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Sachjen v. County of Cass

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

June 21, 2019

CHRIS SACHJEN, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF CASS et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner 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 Cass County and the Cass County Sheriff Department.

         Discussion

          I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff is presently detained at the Cass County Jail. The events about which he complains occurred during his arrest in Cass County and his detention at the Cass County Jail. Plaintiff sues Cass County, the Cass County Sheriff Department, and an unknown Michigan State Police (MSP) trooper (Unknown Party).

         Plaintiff alleges that, on May 1, 2017, he led a Cass County Deputy and Defendant MSP trooper on a foot chase. Once he realized that the deputy was going to catch him, Plaintiff laid down, face-first, and interlocked his hands on his head, as instructed by the deputy. As the deputy was cuffing Plaintiff, Defendant MSP trooper arrived and jumped on Plaintiff, driving his knee into Plaintiff's knee and breaking it. While jumping on Plaintiff, Defendant trooper yelled, “Quit resisting.” (Compl, ECF No. 1, PageID.3.) Plaintiff states that he was not resisting, and he claims that the deputy stated in his report that Plaintiff did not resist. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant MSP trooper maliciously intended to hurt Plaintiff because he was angry about the foot chase.

         When Plaintiff arrived at the Cass County Jail, both he and the deputy informed the booking officers that he had been injured during the chase and arrest. The booking officers refused to get medical attention for Plaintiff. Plaintiff claims that it took him one week to get the jail nurse to perform x-rays, which revealed a broken knee. Plaintiff contends that jail personnel were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Two years after the incident, Plaintiff continues to suffer pain and cannot work. He has been forced to take drugs for his pain and resulting depression. Plaintiff alleges that he also experiences panic attacks when he sees police officers and has nightmares.

         Plaintiff seeks nominal and punitive damages.

         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 § 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994).

         A. Cass County Sheriff Department & Cass County

         Plaintiff sues the Cass County Sheriff Department. The sheriff department does not exist as a separate legal entity; it is simply an agent of the county. Vine v. Cnty. of Ingham, 884 F.Supp. 1153, 1158 (W.D. Mich. 1995) (citing Hughson v. Cnty. of Antrim, 707 F.Supp. 304, 306 (W.D. Mich. 1988) and Bayer v. Almstadt, 185 N.W.2d 40, 44 (Mich. Ct. App. 1970)). Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's claim against the Cass County Sheriff Department.

         Plaintiff also sues Cass County. A local government such as a muncipality or county “cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor-or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.” Monell v. Dep't. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Instead, a municipality may only be liable under § 1983 when its policy or custom causes the injury, regardless of the form of relief sought by the plaintiff. Los Angeles Cty. v. Humphries, 562 U.S. 29, 35-37 (2010) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694 (1974)). In a municipal liability claim, the finding of a policy or custom is the initial determination to be made. Doe v. Claiborne Cty., 103 F.3d 495, 509 (6th Cir. 1996). The policy or custom must be the moving force behind the constitutional injury, and a plaintiff must identify the policy, connect the policy to the governmental entity and show that the particular injury was incurred because of the execution of that policy. Turner v. City of Taylor, 412 F.3d 629, 639 (6th Cir. 2005); Alkire v. Irving,330 F.3d 802, 815 ...


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