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Butler v. City of Detroit

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

April 27, 2018

LEROD BUTLER, Plaintiff,
CITY OF DETROIT, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff LeRod Butler brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Detroit as well as three named Detroit police officers-Radames Benitez, Joi Gaines, and David Meadows-and certain unknown officers.[1] The case arose from a search that occurred at Butler's home on December 30, 2015, during which he claims that the Individual Defendants violated several of his clearly established constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment and Butler filed a response. The Court has reviewed briefs and finds that a hearing is unnecessary. E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f). For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.


         The events of the case arise from Defendant Benitez's sworn affidavit. According to the affidavit, surveillance and intelligence collected in October and November 2015 revealed that, for months, a man ("Subject #1") had been selling cocaine and heroin out of his home at 9542 Burnette. ECF 21-3, PgID 162. Benitez explained that Subject #1 stashed drugs and money at a neighboring house, 9561 Burnette, and would meet buyers down the street from the addresses, on the corner. Id. In some cases, a deal would occur at the 9542 Burnette address. Id.

         On November 9, 2015, Benitez investigated things for himself. For 30 minutes, he sat "in an undercover capacity" near 9542 Burnette. In the affidavit, Benitez detailed the complex comings and goings of Subjects 1 and 2 and others at the time. The driver of a white van gave a bag to Subject #2, who then deposited it at the 9542 address. Subject #2 then drove a brown van to Butler''s house, 12011 Bramell-about eight miles away- and entered the dwelling. Id.; ECF 22, PgID 206. Subject #2 reemerged minutes later and drove off in the brown van. Benitez tried to follow him, but failed. ECF 21-3, PgID 163.

         Butler's address is never again mentioned in the affidavit. Benitez swore that on December 27, 2015, he sat "near the target location" and observed another suspected drug deal. Although the affidavit had earlier defined the "Target Location" as 12011 Bramell, the term does not seem to refer to the Bramell address when discussing the December 27 surveillance. The paragraph describing the surveillance on that date discusses events at the Burnette addresses which would be impossible to observe from Bramell Street. Id. And Benitez admitted in his deposition that references to the target location were not actually referring to 12011 Bramell, but rather, "when I say target location, it means I was near 9542 Burnette." ECF 22-3, PgID 255-56.

         Nevertheless, on December 30, 2015, on the basis of the affidavit, a Wayne County magistrate signed a search warrant for Butler's house on Bramell Street. The Individual Defendants were assigned to the Major Violators crew 2909 that day and they executed the warrant. ECF 21, PgID 130; ECF 22, PgID 207. They claim they announced their presence and their purpose but received no response. Thus, Defendant Meadows ordered forced entry through the front door. ECF 21, PgID 132. Butler's alarm company then called to inform him of an intrusion, so he returned from a nearby car wash and found several police vehicles and officers outside his home with a search already underway. Id.; ECF 22-1, PgID 235, ¶¶ 16-17.

         The parties dispute what happened next. Defendants contend that Butler "approached the crew and stated that he resides at the location and identified the weapons, ammo, bullet proof vest, C.P.L., as his property along with an unmarked orange pill bottle containing 81 white pills with 'IBU 800' stamped on it and $3, 702.00 in U.S. Currency from the residence." ECF 21, PgID 132. Meadows confiscated $1, 640 found on Butler's person. Id. Butler, however, swore in his affidavit that when he arrived, he informed the officers that he was the homeowner, showed them his ID, told them about the weapon he was carrying and that he had a C.P.L. ECF 22-1, PgID 235, ¶ 22. According to Butler, the officers proceeded to confiscate his pistol and wallet. Then, despite his full cooperation, the police handcuffed him and slammed him against a wall, which re-injured preexisting neck and back conditions. Id., ¶¶ 23-26.

         The search continued in the house and in the surrounding area. Butler contends that his garage door and alarm system were damaged, id., ¶¶ 29-30, and he also claims that the trunk to his car, parked nearby, "had obviously been searched, " id., ¶ 32. Benitez was specifically asked in his deposition whether he searched the vehicle, and he demurred, "[n]o, not me personally, " but he conceded that such a search was "procedure" though "[a]s to who exactly, I don't know[.]" ECF 22-3, PgID 256. According to Butler's affidavit, the officers "demanded to know" where in his home he kept his "money and guns, "-and he told them. ECF 22-1, PgID 236, ¶¶ 33-34. Meadows counted the money in front of Butler and a "Notice of Seizure and Intent to Forfeit" listed the amount confiscated at $3, 702. Id., ¶ 35; ECF 21-3, PgID 175. Butler signed the notice and agrees that the listed amount is indeed what Meadows counted out, but he claims some of his money went missing. ECF 22-1, PgID 236, ¶¶ 35-36. Butler also asserts that he only signed the notice at Meadows's insistence. Id., ¶ 37. Ultimately, Butler was not detained beyond the time of the search.

         Butler went to Providence Hospital the next day. According to a hospital report, he complained of back and neck pain and his past medical history was "[s]ignificant for hypertension, chronic back and neck pain." ECF 21-6, PgID 183. The doctor told him that his blood pressure was high and he received a final diagnosis of "[a]cute exacerbation of chronic low back and neck pain." Id. at 184. An additional Report dated nearly two months later indicates that he was still complaining of high blood pressure from increased stress at that time and also that he has a history of hypertension. Id. at 185.

         No charges were ever filed against Butler; he filed his present complaint later that year, on August 16, 2016, in Wayne County Circuit Court. Defendants removed the case on December 7, 2016 and filed the instant motion after the close of discovery.


         The Court must grant a motion for summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of "identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met the initial burden, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " and must "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). Additionally, if the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, " then "there can be no 'genuine issue as to any material fact'" and the motion should be granted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         A genuine dispute exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact over which a genuine dispute exists is material "'if proof of that fact would have effect of establishing or refuting one of essential elements of a cause of action or defense asserted by the parties.'" Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1984) (quoting Johnson v. Soulis, 542 P.2d 867, 872 (Wyo. 1975)). In making those determinations, "the court must view the facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." 60 Ivy St. Corp. v. Alexander, 822 F.2d 1432, 1435 (1987).


         The Complaint lists three counts. Count One alleges that the Individual Defendants violated Butler's rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Count Two specifically alleges that the Individual Defendants used "excessive force" in violation of established constitutional rights, though no amendment is specifically identified in that section. Count Two, therefore, seems entirely subsumed by the allegations in Count One, and the Court will consider the two together. Count Three is lodged against the City and alleges municipal liability for the officers' actions.

         I. Claims Against Individual Defendants (Counts I and II)

         Butler sued the Individual Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his clearly established constitutional rights to be free from use of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution; to procedural and substantive due process and fair treatment during search, seizure, arrest, and prosecution under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments; to be free from wrongful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment; and to be free from retaliation for protected speech under the First Amendment. The Court will take each claim in turn.

         A. Excessive Force

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes." Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979). Accordingly, "[t]he first inquiry in any § 1983 suit . . . is whether the plaintiff has been deprived of a right 'secured by the Constitution and laws.'" Id. at 140. Here, the complaint identifies the excessive force claim as explicitly arising under the Fourth Amendment, and therefore the claim "should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its 'reasonableness' standard[.]" Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989). Reasonableness analysis "requires a careful balancing of the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake." Id. at 396 (quotation marks omitted). Factors to be considered in the analysis "includ[e] the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight, " and the determination "must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight." Id.

         To hold an individual officer liable for a § 1983 violation based on a Fourth Amendment claim of excessive force, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the officer "(1) actively participated in the use of excessive force, (2) supervised the officer who used excessive force, or (3) owed the victim a duty of protection against the use of excessive force." Turner v. Scott, 119 F.3d 425, 429 (6th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         Defendants have moved for judgment on the excessive force count because, they assert, "Plaintiff was never arrested, battered or assaulted as testified by any of the Defendant Officers." ECF 21, PgID 139. They conclude that their testimony, paired with Butler's comments to medical staff "that he was detained for an hour and a half" but "never stated to the Doctors or the Police that there was excessive force used against him, " id. at 139-40, defeats the excessive force claim. Defendants are partly correct; Butler has failed to introduce evidence supporting his excessive force claims ...

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