standards of review as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Grindstaff v. Green, 133 F.3d 416, 421 (6th Cir. 1998). A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the pleading. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” To survive a motion to dismiss, a pleading need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” but it must contain more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action ___” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A pleading does not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         As the Supreme Court provided in Iqbal and Twombly, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a [pleading] must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim of relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when [it contains] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that [a party] is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard “does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal [conduct].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         When assessing a “plausible” claim, the district court must accept all of the factual allegations as true. Ziegler v. IBP Hog Mkt., Inc., 249 F.3d 509, 512 (6th Cir. 2001). Even so, “the pleading must contain more . . . than . . . a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. Therefore, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

         IV. APPLICABLE LAW & ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff argues that Defendants were acting under color of state law when they seized Plaintiff's two dogs in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment. (ECF No. 35 at Pg ID 458.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant Briggs was acting under the color of state law pursuant to her authority as a Detroit police officer. (Id. at Pg ID 460.) Additionally, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Borden, although a private actor, was acting under the color of state law when she “willfully participate[d] in joint action with” Defendant Briggs and took unlawful possession of Plaintiff's dogs. (Id. at Pg ID 458-59.) Plaintiff argues he is entitled to judgment pursuant to Rule 12(c) because Defendants ...


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