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Harris v. Kitchka

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

December 31, 2019

LARRY DEVONTE HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIN KITCHKA 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.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Michigan Reformatory (RMI) in Ionia, Ionia County, Michigan. However, the events about which he complains concern actions taken in Kent County to prosecute and bind him over to the circuit court on charges of third-offense domestic violence, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.814, interfering with electronic communications, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.540(5)(a), and assault with a dangerous weapon (felonious assault), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.82. Plaintiff sues Judge William G. Kelly of the 62-B District Court in Kentwood, Michigan; Kent County Prosecutors Christopher Becker, Travis Early, and Alex Grimes; and City of Kentwood Police Detective Erin Kitchka.

         Plaintiff alleges that, on September 6, 2017, Defendant Kitchka signed an affidavit in support of warrant to arrest Plaintiff, averring that Plaintiff had committed the offenses of felonious assault and interfering with electronic communications. Plaintiff argues that the affidavit was false, because the police reports signed by responding officers originally listed the offense as assault and battery, not felonious assault. Plaintiff attaches the affidavit of probable cause (Ex. A to Compl., ECF No. 1-2, PageID.8-9) and the referenced police report (Ex. B to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.10-12).[1] Plaintiff argues that Defendant Kitchka falsified the affidavit, that Defendants Early, Grimes, and Becker falsely pursued prosecution on the felonious-assault charge, and that Defendant Kelly wrongfully issued the arrest warrant on a false affidavit and improperly bound Plaintiff over for trial in the Kent County Circuit Court. In addition, Plaintiff complains that the affidavit in support of the warrant was not properly filed in the district court record and that the warrant did not contain a “corporate seal.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.4.)

         Plaintiff seeks to have the warrant invalidated and his criminal case abolished. He also seeks compensatory damages for his unlawful imprisonment.

         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).

         III. Immunity

         Plaintiff sues Defendant Judge William Kelly and Defendant Prosecutors Early, Grimes, and Becker. Defendants are entitled to immunity for their actions.

         Plaintiff claims that Judge Kelly violated his due process rights when he signed the warrant based on a false affidavit when he improperly bound Plaintiff over for trial. Generally, a judge is absolutely immune from a suit for monetary damages. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9-10 (1991) (“[I]t is a general principle of the highest importance to the proper administration of justice that a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, shall be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself.”) (internal quotations omitted); Barrett v. Harrington, 130 F.3d 246, 254 (6th Cir. 1997); Barnes v. Winchell, 105 F.3d 1111, 1115 (6th Cir. 1997). Absolute judicial immunity may be overcome in only two instances. First, a judge is not immune from liability for non-judicial actions, i.e., actions not taken in the judge's judicial capacity. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11; see Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 229 (1988) (noting that immunity is grounded in “the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it”). Second, a judge is not immune for actions, though judicial in nature, taken in complete absence of all jurisdiction. Id. at 12.

         Plaintiff's allegations clearly fail to implicate either of the exceptions to judicial immunity. There is no doubt that signing a warrant and determining whether to bind a defendant over for trial after a preliminary examination were judicial acts and that Judge Kelly was acting within his jurisdiction in taking those actions. Accordingly, Judge Kelly is absolutely immune from liability. Because Judge Kelly is clearly immune from liability ...


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