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Lewis v. O'connor

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

November 19, 2019

STEPHON D'COLE LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
PAUL JAMES O'CONNER, MATTHEW WAYNE MINARD, and CITY OF TAYLOR, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS AND FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [ECF Nos. 27, 28]

          DENISE PAGE HOOD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff filed this action on June 18, 2018, alleging that Defendants' conduct violated his rights, including: (1) unlawfully detaining and seizing Plaintiff and his vehicle, in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) false imprisonment; (3) false arrest; (4) malicious prosecution; and (5) civil conspiracy. On April 22, 2019, after being granted leave to amend, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint, to which Defendants filed an Answer on April 30, 2019. ECF Nos. 24, 26. On May 14, 2019, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted and Motion for Summary Judgment, with an Errata Sheet filed the same day (collectively, the “Motion”). ECF Nos. 27, 28. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On April 12, 2016, Defendants Matthew Wayne Minard (“Minard”) and Paul James O'Conner (“O'Conner”) were in The Parks at the Villages of Taylor (“The Parks”) in Defendant City of Taylor, Michigan (the “City”), on a patrol detail for the owner McKinley & McKinley Properties Management (“McKinley”). ECF No. 30, PgID 480-81 (Ex. 5). The City had an agreement with McKinley to patrol The Parks (the “Agreement”). Id. at 483-84. Patrol detail means patrolling the complex for any and all enforcement actions available, including running stop signs. Id. at PgID 482. Prior to April 12, 2016, Minard had patrolled, and been on other details, at the Parks. Id.

         Minard and O'Conner were in uniform, in a two-person police vehicle working overtime for the City under the Agreement. Id. at 483. They stopped Plaintiff for disobeying a stop sign. Id. at 489. When the officers were talking to the vehicle occupants, Minard smelled marijuana coming from inside the vehicle. Id. at 493. Backup arrived, but Minard could not identify who smelled of marijuana. Id. at 493-94. The street upon which Plaintiff was driving, Park Village Boulevard, is on private property open to the public, and the traffic laws enforceable there are any agreed upon by the owner and the enforcing entity. Id. at 495. Minard did not know how many other cars he had stopped for disobeying a stop sign in The Parks or whether he ever issued a ticket for that offense. Id. at 496, 497.

         In 2002 or 2003, Minard received in-service traffic enforcement training from the City but that did not include training regarding the requirements of the Michigan Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (“MMUTCD”). O'Conner was trained on the requirements of the MMUTCD, and he was aware traffic signs had to satisfy certain standards to be enforceable, including traffic signs on private property open to the public. Neither Minard nor O'Conner was aware: (a) of the height of the stop sign at issue; or (b) that the stop sign at issue did not meet the requirements of the MMUTCD.

         III. APPLICABLE LAW & ANALYSIS

         A. Rule 12(c)

         Defendants' motion to dismiss is premised on the failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and they cite Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). As discussed below, although the Rule 12(b)(6) standard is the appropriate standard to be used, the motion to dismiss should have been filed as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) because Defendants filed their Answer to the First Amended Complaint before filing the Motion. See Rule 12(b) (“A motion asserting any of these defenses [under Rule 12(b)] must be made before pleading if a responsive pleading is allowed.”); Rule 12(b)(c) (“After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.”). In deciding a motion brought pursuant to Rule 12(c), the standard is the same as that used in evaluating a motion brought under Fed.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Stein v U.S. Bancorp, et. al, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18357, at *9 (E.D. Mich. February 24, 2011).

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. The Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and review the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Eidson v. Tennessee Dep't of Children's Servs., 510 F.3d 631, 634 (6th Cir. 2007); Kottmyer v. Maas, 436 F.3d 684, 688 (6th Cir. 2006). As a general rule, to survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state sufficient “facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The complaint must demonstrate more than a sheer possibility that the defendant's conduct was unlawful. Id. at 556. Claims comprised of “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555. Rather, “[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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         B. Rule 56

         Rule 56(a) of the Rules of Civil Procedures provides that the court “shall grant summary judgment 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). The presence of factual disputes will preclude granting of summary judgment only if the disputes are genuine and concern material facts. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. Although the Court must view the motion in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, where “the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Summary judgment must be entered against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be “no genuine issue as to any material fact, ” since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. A court must look to the substantive law to identify which facts are material. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Reasonableness of the Traffic Stop

         In Counts One and Two, Plaintiff alleges that Minard and O'Conner violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. Defendants argue that the traffic stop of Plaintiff was reasonable because the officers witnessed Plaintiff: (a) fail to stop at a posted stop sign; and (b) drive through the intersection without stopping to look for oncoming traffic. Minard and O'Conner state that they made the traffic stop because Plaintiff disobeyed the posted stop sign. Defendants also argue that the officers could have stopped Plaintiff for careless driving. For these reasons, Defendants contend that the officers had a reasonable basis for making a Fourth Amendment traffic stop.[1]

         Plaintiff counters that the officers did not have statutory authority to stop Plaintiff because the stop sign was not posted properly, as it was not in compliance with the Michigan Vehicle Code (“MVC”). Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the MMUTCD requires that the bottom of a posted stop sign be seven (7) feet above the ground. Plaintiff asserts that the stop sign he allegedly disobeyed had a bottom height of less than four (4) feet above the ground. Plaintiff contends that a key (material) issue - whether it was objectively reasonable ...


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