Hayes et al v. City of Detroit et al
OPINION and ORDER granting 12 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying as moot 15 Motion to Amend Complaint. Signed by District Judge John Corbett O'Meara. (WBar)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
HAZELL HAYES and
Case No. 16-13098
Hon. John Corbett O’Meara
CITY OF DETROIT,
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING
DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Before the court are Defendant’s motion for summary judgment, filed June
29, 2017, and Plaintiff’s motion to amend complaint, filed July 24, 2017. The
court heard oral argument on October 12, 2017, and took the matter under
advisement. For the reason explained below, Defendant’s motion is granted and
Plaintiff’s motion is denied.
Plaintiffs Hazell Hayes and Melvin Short filed a complaint against the City
of Detroit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to recover for the seizure of their dog, Penny. In
their complaint, Plaintiffs also list several “John Doe” police officers as
defendants. Plaintiffs seek to amend their complaint to add Officer Lamar
Williams, who shot Penny during a search of Plaintiffs’ home. The City opposes
Plaintiff’s motion to amend and seeks summary judgment.
Plaintiff Hayes is a student and employee at Wayne County Community
College. She and Plaintiff Short leased a home at 18601 Moenart Street, Detroit,
Michigan, from Marion Rutland. The lease between Plaintiffs and Rutland
contained a “no pets” clause, but Rutland made an exception for Penny, so long as
Penny was kept confined to the side door landing area when Plaintiffs were not
home. Hayes testified that they always chained Penny, a pit bull, when they were
On June 23, 2016, Plaintiff Hayes secured Penny to a two-foot chain on the
side door landing of her home before she left for school. The chain confined
Penny to the side door landing area below the kitchen and prevented her from
entering the kitchen. Rutland saw Hayes take Penny into the house on the morning
of June 23. When Hayes left for school, Penny was chained to the side door
landing, Short was at work, and the only other occupant, Short’s daughter, was also
That day, Detroit police officers raided Plaintiffs’ home in the mistaken
belief that it was a drug house. The officers did not have information that a dog
lived in the home. Williams Dep. at 40. As officers secured the house, Officer
Williams “peeked around the corner” and “observed the pit bull,” which was “one
or two feet” away from him. Id. at 31, 35. The dog was approximately forty or
fifty pounds and prevented Williams from entering the basement to secure it. Id. at
50, 63-64. Williams testified that the dog “growled,” “showed its teeth,” and
“proceeded up the step.” Id. at 32. According to Williams, the dog approached
him in “an aggressive manner.” Id. “It proceeded up the first step, which is when I
fired the shot.” Id. Williams testified that he did not see a chain confining Penny to
the side landing area. Id. at 59-60 (“There was no chain or anything restricting it
from moving.”). Penny died immediately after the shooting.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Standard of Review
Summary judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the facts
and any reasonable inferences drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The party opposing summary judgment,
however, must present more than a “mere scintilla” of evidence; the evidence must
be such that a reasonable jury could find in favor of the plaintiff. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).
Fourth Amendment Violation
The Sixth Circuit has held that “a dog is property, and the unreasonable
seizure of that property is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.” Brown v. Battle
Creek Police Dep’t, 844 F.3d 556, 566 (6th Cir. 2016). “Reasonableness is the
touchstone of any seizure under the Fourth Amendment.” Id. at 567 (citation
omitted). “[A] police officer’s use of deadly force against a dog while executing a
warrant to search a home for illegal drug activity is reasonable under the Fourth
Amendment when, given the totality of the circumstances and viewed from the
perspective of an objectively reasonable officer, the dog poses an imminent threat
to the officer’s safety.” Id.
As the Sixth Circuit has emphasized, “[t]his analysis allow[s] for the fact
that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in
circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of
force that is necessary in a particular situation. The task of this [C]ourt is to put
itself into the shoes of the officers at the time the actions took place and to ask
whether the actions taken by the officers were objectively unreasonable.” Brown,
844 F.3d at 567-68 (citations omitted).
Here, Officer Williams testified that he made split-second determination that
Penny posed an imminent threat to his safety. The pit bull approached him in close
quarters, growling and baring her teeth. Although Hayes testified that she left the
dog chained, there is no evidence that Officer Williams actually observed the chain
or that he had the time or ability to do so. Nor is there evidence that Officer
Williams should have known in advance that the dog was present, so that he could
have arranged to deal with the dog in a non-lethal or less intrusive manner. See
Brown, 844 F.3d at 570-71.
Viewing the totality of the circumstances, the court finds that it was
objectively reasonable for Officer Williams to believe that the dog posed an
imminent threat to his safety. Because Officer Williams acted reasonably,
Plaintiffs cannot sustain their Fourth Amendment claim.1 In addition, because
Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a constitutional violation, they also cannot establish
municipal liability on the part of the City of Detroit. See City of Los Angeles v.
Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986). The court will grant Defendant’s motion for
Because Officer Williams’s liability has been litigated and briefed by the parties,
the court has considered the issue as if Officer Williams were named as a defendant. The
court finds no prejudice to Defendant or other substantive basis to deny Plaintiffs leave to
amend. Given the court’s conclusion that Plaintiffs have not shown a constitutional
violation, however, it is unnecessary for Plaintiffs to formally amend their complaint at
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant’s motion for summary judgment
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion to amend complaint is
DENIED AS MOOT.
s/John Corbett O’Meara
United States District Judge
Date: October 24, 2017
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon
counsel of record on this date, October 24, 2017, using the ECF system.
The court leaves Defendant’s alternative argument – that Plaintiffs did not have a
legitimate property interest in their unlicensed dog – for another day. See Smith v. City
of Detroit, Case No. 16-11882 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 2, 2017).
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