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May-Shaw v. City of Grand Rapids

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

May 28, 2019

CHRISTOPHER PAYTON MAY-SHAW, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF GRAND RAPIDS et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a federal prisoner against state officials, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim against Defendants City of Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Police Department, Wu, and Unknown Part(y)(ies). The Court will serve the complaint against Defendants Mesman and Thompson.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the Milan Federal Correctional Institution. Plaintiff sues Defendants City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD), together with the following GRPD officials: Detective Michael Mesman; Officer Peter Thompson; Sergeant Jonathan Wu; and unknown officials named as John and Jane Doe ##1-8 (Unknown Part(y)(ies)).

         Plaintiff alleges that he was under investigation by the GRPD for distributing narcotics in the Kent County area. Plaintiff resided with his girlfriend in an apartment complex, at 4346 Norman Drive, Apt. 4, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Due to physical barriers, including a six-foot fence and a carport structure, officers could not conduct visual surveillance of Petitioner's address and car from the public street.

         Without obtaining a warrant, Defendant Mesman and the other Defendants decided to place a camera on a utility pole, above the line of sight of an officer standing on the ground. The camera was installed on January 26, 2016, and it remained in place for several weeks, recording Plaintiff's activities when he was at or near his vehicle. In early February 2016, in order to get a still closer look at the location, a surveillance utility van was stationed in the apartment parking lot, where it gathered and recorded information.

         On February 18, 2016, after several weeks of continuous surveillance of Plaintiff's home and vehicles, Defendants allegedly trespassed into the curtilage of Plaintiff's home without a warrant, in order to stand by Plaintiff's two vehicles. One vehicle (a 2015 Chevy Tahoe) was parked in a spot in front of the home, and the second vehicle (a 2003 BMW 745) was parked in the carport in parking spot “4, ” the space assigned to Plaintiff's apartment. Defendants stood by the vehicles, awaiting the arrival of a canine and handler to conduct a sniff of the vehicle. Defendant Thompson led his canine into the carport. When the canine alerted to something in the vehicle, Defendant Mesman finally prepared an affidavit seeking an arrest warrant. In his affidavit, Defendant Mesman advised the issuing judge about the dog-sniff search, but he alleged that the vehicle was located in an open parking lot, not in a carport.

         Upon receiving a warrant, Defendants searched the vehicles and Plaintiff's home. They discovered cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and $201, 833.16. Defendants seized the cash and the 2003 BMW. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants never provided him notice of either the seizure or the forfeiture of those items.

         Plaintiff was not at the residence at the time of the search. Plaintiff's girlfriend arrived at the home during the search, and she was arrested and charged with criminal offenses. Plaintiff was charged and a warrant was issued for his arrest by the 61st District Court of Michigan. Plaintiff was arrested in June 2016 in New York, and he was held on the Michigan warrant. In 2017, the State of Michigan dropped the charges against Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff contends that the individual Defendants' actions to surveil and trespass on the curtilage of his apartment violated the Fourth Amendment. He also claims that Defendants deprived him of his property without due process, in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Police Department are liable for the actions of their employees, because they failed to oversee and audit the conduct of those employees.

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, including the return of his forfeited property and the reimbursement of attorney fees incurred in the dismissed criminal prosecution.

         II. Failure to state a claim

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement,' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - ...


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