Court Grants Motion to Dismiss in Civil Rights Case
In this case, Plaintiffs filed a civil rights case seeking damages for the deaths of their sons who were fatally shot during an event at the Defendant membership club where minors allegedly purchased and/or were allowed to consume alcohol. CMDA defended the municipality, Director of Public Safety, and Clerk. Allan Vander Laan, a partner in our Grand Rapids office, and Jennifer Richards, an attorney in our Livonia office, handled the case.
The Complaint alleged the Defendant membership club (Club) was a liquor license holder and private club whose members permitted minors to enter the premises and purchase alcoholic beverages, including Plaintiffs’ sons. During an event one evening, there were fights inside the Club. Representatives of the Club did not contact the police, but instead attempted to control the crowd and escalating violence by turning the lights on and off and briefly stopping the music. The violence escalated when fire arms were brandished causing the patrons to spill into the parking lot. Still, representatives of the Club did not contact the police. Eventually the violence escalated to the point where representatives of the Club forced all patrons to immediately exit the premises. Despite knowledge of prior similar incidents, they did not notify law enforcement.
Witnesses and attendees at the event notified local law enforcement that shots were fired into the crowd. After being forced to leave the Club, Plaintiffs’ sons were immediately shot and later found dead in the parking lot. A female patron was also shot and run over by a vehicle. She was later pronounced dead. There were four other gunshot wound victims. The shooter was believed to be a minor who was permitted entry into the Club and served alcoholic beverages.
As to the three municipal Defendants, Plaintiffs alleged that knowing the history of violence and illegal activity at the Club, the municipality should or could have requested the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to revoke the Club’s license to sell alcoholic beverages and could have revoked the Club’s Business Certificate of Registration. It was further alleged that public safety officials were seen riding past the Club in the early morning hours, parking within several hundred feet of the club, and observing a large crowd waiting to gain access. Plaintiffs alleged these officials were aware of the potential for violence, illegal activity, and ordinance violations that occurred on the Club’s premises, but were not present outside and/or near the club at 2:00 a.m. as is customarily done to protect the safety and welfare of the public. Plaintiffs alleged the municipality repeatedly violated state law by failing to monitor the Club’s license when it knew and/or should have known of repeated local, state, and/or federal law violations and could have used injunctive remedies to prevent the many complaints of violations.
Months after the night at issue, and based on the events that transpired that night, the Director of Public Safety filed a request for the suspension of the Club’s Business Certificate of Registration, prompting the Clerk to suspend the Certificate because the Club was conducting business in an unlawful manner.
Plaintiffs alleged the municipality knew, or should have known, prior to the issuance or reissuance of the Club’s Business Certificate of Registration that the Corporate Entity was dissolved by the State in 2009 and the Club’s Tax Exempt status had been revoked by the Internal Revenue Service in 2012. Plaintiffs further alleged the City should have known the police repeatedly responded to reports of fights outside the Club at closing time; the Club was unwilling to take the necessary steps to mitigate violence and illegal activities; the Club was not in compliance with all local, state, and federal laws; and the Club had not legally purchased any liquor during the calendar year in compliance with state law. Plaintiffs reasoned that the municipal Defendants knew or should have known the Club and its members were in breach of public peace; the numerous criminal incidents and violation of administrative ordinances constituted a public nuisance; and the Club jeopardized the general health, welfare, and safety of the public. Plaintiffs concluded the municipal Defendants performed their job duties in a reckless manner and in complete disregard to whether future injury would occur to the public at large.
Plaintiffs accused the municipal Defendants of unconstitutional policies, practices, and customs; gross negligence; wrongful death; and a Monell violation. CMDA filed a Motion to Dismiss before any discovery. The court granted the Defendants’ Motion and dismissed Plaintiffs’ Complaint, finding that Plaintiffs Complaint failed to establish a constitutional violation on the part of the individual Defendants so as to defeat qualified immunity. Specifically, Plaintiffs failed to show a “special danger’ such that the state’s actions placed the victims specifically at risk as distinguished from a risk that effected the public at large. The court further held there was no established constitutional obligation requiring the Director of Public Safety and the Clerk to pursue revocation of the Club’s license, to provide a police presence, or intervene at the Club event for the benefit of the Plaintiffs.
Allan C. Vander Laan is a partner in our Grand Rapids office where he focuses his practice on insurance defense, municipal law, and employment and labor law.
Mr. Vander Laan represents municipalities and governmental agencies throughout Michigan in employment matters and civil rights cases, including constitutional claims arising under the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Additionally, Mr. Vander Laan has a wealth of experience with insurance matters, including arson and fraudulent claims investigation and defense, subrogation cases, wrongful death, major property damage, no-fault, and personal injury protection.
He may be reached at (616) 975-7470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Richards is an attorney in our Livonia office where she concentrates her practice on appeals, law enforcement defense and litigation, municipal law, and insurance defense.
She writes briefs for submission to all levels of state and federal courts, arguing cases in all levels of state and federal courts of appeals, and performing research for all areas of law handled by the Firm.
Prior to joining CMDA, Ms. Richards served as a research extern at the Michigan Court of Appeals drafting research reports and proposed opinions for Michigan Court of Appeals’ judges in criminal cases. Additionally, she worked as a student intern in the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law Veterans Clinic assisting military veterans with their benefit requests before the Veterans Administration.
She may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or email@example.com.