CMDA Attorneys Obtain Significant Victory in Federal Appellate Court

CMDA Attorneys Obtain Significant Victory in Federal Appellate Court

Timothy S. Ferrand, a partner in our Sterling Heights office, and Karen M. Daley, head of CMDA’s appellate division, recently obtained a Judgment from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Sixth Circuit) that affirmed the lower court’s dismissal (won by Mr. Ferrand in 2011) of Fourth Amendment police stop, arrest and detention claims brought against several police officers of a Michigan municipality. 

The case arose out of the stop, detention and transportation of the plaintiff by police for psychiatric evaluation. Police officers stopped the plaintiff for a traffic violation. Inside the vehicle they noticed a sleeping infant under a pile of personal belongings. The Plaintiff indicated that he was headed with his infant son to Ohio and that he did not know where the child’s mother (his wife) was. The plaintiff’s wife was contacted and she reported a domestic disturbance and custody dispute had occurred earlier that day. After the plaintiff was transported to the police department, his wife advised officers that he had become violent towards her and threatened suicide earlier that day. He was transported for psychiatric evaluation. 

In its ruling, the Sixth Circuit held that “reasonable suspicion” existed for the motor vehicle stop. The Court noted that all factors must be considered when determining whether or not “reasonable suspicion” was present. In this case, the plaintiff’s route of travel, the time of night, the location of his vehicle in a high crime area and the fact that the vehicle was packed to the ceiling with personal items must be considered together. The Court held that all of these factors, when taken together, constituted “reasonable suspicion” to justify the motor vehicle stop.

Second, the Court held that the length of detention was not unreasonable in light of the circumstances presented. The Court held that the circumstances of the traffic stop, the presence of the child in the vehicle, the plaintiff’s out of state destination and not knowing his wife’s location made it reasonable for officers to suspect the plaintiff was attempting to conceal a child from his wife, a possible violation of Michigan’s parental kidnaping statute. These concerns justified the officers in extending the seizure beyond the limited scope of the brief stop. 

Next, the Court discussed how an investigatory detention may ripen into a seizure, at which point officers must possess “probable cause”. Here, the Court concluded the plaintiff was, in fact, arrested. However, the Court found there was “probable cause” to make the arrest. Probable cause was based on the plaintiff’s violation of Michigan law in the officer’s presence as plaintiff (by his own admission) was not in possession of a valid Michigan driver’s license at the time of his traffic stop. The Court alluded to the fact that there was a possible alternative basis for probable cause based on the information regarding the domestic violence incident between the plaintiff and his wife. However, the Court found it unnecessary to analyze that issue because of the existence of probable cause based on the driver’s license violation.  

The final aspect of this case involved the transportation of the plaintiff to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. The Fourth Amendment requires an officer seizing and obtaining a person for psychiatric evaluation to have probable cause to believe the person is a danger to himself or others. Here, the Court found probable cause existed. During his detention by police, the plaintiff made a series of disturbing comments. The plaintiff’s wife informed officers that he had been violent earlier that evening, had destroyed property, held a knife to his neck and threatened his own life.  The plaintiff’s wife warned police that he had told her he wanted her family to “die”and to “suffer”. Based on this information, the Court found probable cause existed to transport the plaintiff for a psychiatric intervention.

Based on the same information, the Court dismissed the plaintiff’s state court claims for assault and battery, false arrest and false imprisonment. The court found “probable cause” for the officer’s actions and no indication the force used by the officers was excessive or unreasonable in nature.