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Miller v. Lincoln Park Police Dept.

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

June 24, 2019


          Laurie J. Michelson, District Judge.



         Plaintiff Charles James Miller is a prison inmate in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the Federal Prison Camp in Tucson, Arizona. On April 24, 2018, he filed a pro se civil complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Defendants violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment during the execution of a search warrant. Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss [Doc. #15], which has been referred for a Report and Recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the reasons discussed below, I recommend that the motion be GRANTED and that Plaintiff's complaint be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. FACTS

         Plaintiff alleges that on October 2, 2013, Defendant Ronald Wise, a detective with the Lincoln Park, Michigan Police Department, along with other officers, executed “an otherwise valid warrant to search for narcotics and weapons” at his home. Complaint [Doc. #1], Pg. ID 3.[1] He alleges that although the particularized scope of the warrant was limited to drugs, drug paraphernalia, and weapons, the officers exceeded that scope by seizing a digital camera, electronics, and other items listed in Appendix A of his complaint. Id.[2] He states that “[t]he items seized did not have an apparent criminal character, nor could the said items be linked to any criminal activity at the time of the seizure.” Id. He bases his § 1983 claim on an alleged Fourth Amendment violation.

         Plaintiff states that he filed a habeas motion[3] challenging the seizure of his property, and that his final federal appeal of that action was denied on January 7, 2018. Id. He seeks the alleged value of the property ($24, 290) plus $500, 000 in punitive damages. Id. Pg. ID 3-4.

         Based on images that the officers observed in the camera, two additional state search warrants and a federal search warrant were issued and executed. Plaintiff was then charged federally with production and possession of child pornography, possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, and felon in possession of a firearm. United States v. Charles Miller, E.D. Mich. No. 13-20928 (“the criminal case”). In the course of the criminal case, Plaintiff filed a motion to suppress based on the argument that the initial search-which is the subject of the present civil case-exceeded the permissible scope of the search warrant. Criminal Case, Doc. #16. On July 23, 2014, the Honorable Robert H. Cleland denied the motion to suppress in a written opinion and order. Id. Doc. #26.

         Facts alleged in the motion to suppress, and Judge Cleland's opinion denying the motion, show that during the initial search, Detective Wise briefly examined a digital camera that was found in a so-called “control room” among drugs, scales, and a loaded gun. He found an image consistent with child pornography, and immediately turned off the camera. Id. Doc. #26, Pg. ID 247. Judge Cleland found that viewing the contents of the camera fell within the scope of the search warrant:

“Given the proximity of the camera to evidence of illicit activity, it was objectively reasonable for an officer in that position to believe that a digital camera might be related to or contain a record of the kind of activity that prompted the search warrant. Additionally, as the government proffers and the Defendant does not meaningfully controvert, law enforcement officers commonly know that drug traffickers take photographs of themselves with their drugs, money, and firearms.” Id., Doc. #26, Pg. ID 250 (citing United States v. Lucas, 540 F.3d 168, 177 (6th Cir. 2011)).

         Based on what Detective Wise observed on the digital camera, the additional search warrants were issued, and the other items that Plaintiff lists in Appendix A of his complaint, including the computer equipment, were examined pursuant to those subsequent warrants.[4]

         In the criminal case, Plaintiff pled guilty to one count of production and one count of possession of child pornography. His Rule 11 plea agreement contained a appeal waiver provision. Id. Doc. #49. On August 2, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel related to his lawyer's handling of the motion to suppress. Id. Doc. #77. On March 31, 2017, Judge Cleland denied the motion, holding that “[f]or the same reasons articulated in this court's earlier opinions, those actions [related to the search] were not unconstitutional.” Id. Pg. ID 773. Subsequent appeals to the Sixth Circuit and the Supreme Court were denied.


         Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a complaint “for failure of the pleading to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In assessing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court accepts the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, and asks whether, as a matter of law, the plaintiff is entitled to legal relief. Rippy v. Hattaway, 270 F.3d 416, 419 (6th Cir. 2001).

         In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombley, 550 U.S 544 (2007), the Court, construing the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), held that although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, its “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true.” Id., at 555 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Further, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (Internal citations and quotation marks omitted). See also Association of Cleveland ...

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