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Harnden v. County of St. Clair

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

March 13, 2018

COUNTY OF ST. CLAIR, et al, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of Magistrate Judge Anthony P. Patti (Dkt. 27), which recommends granting Defendants' motion to dismiss. Plaintiff Pamela Harnden filed objections to the R&R (Dkt. 28), to which Defendants filed a response (Dkt. 29). Because oral argument will not aid the decisional process, the objections to the R&R will be decided based on the parties' briefing. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2); Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, the R&R is accepted and Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The factual and procedural background, along with the standard of decision and legal principles governing motions to dismiss, have been adequately set forth by the magistrate judge and need not be repeated here in full. In brief summary, Harnden alleges that Defendants - the County of St. Clair, the Michigan Sheriff Department, the St. Clair County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, and several government officials - harassed her family in the form of a child welfare investigation initiated following an October 2008 allegation that her fifteen year old son hit her adopted daughter with a metal rod. Her son was arrested and charged, and her foster children were removed from the home. Harnden and her husband were investigated for possible child abuse or neglect. Her son was released in November 2008, and the abuse or neglect investigation was closed on March 15, 2010. She now asserts claims of kidnapping, gross negligence, civil rights violations (construed as a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983), and civil conspiracy. She also alleges that Sheriff Timothy Donnellon, one of the defendants, failed to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) following requests in January and March 2011.

         Between 2010 and 2014, Harnden apparently contacted both state and federal law enforcement agencies to attempt to initiate an investigation. When these requests did not ripen into charges or other formal proceedings, Harnden turned to the courts.

         This is one of four lawsuits filed by Harnden since 2015 related to this investigation. On May 16, 2016, this Court adopted the report and recommendation to dismiss the first of these lawsuits - brought against her local school district - finding that there is no private right of action for kidnapping and that all of her claims were barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. See Harnden v. Crosswell-Lexington Community Schools, No. 15-12738, 2016 WL 2731188 (E.D. Mich. May 11, 2016). The second of these lawsuits - brought against the Michigan Department of Human and Health Services - was dismissed because the defendants could not be held liable under the doctrine of sovereign immunity and because, despite Harnden's claims that the limitations period was tolled due to the criminal investigations, the claims were barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. See Harnden v. State of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, No. 16-13906, 2017 WL 3224969 (E.D. Mich. July 31, 2017), aff'd, No. 17-2022 (6th Cir. March 5, 2018). The third and fourth lawsuits, which include the instant suit, were filed on the same day, see Harnden v. St. Clair County 31st Circuit Court, No. 16-13905; and the magistrate judge recommended dismissing both. Harnden filed fifteen objections. For the reasons that follow, the Court overrules Harnden's objections and grants Defendants' motion to dismiss.[1]


         The Court reviews de novo any portion of the R&R to which a specific objection has been made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); Alspaugh v. McConnell, 643 F.3d 162, 166 (6th Cir. 2011) (“Only those specific objections to the magistrate's report made to the district court will be preserved for appellate review; making some objections but failing to raise others will not preserve all the objections a party may have.”). Any arguments made for the first time in objections to an R&R are deemed waived. Uduko v. Cozzens, 975 F.Supp.2d 750, 757 (E.D. Mich. 2013).

         As explained by the magistrate judge, Defendants filed their answer on November 28, 2016, but did not file the motion to dismiss until March 23, 2017. Thus, the motion cannot be considered a motion for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), because such a motion “must be made before pleading.” But it can be construed as a motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). “A Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is nearly identical to that employed under a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” Kottmyer v. Maas, 436 F.3d 684, 689 (6th Cir. 2006). Accordingly, “[t]he defendant has the burden of showing that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief.” Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Carver v. Bunch, 946 F.2d 451, 454-455 (6th Cir. 1991)), cert. denied, 552 U.S. 1311 (2008). To survive the motion, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to state a claim to relief above the speculative level, such that it is “plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The plausibility standard requires courts to accept the alleged facts as true, even when their truth is doubtful, and to make all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-556.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Harnden's objections can be divided into two categories: procedural and substantive. For the sake of clarity, the Court has grouped them further by subject and will address them accordingly. The Court will begin with the four that can be categorized as procedural objections.

         A. Procedural Objections[2]

         1. ...

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