Mongo v. City of Detroit et al
OPINION AND ORDER Granting 19 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Sean F. Cox. (JMcC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 16-12885
City of Detroit et al.,
Sean F. Cox
United States District Court Judge
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING
DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
In this § 1983 case Plaintiff brings claims against the City of Detroit, its police chief, and
one police officer for perceived constitutional violations after his vehicle was impounded during
a traffic stop for running a red light. In response, Defendants have moved to dismiss or, in the
alternative, for summary judgment.
For the reasons below, the Court shall grant Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment.
Because the decision to impound Plaintiff’s vehicle based on his apparent lack of insurance was
objectively reasonable, Plaintiff cannot show that his constitutional rights were violated. Also,
even if his rights were violated, Defendants are either entitled to qualified immunity or cannot be
held liable for the underlying conduct. And because the Court will grant the more inclusive
Motion for Summary Judgment, it need not address Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.
In August 2015, Detroit Police Officer Juan Windham pulled Plaintiff Adolph Mongo
over after he ran a red light. Windham Dep., p. 19-20. What occurred at this traffic stop is
captured by the dash camera video from Windham’s vehicle, Def. Ex. L; Pl. Ex. 4, and the Court
shall view the facts in the light depicted by that video. Latits v. Phillips, 878 F.3d 541, 547 (6th
Cir. 2017). Insofar as the video does not show all of the relevant facts, those facts are drawn
from the record and viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff as the non-moving party. Id.
After he was stopped, Plaintiff was unable to produce his license, registration, or
insurance. Windham Dep., p. 24. He indicated to Windham that he had left these documents at
the bar. Id. at 34-35. After obtaining Plaintiff’s name, date of birth, and address, Windham
checked for Plaintiff’s information in the State of Michigan’s Law Enforcement Information
Network (LEIN). Id. at 24-25. The database indicated that Plaintiff did not have insurance on
the vehicle and that his license was ineligible. Id. at 24. Windham informed of this. Def. Ex. L.
Windham decided to impound Plaintiff’s vehicle because Plaintiff’s license was listed as
ineligible and his vehicle had no insurance. Id. Windham believed that it would not have been
safe to leave the vehicle where it was. Windham Dep., p. 115-16. After deciding to impound the
vehicle, Windham also repeatedly informed Plaintiff that he was free to leave. Def. Ex. L.
Nevertheless, Plaintiff remained at the scene. Id. Throughout the stop, Windham repeatedly
stated that his decision to impound the vehicle was based on the lack of insurance and Plaintiff’s
ineligible license. Id. This latter reason, however, mistakenly conflated an “ineligible” license
status (wherein the license is still valid) with a “suspended” status (the license is invalid).1
Before the vehicle was towed, Plaintiff’s wife arrived and Plaintiff asked her to get his
information and bring it to him. Id.; Windham Dep., p. 27. Plaintiff also became increasingly
According to Plaintiff’s counsel at the hearing, a license may be listed as “ineligible”
when the license-holder has unpaid tickets. The license is still valid but cannot be renewed until
the tickets are paid. Defendants’ counsel did not dispute this characterization.
hostile towards Windham, yelling and cursing at him. Def. Ex. L. Eventually, Plaintiff called
Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who instructed him to ask Windham to call a supervisor. Upon
Plaintiff’s request, Windham did so. Dep., p. 26; Def. Ex. L. He also temporarily halted the
impoundment. Def. Ex. B., ¶ 10.
In response to Windham’s call, Detroit Police Sergeants Corey Karssen and Rubin Fluker
arrived at the scene. Windham Dep., p. 27. Windham informed Karssen that Plaintiff did not
have insurance and that his license was listed as ineligible. Def. Ex. B., ¶ 4. Karssen confirmed
this by reviewing Plaintiff’s information in LEIN. Id. at ¶ 5. Eventually, Plaintiff’s wife returned
with Plaintiff’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Id. at ¶ 6. Karssen attempted to
verify that Plaintiff’s vehicle was insured by calling the number listed on the certificate of
insurance, but he was unable to reach anyone. Id. at ¶ 7. Because the vehicle was uninsured,
Karssen directed the towing company to proceed with the impoundment. Id. at ¶ 10.
Windham issued tickets to Plaintiff for disregarding a red light, no copy of registration,
no proof of insurance, fraudulent/false insurance information, driving while license not valid or
improper license, and no insurance. Def. Ex. D. He did not arrest Plaintiff. Def. Ex. B., ¶ 9.
When Karssen returned to the station, he continued to attempt to verify Plaintiff’s
insurance and eventually discovered that Plaintiff’s vehicle was in fact insured. Id. at ¶ 11.
Karssen cancelled the tickets issued to Plaintiff, although the ticket for running the red light was
re-issued and mailed to him. Id. at ¶ 12. That same day, Plaintiff retrieved his car from the
towing company. Id. at ¶ 13.
Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff authored an editorial about his experience in Dateline Detroit
that criticized Windham and the Detroit Police Department. Def. Ex. E. In response, Chief Craig
appeared at a press conference to discuss the incident. Def. Ex. M. During the press conference,
he stated that he believed that Windham had acted properly and professionally and noted
Plaintiff’s lack of a license or insurance. Id. While discussing Plaintiff’s ineligible license, Craig
also mistakenly equated an ineligible license with a suspended license. Id.
Plaintiff has now sued Windham, Craig, and the City of Detroit under § 1983. His
amended complaint raises the following claims: (1) unreasonable seizure of his person and his
vehicle; (2) a failure to supervise claim against Craig for the unreasonable seizure; and (3)
municipal liability claims against Craig (in his official capacity) and the City of Detroit (Doc. #
12). Defendants have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (Doc. # 19).
Plaintiff has responded (Doc. # 27). The Court held a hearing on this motion on March 1, 2018.
STANDARD OF DECISION
Summary judgment will be granted where there exists no genuine issue of material fact.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact
exists where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Id.
Plaintiff brings a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against Defendants under several different
theories. To prevail, he must show that (1) he was deprived of a right, privilege, or immunity
secured by the Constitution and (2) the deprivation was caused by a person action under color of
state law.2 Smith v. Williams-Ash, 520 F.3d 596, 599 (6th Cir. 2008). Plaintiff must also
overcome any defenses of absolute or qualified immunity. See Everson v. Leis, 556 F.3d 484,
Defendants do not dispute that this prong has been satisfied.
493 (6th Cir. 2009).
I. Unlawful Seizure
At the hearing, Plaintiffs’ counsel conceded that Plaintiff does not challenge the
lawfulness of the traffic stop and that Plaintiff is no longer challenging the seizure of his person.
Thus, the only unlawful seizure claim remaining before the Court is Plaintiff’s allegation that
Windham violated his Fourth Amendment rights by unlawfully seizing his vehicle.
“A ‘seizure’ of property occurs when there is some meaningful interference with an
individual’s possessory interests in that property.” United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113
(1984). Here, Plaintiff’s possessory interests were meaningfully interfered with when Windham
removed him from his vehicle and made the initial decision to impound it. But this alone does
not establish a constitutional violation; the Fourth Amendment only protects against
unreasonable seizures. See Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164, 169 (2008).
An impoundment decision is consistent with the Fourth Amendment when it is
objectively justifiable, regardless of the officer’s subjective intent. United States v. Kimes, 246
F.3d 800, 805 (6th Cir. 2001). And a decision to impound is reasonable so long as it is
“exercised according to standard criteria and on the basis of something other than suspicion of
evidence of criminal activity.” See United States v. Hockenberry, 730 F.3d 645, 658 (6th Cir.
2013), quoting United States v. Jackson, 682 F.3d 448, 454 (6th Cir. 2012). The decision will not
be unreasonable “simply because alternatives to impoundment might exist.” Id. Thus, the Court’s
Fourth Amendment inquiry focuses on whether the “decision to impound was reasonable under
the circumstances.” Collins v. Nagle, 892 F.2d 489, 494 (6th Cir. 1989).
After stopping Plaintiff, Windham discovered that LEIN indicated that Plaintiff’s license
was ineligible and that his vehicle lacked insurance. This discovery led Windham to decide to
impound the vehicle; a rationale that is corroborated by Windham’s repeated statements to that
effect during the traffic stop. In response, Plaintiff contends that there is a genuine issue of fact;
he claims that his vehicle was impounded solely because his license was ineligible. But Plaintiff
cannot create an issue of material fact through his conclusory statements that something in the
record is not true. See Alexander v. CareSource, 576 F.3d 551, 560 (6th Cir. 2009) (“Conclusory
statements unadorned with supporting facts are insufficient to establish a factual dispute that will
defeat summary judgment.”). Indeed, the video evidence shows quite the opposite; Windham
repeatedly indicated that the vehicle’s apparent lack of insurance was a primary factor in the
decision to impound the vehicle.
More importantly, even if Plaintiff is correct about Windham’s subjective intentions, any
reliance by Windham on Plaintiff’s license being ineligible is irrelevant. The Fourth Amendment
analysis turns on whether the decision was objectively justifiable. Kimes, 246 F.3d at 805. And
the perceived absence of insurance was an objectively justifiable reason for Windham to decide
to tow the vehicle. Under Michigan law, a vehicle may not be operated if it is uninsured. M.C.L.
§ 500.3102. And Windham’s unrefuted testimony shows that the decision to impound the
vehicle, which he believed could not be lawfully operated, for lack of insurance was consistent
with Detroit Police Department policy. See United States v. Ballard, 432 F. App’x 553, 556 (6th
Cir. 2011). Under similar circumstances, courts have upheld officers’ decisions to impound an
uninsured vehicle as reasonable. See id. at 556-57; Redmond v. Sanders, 858 F. Supp. 2d 809,
821 (E.D. Mich. 2012). So too here. Based on the information at Windham’s disposal, the
decision to impound the vehicle was reasonable. Thus, Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights were
not violated and Windham is entitled to summary judgment.
There is, however, one nuance (unaddressed by either party) that the Court will take the
opportunity to briefly address: the impoundment decision relied on a mistake of fact. Plaintiff did
have insurance, the government records were simply incorrect.
Does this affect the Fourth Amendment analysis? After all, a seizure based on a mistake
of fact can be reasonable. Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 530, 536 (2014); see also Herring
v. United States, 555 U.S. 135, 139 (2009) (“When a probable-cause determination was based on
reasonable but mistaken assumptions, the person subjected to a search or seizure has not
necessarily been the victim of a constitutional violation.”). But this may not always be the case,
when a mistake of fact is attributable to a government agency it is possible that a seizure made in
reliance on it could violate the Fourth Amendment. See United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221,
232 (1985) (“If the flyer has been issued in the absence of a reasonable suspicion, then a stop in
the objective reliance upon it violates the Fourth Amendment.”); Whiteley v. Warden, Wyo. State
Penitentiary, 401 U.S. 560, 568 (1971) (“[A]n otherwise illegal arrest cannot be insulated from
challenge by the decision of the instigating officer to rely on fellow officers to make the arrest.”).
Under the circumstances, Windham’s reliance on a mistake of fact not attributable to the
Detroit Police Department appears to have been entirely reasonable. But, in any event, it is
unnecessary to determine whether this mistake of fact has any effect on the Fourth Amendment
analysis. Even if the decision to impound the vehicle–made in reasonable reliance on an
erroneous computer record–violated the Fourth Amendment, Windham is entitled to qualified
immunity. The relevant question in this regard is whether a reasonable officer could have
believed the seizure to be lawful, in light of clearly established law and the information that
Windham possessed. Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 641 (1987). This standard “gives
ample room for mistaken judgments,” protecting “all but the plainly incompetent or those who
knowingly violate the law.” Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 229 (1991). Windham falls within
neither of these categories. His decision to rely upon the information in LEIN indicating that
Plaintiff lacked insurance on his vehicle was objectively reasonable. See Herring, 555 U.S. at
147; Arizona v. Evans, 514 U.S. 1, 15-16 (1995) (“There is no indication that the arresting
officer was not acting objectively reasonable when he relied upon the police computer record.”).
And there is no evidence that the LEIN system was recklessly maintained or that Plaintiff’s
information was knowingly falsified. See Herring, 555 U.S. at 146. Thus, even if Plaintiff’s
rights were violated, Windham is entitled to qualified immunity, and summary judgment, on the
unlawful seizure claim.
II. Supervisory Liability
Along with his unlawful seizure claim against Windham, Plaintiff brings that same claim
against Chief Craig under a supervisory liability theory. But there can be no supervisory liability
here because Windham, as Craig’s subordinate, did not violate Plaintiff’s constitutional rights
and has immunity from his constitutional claims. See McQueen v. Beecher Cmty. Sch., 433 F.3d
460, 470 (6th Cir. 2006) (“[A] prerequisite of supervisory liability under § 1983 is
unconstitutional conduct by a subordinate of the supervisor.”).
Also, even if Plaintiff had established that Windham violated his Fourth Amendment
rights, a reasonable jury could not find that Craig encouraged a specific incident of misconduct
or otherwise directly participated in it. Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999) (“At
a minimum a plaintiff must show that the official at least implicitly authorized, approved, or
knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct of the offending officers.”). Craig was not
present at the traffic stop and there is no evidence that he directed or approved, even implicitly,
the decision to impound Plaintiff’s vehicle. Nor does Craig’s post hoc defense of Windham’s
actions suffice. A reasonable jury could not find a causal connection between Windham’s actions
and Craig’s comments about them five days later. See Dunn v. Tennessee, 697 F.2d 121, 128 (6th
Cir. 1982) (holding supervisory liability requires “a causal connection between the misconduct
complained of and the official sued.”). Thus, Craig is entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff’s unlawful seizure claim.
III. Municipal Liability
Finally, Plaintiff brings municipal liability claims against Chief Craig (in his official
capacity) and the City of Detroit on several different theories. He argues that (1) the City had an
unconstitutional custom, policy, and practice that was the moving force behind the seizure, (2)
the City is liable because Craig ratified Windham’s actions, and (3) the City failed to properly
train its officers to use and correctly interpret the LEIN system results.
Under § 1983, a municipality can be held liable when an alleged unconstitutional action
“implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted
and promulgated by that body’s officers.” Monell v. Dep’t. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690
(1978). For his Monell claim, Plaintiff must prove two basic elements: (1) that a constitutional
violation occurred and (2) that the City is responsible for that violation. Doe v. Claiborne
County, 103 F.3d 495, 505-06 (6th Cir. 1996). To show that the City is responsible, Plaintiff
must prove (1) the existence of a municipal policy or custom and (2) a direct causal link between
the policy or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation.” Lilly v. City of Clarksville, 510
F. App’x 374, 376 (6th Cir. 2013). The existence of a municipal policy or custom can be shown
through: (1) the municipality's legislative enactments or official policies; (2) the ratification of
illegal actions by an official with final decision-making authority; (3) a policy of inadequate
training or supervision; or (4) a custom of tolerance of acquiescence of federal violations.
Burgess v. Fischer, 735 F.3d 462, 478 (6th Cir. 2013).
Plaintiff’s municipal liability claim does not make it out of the gate. As explained above,
a reasonable jury could not conclude that his constitutional rights were violated when his vehicle
was impounded. This alone is fatal to his claim. Doe, 103 F.3d 505. And, even if a constitutional
violation did occur, Plaintiff’s Monell claim still fails because he cannot show the existence of a
municipal policy or custom.
First, although Plaintiff alleges that the City has an unconstitutional policy of towing
vehicles when a driver’s license is shown as ineligible in LEIN, he has not identified, and the
record contains no evidence of, any written policy or enactment to that effect. Baynes, 799 F.3d
at 621. Nor does the record include any indication that “there is a particular custom or practice
that although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and
well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law.” Jones v. Muskegon
County, 625 F.3d 935, 946 (6th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted). Indeed, the unrefuted
deposition testimony denies any existence of the alleged policy.
Second, Plaintiff’s attempt to show the existence of an unconstitutional policy through
Craig’s purported ratification of Windham’s actions also fails. For a single-act theory, Plaintiff
must show that Craig’s post hoc approval of Windham’s conduct was “the moving force behind
or the cause of plaintiff’s harm.” Burgess, 735 F.3d at 479. He cannot do so. Craig’s “after-the-
fact approval” of Windham’s actions, which “did not itself cause or continue a harm” against
Plaintiff, cannot support a Monell claim. Id.; Williams v. Ellington, 936 F.2d 881, 884-85 (6th
Cir. 1991) (holding a School Board could not be liable for ratifying a search because its “single,
isolated decision [could] hardly constitute the ‘moving force’ behind the alleged constitutional
Finally, Plaintiff also argues for the first time that the City is liable due to its failure to
properly train its police officers to use and understand the LEIN system. The Court notes that a
summary judgment response brief is not the appropriate place to raise this new claim. See Tucker
v. Union of Needletrades, Indus. and Textile Emp., 407 F.3d 784, 788 (6th Cir. 2005) (“At the
summary judgment stage, the proper procedure for plaintiffs to assert a new claim is to amend
the complaint in accordance with Rule 15(a).”). Thus, the Court could decline to consider this
claim on that basis.
But the claim also fails on its merits. Plaintiff must show that: “(1) the training or
supervision was inadequate for the tasks performed; (2) the inadequacy was the result of the
municipality's deliberate indifference; and (3) the inadequacy was closely related to or actually
caused the injury.” Ellis v. Cleveland Mun. Sch. Dist., 455 F.3d 690, 700 (6th Cir. 2006).
Plaintiff cannot show deliberate indifference, which requires showing “prior instances of
unconstitutional conduct demonstrating that the [City] has ignored a history of abuse and was
clearly on notice that the training in this particular area was deficient and likely to cause injury.”
Fisher v. Harden, 398 F.3d 837, 849 (6th Cir. 2005). The record contains no evidence to that
effect. And Plaintiff’s allegation that Windham was unsatisfactorily trained, even if true, is
insufficient. See City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 390 (1989). Also, because the perceived
lack of insurance provided an objectively reasonable justification to impound Plaintiff’s vehicle,
he cannot show that any inadequate training for recognizing invalid licenses was closely related
to or actually caused the impoundment. Thus, for the preceding litany of reasons, a reasonable
jury could not find either the City or Craig liable on Plaintiff’s municipal liability claims and
they are entitled to summary judgment.
For the reasons above, IT IS ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Sean F. Cox
Sean F. Cox
United States District Judge
Dated: March 6, 2018
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon counsel of record on
March 6, 2018, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
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