Jones v. Couvreur et al
ORDER Granting In Forma Pauperis status and Summary Order of Dismissal and court certifies that an appeal could not be taken in good faith. Signed by District Judge George Caram Steeh (MBea) Modified on 4/28/2017 (MBea).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
CASE NO. 17-CV-11185
HON. GEORGE CARAM STEEH
ROBERT COUVREUR et al.,
ORDER GRANTING IN FORMA PAUPERIS STATUS
AND SUMMARY ORDER OF DISMISSAL
Now before the court is pro se plaintiff Timothy Jones’ motion to
proceed in forma pauperis. Having shown proof that he is indigent, the
court shall grant Jones’ petition to proceed without paying the filing fee.
Having done so, the court is required to review his Complaint pursuant to
the screening procedures set forth at 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) to determine
whether the Complaint should be dismissed because the action is frivolous
or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks
monetary relief from defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470–71 (6th Cir.
2010). For the reasons set forth below, the Complaint shall be dismissed.
I. Procedural Background
The Complaint is not a model of clarity, and it is difficult to discern the
claims pled against the various defendants. The court does its best to
articulate those claims here. At various places in the Complaint, Jones
asserts that he is pursuing claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985
and 1986, although it is unclear which civil rights claims pertain to which of
the named or unnamed defendants.
Jones is an African-American who resides at a house on 14003
Puritan in Detroit, Michigan. The three named defendants are (1) Robert
Couvreur, alleged to be the Manager Real Estate Services, Office of Land
and Facilities of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”),
(2) Bernard Youngblood, Wayne County Registrar of Deeds, and (3) Benny
Napoleon, Wayne County Sheriff. The four categories of unnamed
defendants are (1) unknown DNR clerks/employees, (2) unknown registrar
clerks/employees, (3) unknown Detroit Land Bank Authority
officials/employees, and (4) unknown Wayne County deputies. It appears
that Jones’ claims arise out of the sheriff’s sale of his property, although it
is unclear when, or if, a sheriff’s sale has taken place. He seeks
$1,000,000 in damages and injunctive relief to stop the sale of his home.
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The court summarizes the allegations against the named defendants
Jones alleges that Couvreur, acting in his official and individual
capacity, filed a fraudulent “Affidavit of Forgery” with defendant Youngblood
in the Wayne County Register of Deeds on February 10, 2006 which
allegedly deprived him of his property and deed recorded on April 21, 2005
and “conveying title to the grantee, Michael Williams.” (Complaint, ¶ 9).
Jones alleges that Couvreur is liable for “blatantly violating and/or
conspiring to violate clearly established Federal Civil Rights, Federal Laws .
. . and Federal Constitutional Rights.” (Complaint ¶¶ 4, 8). Jones further
alleges that none of the defendants personally served him with a copy of
the “Affidavit of Forgery,” and that defendants are aware he has openly
resided and paid utilities for the home on Puritan since 2005. (Complaint,
¶¶ 9-10). Arguably, these general allegations pertain to defendant
Jones states that he is suing Youngblood in his official and individual
capacity, but does not make any specific allegations that defendant
Youngblood was personally involved in the alleged deprivation of Jones’
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Constitutional rights. It is possible that Jones’ general allegations that
“defendants” are liable for failing to personally serve him with a copy of the
“Affidavit of Forgery,” and that “defendants” are aware he has openly
resided and paid utilities for the home on Puritan since 2005, are meant to
pertain to him. For purposes of this order, the court shall assume that
Jones so intends.
Jones alleges that Sheriff Napoleon is liable in his official and
individual capacities for gross negligence and deliberate indifference as a
result of his alleged failure to hire, train, and or to discipline unknown sheriff
deputies regarding the sheriff sale of Jones’ property, and for depriving
Jones of his right to property and access to courts, in violation of Jones’
First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Complaint, ¶¶ 7, 11).
II. Standard for Dismissal
Although pro se pleadings are liberally construed, Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), the district court is required to dismiss an in
forma pauperis action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) if it fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted, or if it lacks an arguable basis in law or
fact. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim lacks an
arguable basis in law or fact when it is premised on an indisputably
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meritless legal theory or when the factual contentions are clearly baseless.
Id. A cause of action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted
when it lacks “plausibility in the complaint.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007). “‘[N]aked assertions’ devoid of ‘further factual
enhancement’” are insufficient to “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 557, 570).
A plaintiff’s pleading for relief must provide “‘more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do.’” D’Ambrosio v. Marino, 747 F.3d 378, 383 (6th Cir. 2014)
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Even though the complaint need not
contain “detailed” factual allegations, its “‘factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the
assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true.’” New
Albany Tractor, Inc. v. Louisville Tractor, Inc., 650 F.3d 1046, 1051 (6th Cir.
2011) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
The court considers Jones’ claims against each defendant to
determine if the pleadings are sufficient to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted, or whether those claims lack an arguable basis in law or
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fact. Jones refers to the federal civil rights statutes §§ 1981, 1983, 1985,
and 1986 in his Complaint’s introduction and conclusion, although he had
not referred to those statutes within the body of his Complaint, and it is not
clear which defendants he is suing under those statutes. Because the
court is required to liberally construe Jones’ pro se Complaint, the court
shall assume that Jones means to proceed against all three named
defendants under all of the civil rights statutes. Doing so, the court
determines that Jones has failed to state a claim against any of the named
defendants under any of the civil rights statutes.
42 U.S.C. § 1981
To establish a claim of racial discrimination under Section 1981, the
plaintiff must show that (1) he belongs to an identifiable class of persons
who are subject to discrimination based upon their race; (2) the
defendant(s) intended to discriminate against him based upon his race; and
(3) the defendants' discriminatory conduct abridged a right enumerated in
Section 1981(a). Amini v. Oberlin College, 440 F.3d 350, 358 (6th Cir.
2006). In order to state a claim under § 1981, although the “complaint
need not present ‘detailed factual allegations,’ it must allege sufficient
‘factual content’ from which a court, informed by its ‘judicial experience and
common sense,’ could draw the reasonable inference that Defendants
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discriminated against Plaintiff with respect to his race.” Sam Han v. Univ.
of Dayton, 541 F. App’x 622, 626 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Keys v. Humana,
Inc., 684 F.3d 605, 610 (6th Cir. 2012)). Here, Jones establishes the first
prong of § 1981 because he is an African American, but Jones has pled no
facts suggesting that any of the defendants discriminated against him on
the basis of his race. Accordingly, Jones’ § 1981 claim against any and all
of the defendants must be dismissed.
42 U.S.C. § 1983
In order to state a claim under § 1983, plaintiffs must allege two
elements: “(1) the defendant acted under color of state law; and (2) the
defendant’s conduct deprived the plaintiff of rights secured under federal
law.” Fritz v. Charter Twp. Of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010)
(citations omitted). Defendants are state actors; accordingly, this court
focuses its analysis on the second element: whether defendants’ conduct
deprived Jones of his Constitutional and federal rights. The court considers
each defendant individually below.
Jones’ allegations against Couvreur are vague and
incomprehensible. Those allegations are set forth below:
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That on FEBRUARY 10,2006 (sic), The Defendant(s) ROBERT
COUVREUR, the Manager Real Estate Services, Office of Land
and Facilities of the Michigan Dept of Natural Resources filed a
Fraudulent “Affidavit of Forgery” with the Defendant BERNARD
YOUNGBLOOD the Wayne Co. Register (sic) and the
Defendant(s) Unknown Detroit Land Bank Authority
Officials/Employees on 3/13/06 that was not based upon
Defendant(s) ROBERT COUVREUR’S personal knowledge to
unlawfully deprive this Pro Se Plaintiff of his right to Property
and Deed recorded on 4/21/2005 at Liber 42527 Page 745
Wayne Co Records conveying title to the grantee, Michael
Williams, for the following described land located in County of
Wayne, State of Michigan: “City of Detroit-Puritan University
Subd of North 10 Acres of NE 1/4 of SE 1/4 of Sec 18 T16R11E
L 49, P-39 Lots 28-26, Ward 22 Item 12024.
(Complaint, ¶ 8). The Complaint further avers that defendants, presumably
Couvreur and Youngblood, although this is unclear, violated his First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights by failing to serve him with the “Affidavit of
Forgery.” (Complaint, ¶ 9). The Complaint further states that defendants
were aware that he has openly resided, maintained, and paid utilities on the
Puritan property since 2005. (Complaint, ¶ 10).
Jones has sued Couvreur in his official and individual capacity,
seeking money damages and prospective injunctive relief.
A suit against
an individual officer in his official capacity is deemed an action against the
entity for which the officer is an agent. Cady v. Arenac Cty., 574 F.3d 334,
342 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Pusey v. City of Youngstown, 11 F.3d 652, 657
(6th Cir. 1993)). Thus, Jones’ claim against Couvreur in his official capacity
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as an agent of the Michigan DNR is deemed to be a suit against the state
itself. The state and its agencies are shielded from suit by the Eleventh
Amendment and cannot be sued under § 1983 for money damages. Will v.
Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); Quern v. Jordan,
440 U.S. 332, 339-40 (1979). Accordingly, Jones’ claim against Couvreur
in his official capacity for money damages must be dismissed.
But the Eleventh Amendment does not bar Jones from seeking
prospective injunctive relief to end a continuing violation of federal law,
when the suit is brought against an individual state officer in his official
capacity. Carten v. Kent State Univ., 282 F.3d 391, 396 (6th Cir. 2002).
Nevertheless, those claims against Couvreur are also subject to summary
dismissal based on the wholly conclusory nature of the allegations in the
Complaint which are devoid of sufficient detail to put Couvreur on notice of
the charges against him.
For the same reason, Jones’ claim against
Couvreur in his individual capacity must also be dismissed as that claim is
insufficiently pled to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.
Jones has sued Youngblood in his official and individual capacities.
The § 1983 claim against Youngblood in his official capacity is really a
claim against Wayne County. Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th
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Cir. 1994) (citing Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 68
(1989)). In order to state a claim against a municipality under § 1983, the
plaintiff must show that the injury is caused by the execution of a
government’s policy or custom under the Supreme Court’s seminal
decision in Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694
(1978). The Sixth Circuit has instructed that, to satisfy the requirements of
Monell, a plaintiff “must demonstrate that the alleged federal violation
occurred because of a municipal policy or custom.” Bickerstaff v. Lucarelli,
830 F.3d 388, 401-02 (6th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). Here, Jones has
not alleged any governmental policy or custom on the part of Wayne
County, let alone one which may have resulted in the deprivation of one of
his federally protected rights.
Accordingly, Jones’ § 1983 suit against
Youngblood in his official capacity must be dismissed.
The court turns now to Jones’ § 1983 claim against Youngblood in his
individual capacity. It is unclear what factual allegations Jones asserts
Despite liberal pleading requirements for pro se
litigants, it is not the role of the court to guess the nature of the claims
See Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989). It
appears possible that Jones intends the allegations set forth in paragraph 9
of the Complaint to refer to Youngblood, although that paragraph does not
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name Youngblood specifically. Paragraph 9 alleges that defendants failed
to personally serve him with a copy of the purported fraudulent “affidavit of
forgery” or with “any pleadings, proof of service, and/or any notices listed
on the Wayne Co. Circuit Court Docket civilling (sic) or criminally against
this Plaintiff” in violation of his due process and equal protection rights
under the Fourteenth Amendment and his right to access the courts under
the First Amendment.
As the Wayne County Registrar of Deeds,
Youngblood would have no duty, statutory or otherwise, to personally serve
Jones with any Wayne County Circuit Court filings. In addition, Jones has
not demonstrated that Youngblood had any duty to personally serve him
with a copy of the purported “affidavit of forgery.” Accordingly, Youngblood
is entitled to dismissal on the § 1983 claim brought in his individual
Jones has sued Sheriff Napoleon in his official and unofficial capacity.
A suit against the sheriff in his official capacity is construed to be a suit
against the governmental entity, namely Wayne County. Matthews, 35
F.3d at 1049 (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 68). In order to state a claim against a
municipality under § 1983, the plaintiff must show that the injury is caused
by the execution of a government’s policy or custom. Monell requires a
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“‘direct causal link’ between the policy and the alleged constitutional
violation such that the [municipal policy] is the ‘moving force’ behind the
violation.” Bickerstaff, 830 F.3d at 402 (citations omitted). A plaintiff fails
to state an adequate claim if his allegations are based upon mere
conclusions and opinions. Morgan v. Church’s Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10,
12 (6th Cir. 1987). Although Rule 8 allows for notice pleading, the
Complaint must nevertheless contain sufficient “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 677-78.
In this case, Jones relies on mere boilerplate language to suggest
that Wayne County has an unconstitutional policy of failing to hire, train, or
discipline its officers to assist with sheriff’s sales. The Sixth Circuit has
held this type of speculative allegation is insufficient to state a claim.
Bickerstaff, 830 F.3d at 402. In Bickerstaff, the Sixth Circuit found that
plaintiff’s general allegations that the City had a policy of inadequate
training and supervision of its police officers were deficient because
Bickerstaff introduced no facts showing the existence of a formal policy or
any prior incidents to support the theory that an informal practice or custom
existed. Id. Like Bickerstaff, Jones has alleged no facts suggesting the
existence of a formal or informal policy here. Accordingly, Jones’ claims
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against Sheriff Napoleon in his official capacity, which this court construes
as a claim against Wayne County, must be dismissed.
The court turns now to Jones’ claim against Sheriff Napoleon in his
individual capacity. Jones does not allege that Sheriff Napoleon directly
participated in any aspect of the sheriff’s sale. “Persons sued in their
individual capacities under § 1983 can be held liable based only on their
own unconstitutional behavior. . . Section 1983 liability, however, cannot
be premised solely on a theory of respondeat superior, or the right to
control employees.” Heyerman v. Cty. Of Calhoun, 680 F.3d 642, 647–48
(6th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). In order to hold a supervisory official
liable in his individual capacity, he must have “either encouraged the
specific incident of misconduct or in some other way directly participated in
it. 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.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). Here, it is unclear what allegedly unconstitutional conduct plaintiff
attributes to the unnamed sheriff deputies. Jones alleges only that they
allowed the sheriff’s sale to go forward in violation of his First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights. Having failed to plead sufficient facts to
suggest that the unnamed deputies violated his constitutional rights, Sheriff
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Napoleon cannot be liable in a supervisory capacity for their alleged
misconduct either. Accordingly, Napoleon is entitled to dismissal on the §
42 U.S.C. 1985(3)
Section 1985(3) imposes civil liability upon the participants in a
conspiracy intended to deprive, “either directly or indirectly, any person or
class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges
and immunities under the laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). To state a claim
under § 1985(3), plaintiffs must allege “(1) a conspiracy; (2) for the purpose
of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of
the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges or immunities of the
laws; (3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; (4) whereby a person is
either injured in his person or property or deprived of any right or privilege
of a citizen of the United States.” Vakilian v. Shaw, 335 F.3d 509, 518 (6th
Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In order to state
a claim under § 1985(3), plaintiffs must make specific factual allegations
showing the existence of the conspiracy as well as allegations that the
defendants acted with the specific intent to deprive a plaintiff equal
protection or equal privileges and immunities; conclusory allegations
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unsupported by material facts are insufficient to state a claim. Pahssen v.
Merrill Cmty. Sch. Dist., 668 F.3d 356, 368 (6th Cir. 2012).
In order to be liable under § 1985(3), plaintiffs must demonstrate that
“the conspiracy was motivated by racial, or other class-based, invidious
discriminatory animus.” Bass v. Robinson, 167 F.3d 1041, 1050 (6th Cir.
1999) (citing Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 102-03 (1971)).
Conspiracy claims must be pled with some degree of specificity. Gutierrez
v. Lynch, 826 F.2d 1534, 1538 (6th Cir. 1987). Vague and conclusory
allegations unsupported by material facts are insufficient to state a
conspiracy claim. Id. In order to support a conspiracy claim, plaintiff must
allege a sufficient factual basis to establish a “meeting of the minds” on the
part of the alleged conspirators. Amadasu v. The Christ Hosp., 514 F.3d
504, 507 (6th Cir. 2008). Here, although Jones has demonstrated that he
is a member of a protected class, he has not alleged facts showing any
discriminatory animus against him on the part of the alleged conspirators
nor has he alleged any facts from which to infer any meeting of the minds
on their part.
Accordingly, Jones’ § 1985(3) claim against any of the
named defendants fails to state a plausible claim and must be dismissed.
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42 U.S.C. § 1986
Because Jones’ § 1985 claim must be dismissed, his § 1986 claim
must be as well as § 1986 imposes liability on those individuals who have
knowledge of any of the wrongs prohibited by § 1985, yet fail to prevent
them. Without a violation of § 1985, there can be no violation of § 1986.
Jones’ request for permission to proceed in forma pauperis is
GRANTED. For the reasons set forth above, this action is DISMISSED
WITH PREJUDICE pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The court certifies,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that an appeal from this decision could
not be taken in good faith.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: April 28, 2017
s/George Caram Steeh
GEORGE CARAM STEEH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
Copies of this Order were served upon attorneys of record on
April 28, 2017, by electronic and/or ordinary mail and also on
Timothy Jones, 14003 Puritan, Detroit, MI 48227.
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