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Hart v. County of Hillsdale

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

February 21, 2018

ANTHONY HART, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF HILLSDALE, et al., Defendants.




         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Anthony Hart's (“Hart”) complaint that he was wrongfully convicted for failing to register his proper residency with the Michigan Sex Offender Registry (“SOR”). Defendants Hillsdale County (“County”), Christine Wahtola (“Wahtola”), Kwinn Leva (“Leva”), and Lieutenant Timothy Parker (“Parker”) (collectively, the “County Defendants”) (Doc. 70) and Defendants City of Hillsdale (“City”), Officer Shelby Rathbun (“Rathbun”), and Officer Todd Holtz (“Holtz”) (collectively, the “City Defendants”) (Doc. 83) have filed separate motions to dismiss. Responses to the motion to dismiss were filed, the City Defendants filed a reply, and the period for filing reply expired without the County Defendants filing a reply. On August 2, 2107, the Court held a hearing on the motions for August 2, 2017. For the reasons that follow, both motions are denied.


         The following facts are based on the allegations by Hart, all of which must be accepted as true for purposes of deciding the motions discussed herein.

         Hart violated MCL § 750.520(e) when he was 16 years old, though by the time of his juvenile conviction for fourth degree criminal sexual conduct (a Tier II offense), he was 17 years old. At that time, the Michigan Sex Offender Registration Act, MCL § 28.721 (“SORA”), required that Hart register his address bi-annually for 25 years due to his conviction. SORA was amended as of July 1, 2011, and offenders adjudicated of a Tier II offense as juveniles were no longer required to register. It is undisputed that, as of July 1, 2011, Hart no longer had a legal obligation to register his residency with the SOR.

         The Michigan State Police (“MSP”) was required to remove Hart from the SOR following the 2011 SORA amendment. MSP employees did not properly remove Hart's name from the list. Neither the Hillsdale County Sheriff Department nor the City of Hillsdale Police Department removed Hart's information from the SOR or took any action to cause such a removal. Neither the Michigan State Police (MSP), Defendant Hillsdale County, nor Defendant City informed Hart that, pursuant to a change in the law, he was no longer legally required to report and register. (Doc. 43-1, SAC ¶¶ 38-39).

         Rathbun and Holtz were, at all times relevant herein, employed by the City as officers with the Hillsdale Police Department and acted within the scope of their employment pursuant to the policies and practices of the City. The City, through the Hillsdale Police Department serves as a SORA local registering authority. As a registering authority, the City-through its officers, including Rathbun and Holtz-is responsible for collecting and maintaining extensive and detailed information on all persons required to register under SORA, including Hart. M.C.L. §§ 28.722(n) and 28.727 et seq.

         Wahtola and Leva were both County Sheriff's Department registration officials, responsible for receiving and maintaining detailed information on the identity of proper registrants and those persons who should not have been included on the SOR, including criminal history and SORA-related obligations of each registered sex offender residing in Hillsdale County. (Doc. 43-1, SAC ¶¶ 41-42). See M.C.L. §§ 28.722(n) and 28.727 et seq. SORA registration is required to include, among other things, the text of the provision of law that defines the criminal offense for which the sex offender is registered, the offender's tier classification, and the individual's complete criminal history record, including the dates of all arrests and convictions, in addition to a summary of the offender's convictions for all SORA-listed offenses. M.C.L. 28.727(1)(n); (2)(b), (d) and (f). Hart has alleged that, as local SORA registering officials, Wahtola and Leva were expected to be familiar with developments in the law concerning SORA. Based on those expectations, Wahtola and Leva possessed all the necessary information to know that, after the 2011 Amendment to the SORA, Hart was no longer required to register as a sex offender.

         On March 4, 2012, Wahtola, either deliberately or with reckless disregard for the truth contained in the information available to her, required Hart to register as a sex offender when he was no longer required to do so. (Doc. 43-1, SAC ¶ 43). In so doing, Wahtola knowingly propagated false information that would later be used to erroneously establish probable cause for Hart's arrests and prosecutions.

         On July 17, 2013, Leva, deliberately or with reckless disregard for all the information she possessed indicating that Hart was no longer required to register as a sex offender, advised Parker that Hart had registered an incorrect address. (County Incident Report, Doc. 70-2, PgID 693). Parker then used that information to obtain a warrant for Hart's arrest. Id. On December 30, 2013, when Hart did not report to the Sheriff's Department to register, Leva herself registered Hart as a sex offender, and transmitted this information to the MSP (Doc. 43-1, SAC ¶ 62), thereby falsely conveying that Hart had committed a criminal act, and knowingly propagating false information to be used to arrest and prosecute Hart.

         From July 2011 through July 2013, Hart continued to register on the SOR, including identifying his address. On July 5, 2013, unaware that he was no longer required to register his address with the SOR, Hart erroneously registered his address as “79 Bulldog” in Hillsdale. Hart's actual address was “76 Bulldog” in Hillsdale.

         On July 17, 2013, Parker arrested Hart for violating SORA by listing an incorrect address. At the time Parker arrested him, Parker was aware of Hart's computerized criminal history and his SOR documents-documents that included Hart's birth date, the date of his 2001 conviction, and his designated offender tier level (Tier II) that reflected that Hart was 17 years old in 2001, such that Hart was no longer required to register as a sex offender. (Id. at ¶ 56) Hart alleges that, despite that knowledge, Parker, deliberately or with reckless disregard for the truth, signed a warrant request and transmitted it to the County Prosecutor's Office for the purpose of obtaining an arrest warrant for Hart on the basis of an alleged violation of a SORA requirement to which Parker knew Hart was not subject. Id. at ¶ 57. The warrant was approved by the County Prosecutor's Office on July 18, 2013. On August 14, 2013, Hart entered a plea of nolo contendere, was found guilty of one count of failure to register pursuant to SORA (MCL § 28.279), and was placed on probation.

         From July 2013 through December 2013, Hart continued to register as a sex offender with local registering authorities (Hillsdale County). On January 23, 2014, Parker advised Rathbun and Holtz that Hart had failed to verify his address for the SOR, notwithstanding the fact that he knew Hart was under no obligation to register, falsely accusing Hart of criminal acts. Id. at ¶ 63. Parker's false representation was used to manufacture probable cause for a warrant to arrest Hart. On January 23, 2014, after learning that the City Police were looking for him, Hart voluntarily appeared at the County Sheriff's Department, where he was met by Rathbun and Holtz and wrongfully arrested for failing to comply with SORA reporting duties. Id. at ¶ 65. On February 10, 2014, MSP analyst Marci Kelley transmitted to Rathbun a certified copy of Hart's “Sex Offender Registration” records, which falsely stated that Hart was still required to report and register on a semi-annual basis until February 20, 2054-a duration that did not exist, either prior to or after the 2011 amendment. Id. at ¶¶ 69, 71.

         Hart's SOR records included his birth date, the date his registration obligation began, the statute under which he had been convicted, his designation as a Tier II offender, as well as the registration end date of February 20, 2054, which Hart suggests made it blatantly obvious that the record was inaccurate and unreliable. Id. at ΒΆ 70. On the faulty advice of his attorneys, Hart pleaded guilty to the felony of failure to register and, on March 17, 2014, was sentenced to 16-24 months in state prison and ordered to ...

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