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Marvaso v. Sanchez

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

July 10, 2019

GEORGE MARVASO, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This civil rights actions, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arises from a May 8, 2013 fire at a restaurant and pool hall in Westland, Michigan, and the subsequent investigation of the fire by Defendant Richard Sanchez, a Michigan State Police Department employee (“Lieutenant Sanchez”).[1] In their Complaint, filed July 13, 2018, Plaintiffs assert that Lieutenant Sanchez made material misstatements and omissions in an affidavit he submitted in support of search warrants for their homes. Plaintiffs claim that this violated their Fourth Amendment rights.

         The matter is presently before the Court on Lieutenant Sanchez's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Rule 56. (ECF No. 7.) The motion has been fully briefed. (ECF Nos. 13, 17.) Finding the facts and legal issues sufficiently presented in the parties' briefs, the Court is dispensing with oral argument pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f). For the following reasons, the Court is denying Lieutenant Sanchez's motion.

         I. Applicable Standard of Review

         As indicated, Lieutenant Sanchez seeks dismissal of Plaintiffs' claim against him pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) or, alternatively, Rule 56. Lieutenant Sanchez attaches matters outside the Complaint to his motion, including an affidavit he made in support of the motion, his affidavit in support of the search warrants, and the search warrants. Plaintiffs argue in response that Defendant's request for summary judgment is premature as no discovery has been taken. In fact, the Court has yet to conduct an initial scheduling conference in this case and no scheduling order has been entered. Plaintiff's counsel has submitted an affidavit in compliance with Rule 56(d) detailing the evidence he expects to uncover during discovery, which he believes is needed to properly respond to a Rule 56 motion.

         Motions for summary judgment filed before the close of discovery are often denied as premature in this Circuit. CLT Logistics v. River West Brands, 777 F.Supp.2d 1052, 1076 (E.D. Mich. 2011) (quoting Wells v. Corporate Accounts Receivable, 683 F.Supp.2d 600, 602 (W.D. Mich. 2010)). The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has found that summary judgment motions, as a matter of discretion, may be found premature where discovery has not commenced. McKinley v. City of Mansfield, 404 F.3d 418, 443 (6th Cir. 2005) (holding that summary judgment was premature and “the district court abused its discretion because at the time of its highly restrictive discovery order, no discovery had occurred and the court offered no explanation for limiting discovery”); Vance By & Through Hammons v. United States, 90 F.3d 1145, 1149 (6th Cir. 1995) (reversing summary judgment because “no discovery was conducted before the motion for summary judgment was filed and decided”). This Court finds Lieutenant Sanchez's request for summary judgment to be premature, as well, and therefore is reviewing Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim against him solely under Rule 12(b)(6)'s standard.

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” but it must contain more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action . . ..” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint does not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         As the Supreme Court provided in Iqbal and Twombly, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting 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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard “does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal [conduct].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         In deciding whether the plaintiff has set forth a “plausible” claim, the court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). This presumption is not applicable to legal conclusions, however. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 668. Therefore, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Ordinarily, the court may not consider matters outside the pleadings when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Weiner v. Klais & Co., Inc., 108 F.3d 86, 88 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing Hammond v. Baldwin, 866 F.2d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1989)). A court that considers such matters must first convert the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P 12(d). However, “[w]hen a court is presented with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, it may consider the [c]omplaint and any exhibits attached thereto, public records, items appearing in the record of the case and exhibits attached to [the] defendant's motion to dismiss, so long as they are referred to in the [c]omplaint and are central to the claims contained therein.” Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008). As Plaintiffs' claim against Lieutenant Sanchez is premised on the affidavit he submitted in support of the search warrants for their homes, the Court concludes that it is proper to consider those documents in reviewing the pending motion.

         II. Factual Background

         The following facts are derived from Plaintiffs' Complaint, except where noted.

         On May 8, 2013, shortly before 8:15 a.m., a fire broke out in the kitchen of Marvaso's Italian Grille (“Marvaso's”), a restaurant located on Wayne Road in Westland, Michigan. Plaintiffs George and Mary Marvaso leased and operated Marvaso's, as well as an adjacent pool hall and charity poker facility called Electric Stick. No. one was inside Marvaso's or Electric Stick when the fire broke out. Wayne-Westland Fire Department Firefighter Brian Woehlke died from smoke and soot inhalation while fighting the fire.

         Officials from the Wayne-Westland Fire Department initially investigated the fire, refusing the Michigan State Police Department's offer to conduct the fire origin and cause investigation. Wayne-Westland Fire Marshal John Adams conducted an on-scene investigation which revealed no accelerants. Investigators who investigated the fire for the insurance companies that insured the ...

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