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Phillips v. Kent County

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

June 6, 2019

YUSEF LATEEF PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
v.
KENT COUNTY et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Janet T. Neff, United States District Judge.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a federal prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. 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. 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 against Defendants Kent County and Lawrence Stelma.

         Discussion

         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff Yusef Lateef Phillips is presently incarcerated with the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York. Plaintiff sues Kent County and the following employees of Kent County: Sheriff Lawrence Stelma and Deputy Sheriff Andrew Hinds.

         Plaintiff alleges that on the evening of September 3, 2017, he was walking to his car from an apartment at Burton's Landing Apartments in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was not aware that federal authorities were executing a search warrant at that location and were hidden in the shadows nearby. Plaintiff was unarmed and his hands were in plain view. In one hand, he was holding his car keys. Suddenly and without warning, Defendant Hinds, who was assisting the federal officers, shot Plaintiff in the chest with a rifle. Plaintiff fell to the ground, in extreme pain and bleeding “profusely” from a hole in his chest. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.4.) Officers handcuffed him and left him on the ground until an ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital.

         Apparently, a state prosecutor investigated the shooting, determined that Hinds' belief that Plaintiff posed a threat was “clearly wrong, ” but decided not to prosecute Hinds for a crime. (Id.)

         Plaintiff survived the gunshot wound and is now serving a prison sentence for possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. See United States v. Phillips, No. 1:17-cr-193-02 (W.D. Mich.).

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because they used excessive force or were deliberately indifferent to his safety, in violation of his rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. He also claims that Defendants, particularly Defendants Kent County and Sheriff Stelma, are liable because they failed to adequately train and supervise deputies working for Kent County. He asserts that Kent County and Sheriff Stelma were aware of other incidents of excessive force by Kent County sheriff's deputies during searches and arrests, yet they failed to adequately train and supervise their employees. In addition, Defendants allegedly failed to enact policies and procedures that would ensure adequate training in the use of firearms, and to investigate and discipline officers who do not abide by county policies.

         Plaintiff further contends that Defendants are liable under state law because they owed Plaintiff a duty of due care, but they were negligent, grossly negligent, and/or recklessly indifferent to his safety.

         As relief, Plaintiff seeks $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages, as well as interest, costs, and attorney fees, under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

         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-but it has not ‘show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). Because ยง 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action ...


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