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Nouri v. Manzella

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

September 10, 2019

LABEED NOURI, M.D., et al., Plaintiffs,



         This matter is before the Court on the parties' competing motions for summary judgment. The motions have been fully briefed. Because oral argument will not aid in the decisional process, the motions will be decided based on the parties' briefing. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2); Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Vito Manzella's actions in executing an order to seize the personal property of Plaintiff Labeed Nouri, M.D., were unreasonable and exceeded the scope of that order. As a result of Manzella's alleged actions, Plaintiffs assert claims for violations of the Fourth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; trespass; and tortious interference with a business relationship.[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Manzella's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 47) and denies Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. 48).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Nouri is an orthopedic surgeon, who owns and operates three businesses from a commercial building located in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Compl. ¶ 8 (Dkt. 1). These businesses include Plaintiff Health O Rama Urgent Care PLLC (“Healthorama”), Plaintiff St. Peter Medical Center, P.C. (“Medical Center”), and a physical therapy clinic. Id. ¶¶ 9-12. In January 2015, Nouri purchased an x-ray machine from Unitech Imaging, Inc. (“Unitech”), and a dispute arose between Nouri and Unitech regarding payment for the machine. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Unitech obtained a default judgment in state court against Nouri, see Judgment, Ex. C to Def. Mot. (Dkt. 47-3), and on December 22, 2016, the court issued an order to seize property in the amount of $7, 200.93, see Request and Order to Seize Property, Ex. C to Def. Mot. (Dkt. 47-3). The order authorized seizure of personal property belonging to Nouri, the sole defendant in that action; it also listed the Sterling Heights office as his address. Id.

         On the morning of February 10, 2017, Manzella, a court officer, appeared with four other men at the Sterling Heights office to execute the order to seize. Compl. ¶ 26. The parties agree that Manzella demanded payment in the form of a certified check and refused to accept either a corporate check or an x-ray machine in satisfaction of the order to seize.[2] 11/13/18 Nouri Dep. at 7-9, Ex. F to Def. Mot. (Dkt 47-6). When Nouri failed to provide a certified check, Manzella called a locksmith to secure the office. Manzella Dep. at 27-28, Ex. D to Def. Resp. to Pls. Mot. (Dkt. 49-4).

         According to Nouri, Manzella ordered all patients and medical staff to leave the office immediately, thereby disrupting business operations and resulting in the cancellation of many patients' appointments. Compl. ¶¶ 38, 48, 53-60. Although Nouri called the police, the responding officers determined that the dispute was a civil matter and consequently took no action. Id. ¶ 43. Shortly after Manzella secured the office, Nouri obtained and tendered a certified check in satisfaction of the order to seize. Report of Collection Activity, Ex. 8 to Pls. Resp. to Def. Mot. (Dkt. 54-9). Manzella, in turn, provided the keys to the new locks installed at the office. 11/13/18 Nouri Dep. at 12.

         Following Manzella's seizure of their property, Plaintiffs filed the present action. At this stage of the litigation, three of Plaintiffs' claims remain: violation of the Fourth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; trespass; and tortious interference with a business relationship. Plaintiffs have filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to liability, arguing that the order to seize was invalid and that Manzella did not act within the scope of that order. Manzella, in turn, has filed a competing motion for summary judgment, arguing that he acted in accordance with a valid court order, that he is immune from liability, and that Plaintiffs have failed to establish concrete damages.


         A motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists when there are “disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[F]acts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a ‘genuine' dispute as to those facts.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)

         Once the movant satisfies its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing a triable issue of material fact. Scott, 550 U.S. at 380; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Scott, 550 U.S. at 380 (quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586), as the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment, ” id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-248) (emphasis in original); see also Babcock & Wilcox Co. v. Cormetech, Inc., 848 F.3d 754, 758 (6th Cir. 2017) (“A mere scintilla of evidence or some metaphysical doubt as to a material fact is insufficient to forestall summary judgment.”).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - Violation of the Fourth Amendment

         Plaintiffs argue that Manzella violated their Fourth Amendment rights when he seized Plaintiffs' property and effectively terminated the business operations of non-debtors Medical Center and Healthorama. In opposition, Manzella primarily contends that his actions were reasonable as a matter of law because he was acting within his authority to execute a valid court order. In reply, Plaintiffs maintain that (1) the order to seize was invalid because it was not “endorsed” and (2) Manzella exceeded the scope of his authority under the order.

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, civil liability may be imposed against state actors who have deprived a citizen of his or her constitutional rights. Baynes v. Cleland, 799 F.3d 600, 607 (6th Cir. 2015). To prevail on a claim brought pursuant to § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate “(1) he defendant was a person acting under the color of state law, and (2) the defendant deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Fridley v. Horrighs, 291 F.3d 867, 871-872 (6th Cir. 2002). There is no dispute that Manzella, a court officer, was acting under the color of state law. Rather, the parties contest whether the factual record supports Plaintiffs' contention that they were deprived of their Fourth Amendment rights.

         The Fourth Amendment protects “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV. These protections apply in both the civil and criminal contexts. Soldal v. Cook Cty., 506 U.S. 56, 67 (1992). A seizure of property occurs when “‘there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in that property.'” Id. at 61 (quoting United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113 (1984)). A seizure of property is unconstitutional if the seizure is “objectively unreasonable, a determination that entails a careful balancing of governmental and private interests.” Hensley v. Gassman, 693 F.3d 681, 688 (6th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Turning first to the validity of the order to seize, Mich. Comp Laws § 600.6002(1) provides that officers receiving an execution to enforce judgment must first “endorse” the order by designating thereon the date and hour of receipt. Failure to comply with this endorsement requirement, however, does not necessarily invalidate an order if the surrounding circumstances do not warrant such a remedy. In Korda v. Oakland Cty. Sheriff, No. 290920, 2010 WL 3184519, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 12, 2010), the Michigan Court of Appeals confronted a case in which the trial court declined to hold that unendorsed executions of judgment were invalid. The appellate court upheld the trial court's reasoning that the purpose of the endorsement requirement was to ensure compliance with Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.6002(2), which provides that “‘[e]xecutions shall be made returnable not less than 20, nor more than 90 days, from that date [of endorsement].'” Id. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's conclusion that, in the absence of any dispute regarding either the timing of execution or any prejudice resulting from the lack of endorsement, invalidating the executions of judgment was not an appropriate remedy. Id. at *1-2.

         In the present case, there are three different versions of the order to seize within the record. Two versions are unendorsed. Order to Seize, Ex. 6 to Pls. Resp. to Def. Mot. (Dkt. 54-7); Order to Seize, Ex. E to Compl. (Dkt. 1-6). The third version is endorsed by Manzella. Order to Seize, Ex. C to Def. Mot. (Dkt. 47-3). It cannot be determined from the record whether the order to seize was endorsed at the time Manzella executed it. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs have not advanced any argument that the order was stale or that the timing of the execution was otherwise defective under Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.6002(2). Nor have they alleged any prejudice stemming from the lack of endorsement. Consistent with Korda, a declaration that the order to seize is invalid is not warranted based on the present record.

         The Court must next consider whether Manzella's execution of the order was objectively unreasonable. The parties offer differing accounts regarding Manzella's actions in executing the order. According to Nouri, he was contacted by his receptionist on the morning of February 10, 2017, when Manzella arrived at the office demanding payment of the default judgment. 11/13/18 Nouri Dep. at 5. Nouri directed his receptionist to provide Manzella a corporate check, which Manzella refused. Id. at 7. Although Nouri assured Manzella that he was on his way to the office, Nouri alleges that Manzella obtrusively occupied and disrupted the office by entering an interior door leading to patient exam rooms, ordering the patients and medical staff to leave, seizing personal cash from staff, and rifling through and photographing Medical Center's sensitive business information. Compl. ¶¶ 35-40. When Nouri arrived at the office, he called his attorney, who informed Manzella that he could not enforce a judgment entered against Nouri personally against Medical Center and Healthorama. 11/13/18 Nouri Dep. at 8-9. Nouri then called the police, who arrived at the office but determined that they could take no action. Id. Nouri offered to permit Manzella to secure the room housing the x-ray machine - however, Manzella ...

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