Holland v. Fouts
OPINION AND ORDER Overruling Holland's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation 19 , Adopting Report and Recommendation 18 , Granting Fouts' Motion to Dismiss 13 , and Granting Holland's Motion to Amend Complaint 23 . Signed by District Judge Laurie J. Michelson. (EPar)
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.251 Filed 08/01/22 Page 1 of 15
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
CORY HOLLAND, SR.,
Case No. 21-12265
Honorable Laurie J. Michelson
Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford
OPINION AND ORDER OVERRULING HOLLAND’S OBJECTIONS TO
THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE’S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ,
ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ,
GRANTING FOUTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS , AND GRANTING
HOLLAND’S MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT 
Cory Holland, Sr. brings this suit against James Fouts, Mayor of Warren, for
interference in his dealings with his landlord. The timeline in this case is a bit
Holland says he was renting a house in Warren, Michigan that was infested
with rats, cats, and insects. After informing his landlord about the infestation, he
asked if he could break his lease and leave the house. His landlord apparently agreed.
But a week later, Holland says that his landlord changed her mind because she had
spoken to Fouts, who was her personal friend. Fouts allegedly told Holland’s landlord
“to go after” Holland. And because the landlord allegedly changed her mind after
Fouts’ intervention, Holland was forced to pay rent for the Warren home while the
landlord renovated the home (perhaps to address the infestation). After his landlord
was finished with the repairs, Holland moved back into the home. But after some
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.252 Filed 08/01/22 Page 2 of 15
time, Holland’s landlord sued to evict him from the house for failure to pay rent.
Holland states that during the eviction proceedings, city employees, following Fouts’
direction, lied about whether the house was infested.
So Holland filed a pro se complaint alleging that Fouts violated the Due
Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (ECF
No. 1, PageID.4.) All pretrial matters were referred to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth
Stafford. Fouts filed a motion to dismiss Holland’s complaint under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 13.) Magistrate Judge Stafford recommended that
the motion be granted and that the case be dismissed.
The Magistrate Judge gave three reasons for recommending dismissal. One,
that Holland’s claim that he was “forced to stay in the property against his will”
because of Fouts was “implausible and outlandish” because public court records show
that Holland fought his eviction and Holland admitted that he had moved out of the
property at one point. (ECF No. 18, PageID.173.) Two, that Holland does not allege
Fouts acted with discriminatory intent or purpose, which is required to make an
equal-protection claim. (Id. at PageID.174.) And three, that Holland cannot make a
due-process claim because his lease had expired by the time he was evicted, and so
he had no property interest protected by due process. (Id. at PageID.177.)
Holland objects to this recommendation. Holland first objects to the “complaint
being dismissed,” arguing that his landlord only started displaying animus against
him after she consulted with Fouts. (ECF No. 19, PageID.183–184.) Holland also
objects to the complaint being found insufficient or implausible. (Id. at PageID.186.)
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.253 Filed 08/01/22 Page 3 of 15
He explains that he misunderstood the directions to be “brief” on the pro se complaint
form he used, and thus, he only wrote a short summary of his allegations. (Id.)
Holland’s third objection is a bit unclear (and is titled “Plaintiffs appeals”) but seems
to be a general objection arguing that the reason Holland “lost in court” was because
the “city was working with the landlord against a disabled man for issues they both
knew were present before the plaintiff moved into the home.” (Id. at PageID.186–
187.) Fouts filed a response to these objections. (ECF No. 21.)
For the reasons explained below, the Court will overrule Holland’s objections
and adopt the Report and Recommendation. Holland’s complaint will be dismissed.
But the Court will grant Holland limited leave to amend his complaint on a single
issue raised in his response to the motion to dismiss.
I. Legal Standard
When a party objects to a magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation, a
district judge reviews the issues raised by the objections de novo; there is no
obligation to review un-objected to issues. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b); Thomas v. Arn,
474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). But “[t]he district court need not provide de novo review
where the objections are frivolous, conclusory or general. The parties have the duty
to pinpoint those portions of the magistrate’s report that the district court must
specially consider.” Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986) (cleaned up).
Accordingly, objections should be “specific in order to focus the busy district court’s
attention on only those issues that were dispositive and contentious.” Howard v. Sec’y
of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991).
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.254 Filed 08/01/22 Page 4 of 15
II. Analysis of Objections
As an initial matter, Holland has “the duty to pinpoint those portions of the
magistrate’s report that the district court must specially consider.” See Mira, 806 F.2d
at 637. He has not done so. An objection that does nothing more than disagree with
the magistrate judge’s determination “without explaining the source of the error” is
not a valid objection. Howard v. Sec’y of Health and Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509
(6th Cir. 1991). And generalized objections to a magistrate judge’s overall conclusion
likewise are insufficient as such objections “effectively duplicate” the functions of the
magistrate and district courts. Id.
Holland asks this Court to consider his health conditions and issues with
comprehension when evaluating his complaint. (ECF No. 19, PageID.188.) Although
a pro se litigant’s complaint is to be construed liberally, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007), that leniency is “not boundless,” Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 714
(6th Cir. 2004). The “basic pleading requirements ‘apply to self-represented and
counseled plaintiffs alike.’” Williams v. Hall, No. 21-5540, 2022 WL 2966395, at *2
(6th Cir. July 27, 2022) (quoting Harnage v. Lightner, 916 F.3d 138, 141 (2d Cir.
2019)). And while the Court is understanding of Holland’s health issues and
recognizes that perhaps it is difficult for Holland to explain specific legal errors, the
Court also cannot abandon its responsibility to address a defendant’s assertion that
the complaint does not state a plausible claim.
Holland states that “a jury should be able to make the decision on if the
defendant violated plaintiff[‘s] civil rights[.]” (ECF No. 19, PageID.187.) But there are
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.255 Filed 08/01/22 Page 5 of 15
multiple checkpoints Holland must pass before the Court can allow his case to reach
a jury. One such checkpoint is a motion to dismiss, and Holland’s current complaint
does not make it through.
The Magistrate Judge found that Holland’s claims are premised on the
allegation that “Fouts’ intervention forced him (Holland) to occupy the infested rental
property for over a year.” (ECF No. 18, PageID.171.) The Magistrate Judge concluded,
however, that this allegation contradicted public records of the eviction proceedings,
which show that Holland opposed his eviction and that his eviction was based on
nonpayment of rent. (Id. at PageID.172.) Holland also states that at one point, he left
the home. (ECF No. 14, PageID.123.) In other words, Holland was not forced to live
in the home. To the contrary, he left the home at one point and later he was ordered
to leave the home for failure to pay his rent. So the Magistrate Judge found Holland’s
statement that he was forced to stay on the property against his will to be
implausible. (ECF No. 18, PageID.173.)
Holland now explains that he was not forced to physically remain in the
property against his will. Rather, as the Court understands Holland’s objection, it is
that after Fouts spoke to Holland’s landlord, his landlord decided to go back on her
prior promise to “release plaintiff from the lease without any argument[.]” (ECF No.
19, PageID.183.) She did so, according to Holland, because Fouts told her to “go after
the plaintiff” because of his disability and race. (Id.) Holland also states that though
he was no longer living in the home, he had to “remain in the contract for the home”
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.256 Filed 08/01/22 Page 6 of 15
and “go to the home on a weekly basis just to take photographs of the home” so he
was not blamed for any damage that occurred during the repairs. (ECF No. 19,
PageID.186 (emphasis added).) A few months later, the landlord told Holland that
she had addressed the infestations at the home and Holland could move back in. (Id.
at PageID.185.) Holland says the infestations were not cured but he was “trapped” at
that point because he did not have enough money to leave. (Id.)
Holland’s objection does indicate that him leaving the home and fighting his
eviction are not totally inconsistent with his allegation that Fouts’ interference forced
him to continue leasing in Warren. Holland also further clarifies that because his
landlord did not release him from the rental agreement, allegedly at Fouts’ behest, it
was like he was forced to live there because he was making rental payments.
But even with this clarification, the Court still has trouble discerning whether
Holland wanted to live in the home or not. It appears that Holland did not ultimately
want to stay in the home. He states that Fouts interfered with him being released
from his rental agreement, which indicates he did not want to remain in the home.
He also states that he “wanted nothing to do with the home ever since the first night
he moved in, plaintiff was fighting the case because he was no longer living there and
couldn’t ignore the summons from the lawsuit.” (ECF No. 14, PageID.123–124
This clarification, however, does little to persuade the Court that Holland has
stated a claim. Even if the Court accepts Holland’s claim that he was forced to stay
in his rental agreement because Fouts, based on Holland’s race and disability,
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.257 Filed 08/01/22 Page 7 of 15
convinced his landlord to change her mind, this does not show that Holland was
denied equal protection under the law. Holland has not plausibly shown that his
landlord’s private decision can be attributed to Fouts. Holland states that he “heard
the defendant saying nasty things about him on the phone, he was basically telling
the landlord to go after Plaintiffs.” (ECF No. 19, PageID.185.) Holland said he heard
these comments during a phone call that occurred before his landlord told him that
she had the mayor “take care” of the infestation issues. (Id.) But based on text
messages Holland submitted, his landlord said this statement in the same
conversation in which she told him she would let him out of the lease. (ECF No. 14,
PageID.131–133.) So if anything, the derogatory statements Holland allegedly heard
from Fouts had no impact on his landlord’s decision to let him out of the lease, as she
said she would let him out of the lease after Fouts allegedly told her to go after
Holland. In other words, the Court cannot infer that Fouts’ intervention had any
impact on the landlord’s decision to not allow Holland to break his lease.
And to the extent Holland’s claim against Fouts is about the city’s alleged
failure to resolve the infestation issue, it also fails as pled. Holland pleads no facts
linking Fouts’ actions to the city’s alleged inaction. He just states that “the city
stopped all inspections and canceled dates for inspections even after the government
shutdown ended, but they were able to show up and testify for the landlord, at the
defendant request, just not inspect the house[.]” (ECF No. 14, PageID.121.) Fouts
cannot be sued merely because he oversees the city department in charge of
inspecting rental properties. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 683 (2009). Instead,
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.258 Filed 08/01/22 Page 8 of 15
Holland must plead facts showing that Fouts took actions that prevented future
inspections from occurring because of Holland’s race and/or disability. Yet, all
Holland has stated is that “Fouts intervened” and that after his landlord met with
Fouts, she became Holland’s “adversary.” (ECF No. 14, PageID.124; ECF No. 19,
Moreover, Holland has submitted some evidence that the city did inspect the
home at one point. He provides a letter from Animal Control that states that in
December 2019, Holland’s landlord reported cats living in the home’s crawl space.
(ECF No. 14, PageID.137.) Animal Control responded and worked “with the owner to
trap and remove 15 cats. The remaining owned cats were spayed and neutered.” (Id.)
Then, Animal Control said it advised the landlord she could close the crawl space.
(Id.) Holland also submits an email exchange between a city inspector and his
landlord, where the city inspector states he “did not see any cats or cat feces” at the
home in July 2020. (ECF No. 14, PageID.136.) So it appears based on Holland’s own
evidence that the city did inquire about the alleged infestation.
Holland also states that after he complained to his landlord about the
infestations, and his landlord did not respond to his concerns, he “contacted the city
of Warren, they sent out pest control.” (ECF No. 14, PageID.124.) Holland also states
that pest control came to the home, identified that “cats and rats have been living in
the crawl space for years,” and that the landlord refuses to fix it. (Id.) According to
Holland, the city has contacted the landlord to fill in the crawlspace so animals do
not go in there, and the “landlord refused[.]” (Id.) This occurred before the landlord
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.259 Filed 08/01/22 Page 9 of 15
told Holland she would release him from his lease. (See id.) So it appears that at least
before he first left the home, the city inspected the house and directed the landlord to
address any issues.
So even though Holland has somewhat clarified how he was forced to lease the
house because of Fouts, the Court overrules this objection to the Report as it is not
“dispositive” of the 12(b)(6) motion. See Howard v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs.,
932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). In other words, it does not change the conclusion
that Holland has failed to state a claim.
The Magistrate Judge also dismissed Holland’s equal-protection claim under
the Fourteenth Amendment because Holland had not pled that Fouts took any action
with discriminatory intent. (ECF No. 18, PageID.174.) The Magistrate Judge found
that Fouts never made a discriminatory remark directly toward Holland. (Id.)
Further, the Report states that Holland first mentioned Fouts “targeting” Holland
and becoming involved in Holland’s affairs in his response brief. (Id. at PageID.175.)
Since arguments are not allegations, the Magistrate Judge did not consider these new
Holland states in his objection that he heard Fouts tell his landlord on the
phone to basically “go after” him and make “disparaging remarks about his
disabilities.” (ECF No. 19, PageID.186.) Holland explains that he did not include
these specific statements in his complaint because he thought they were hearsay.
(ECF No. 19, PageID.185.)
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.260 Filed 08/01/22 Page 10 of 15
Even if the Court were to excuse Holland’s failure to include these allegations
in his complaint, these remarks do not make it plausible that Fouts violated the Equal
“As this circuit has explained, a valid equal-protection claim requires showing
that the government treated the plaintiff disparately as compared to similarly
situated persons and that such disparate treatment either burdens a fundamental
right, targets a suspect class, or has no rational basis.” Reform America v. City of
Detroit, Michigan, 37 F.4th 1138, 1152 (6th Cir. 2022). As the Magistrate Judge
noted, discriminatory remarks alone are not actionable under the Fourteenth
Amendment unless “coupled with some additional harassment or constitutional
violation[.]” Taylor v. City of Falmouth, 187 F. App’x 596, 601 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing
King v. City of Eastpointe, 86 F. App’x 790, 814 (6th Cir. 2003) (concurring opinion)).
Holland’s allegations that Fouts used discriminatory language about him and
then encouraged Holland’s landlord to “go after” Holland do not plausibly show that
Holland was subject to disparate treatment under the law. That is because Fouts’
statement did not cause Holland’s alleged harm.
According to Holland, Fouts encouraged his landlord to “go after” him, which
resulted in his landlord not releasing him from his lease and eventually suing to evict
him. As mentioned previously, Holland does not plausibly show that Fouts actually
influenced his landlord’s decision to not allow him out of the lease or to initiate
eviction proceedings against him, as these statements were too remote to plausibly
influence those decisions.
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.261 Filed 08/01/22 Page 11 of 15
And Holland’s eviction was determined via a state-court proceeding based on
the expiration of his lease term, rather than on any actions Fouts may have taken.
Fouts did not decide to evict Holland, nor did he control whether Holland was evicted
or not. Fouts also did not control what constitutional protections Holland received in
these proceedings. And Fouts also was not the ultimate decisionmaker as to whether
to enforce eviction laws against Fouts. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676–77
(2009) (describing purposeful discrimination as a “decisionmaker’s undertaking a
course of action” because of the adverse effects on an identifiable group); see also Dep’t
of Homeland Security v. Regents of the Univ. of Calif., 140 S. Ct. 1891, 1915 (2020)
(“To plead animus, a plaintiff must raise a plausible inference that an invidious
discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor in the relevant decision.”). In short,
even if Fouts had a discriminatory attitude toward Holland, that animus did not
result in the landlord taking action against Holland that would impact Holland’s
rights or protections under the law. Fouts had no power to do so in relation to Holland
being released from his lease or being evicted.
Holland also does not plausibly allege that Fouts’ encouragement burdened a
fundamental right. Though Holland alleges that Fouts had undue influence over the
eviction proceedings because he encouraged city employees to lie while testifying, his
claim still fails. The Magistrate Judge explained that the city employees’ testimony
on infestation would be relevant to whether Holland was constructively evicted, as
he said he was. (ECF No. 18, PageID.177.) The Report found that even if the state
court had disregarded the city employees’ testimony and believed Holland that he
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.262 Filed 08/01/22 Page 12 of 15
had been constructively evicted, he still would have no interest in the property
because his landlord served him with a notice to quit at the end of the lease term. (Id.
at PageID.177–178.) In other words, even if Fouts told his employees to lie during
Holland’s eviction proceedings, it would not have changed the outcome of the eviction
proceedings. Holland’s landlord would still have prevailed at the eviction proceedings
because the lease had already expired, and she had served Holland with a notice to
quit. So Fouts’ alleged influence over the proceedings also does not amount to a denial
of equal protection or due process under the law.
Holland’s arguments now do not change the calculus. Holland does not argue
that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that the city employees’ untruthful
testimony had no effect on the outcome of the proceedings. And he has not pled that
Fouts had any other influence over the court proceedings. He also does not plausibly
claim that eviction laws were selectively enforced against him due to Fouts’
encouragement, as he does not plead any facts showing that similarly-situated, nondisabled individuals were not evicted by the court.
So even if Fouts targeted Holland, as Holland says, this targeting did not lead
to him being denied equal treatment under the law.
III. Motion to Amend Complaint
Holland also filed a motion to amend his complaint after the Magistrate Judge
entered the Report and Recommendation. (See ECF No. 23.) In the same vein,
Holland objects to the Report because he did not “understand” the form complaint’s
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.263 Filed 08/01/22 Page 13 of 15
use of the word “brief” and so he apparently did not state all of his allegations in the
complaint. (ECF No. 19, PageID.186.)
The Court must determine whether “justice so requires” leave to amend. See
Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). “To evaluate whether justice so requires, the court must
consider . . . undue delay in filing[,] undue prejudice to the opposing party,
and futility of amendment.” Banerjee v. Univ. of Tenn., 820 F. App’x 322, 328 (6th Cir.
2020) (internal citations omitted). A motion to amend is futile “where a proposed
amendment would not survive a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 329.
The Court has reviewed Holland’s proposed amended complaint. (ECF No. 23.)
The allegations within that complaint fail to state a claim for the reasons already
described in this order. So if Holland were to amend using this complaint, it would be
futile. See Banerjee, 820 F. App’x at 328.
But there is one possible exception. Holland does describe one narrow issue the
Court believes could present a plausible claim. In his response to Fouts’ motion to
dismiss, Holland states that Fouts told the landlord that “he would make sure ‘no
more inspections’ would be done on the home, this way the landlord would not have
to comply with the law, and [Fouts] did exactly what the landlord said he did, the city
stopped all inspections and canceled dates for inspections even after the government
shutdown ended[.]” (ECF No. 14, PageID.121.) Holland states that Fouts said these
things to his landlord after making derogatory comments about Holland’s disability
and race. (Id.)
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.264 Filed 08/01/22 Page 14 of 15
This allegation was not adequately made in Holland’s complaint, so as the
complaint currently reads, Holland has not stated a plausible claim for relief. In light
of this statement in his response brief, however, the Court will GRANT Holland
partial leave to amend his complaint.
Holland may submit an amended complaint limited solely to the narrow equalprotection claim he makes against Fouts regarding Fouts’ alleged promise to
Holland’s landlord that no more inspections would be done on the home and, as a
result, the city’s subsequent failure to inspect the home because of Holland’s
disability or race.
Holland is advised that if he makes allegations that go beyond this limited
issue, the Court will strike his complaint as non-compliant with this order.
Further, because Holland is proceeding in forma pauperis, if he chooses to
amend the complaint in compliance with this Court’s direction and it survives this
Court’s screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), Fouts will have an opportunity to
In sum, the Court overrules Holland’s generalized objections to the Magistrate
Judge’s Report. The Court ADOPTS the Report (ECF No. 18) and GRANTS Fouts’
motion to dismiss (ECF No. 13). Holland’s current complaint (ECF No. 1) will be
Holland’s motion to amend the complaint (ECF No. 23) is GRANTED IN PART.
Holland is limited to filing an amended complaint solely on the equal-protection claim
Case 2:21-cv-12265-LJM-EAS ECF No. 24, PageID.265 Filed 08/01/22 Page 15 of 15
alleging Fouts prevented city inspections of the home Holland rented because of
Holland’s race or disability so Holland’s landlord would not have to comply with
housing law. This amended complaint must be submitted within two weeks of this
order by August 15, 2022.
If Holland does not limit his amended complaint to the issue identified above,
the complaint will be stricken, and the case will be dismissed. And if Holland fails to
timely amend his complaint, this case will be dismissed.
If Holland amends his complaint pursuant to this Court’s order and it survives
the Court’s screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), Fouts will have an
opportunity to respond.
Dated: August 1, 2022
s/Laurie J. Michelson
LAURIE J. MICHELSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?