883 F.2d 75 (6th Cir. 1989), 84-1579, Robinson v. Township of Waterford

Docket Nº:84-1579.
Citation:883 F.2d 75
Party Name:Helen ROBINSON, Personal Representative of the Estate of William Robinson, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. The TOWNSHIP OF WATERFORD, Waterford Township Police Department, William Stokes, Officer Bailey, Officer T. Tarpening, Peter Donlin, Walter Bedell, the County of Oakland, Oakland County Sheriff's Department, and Johannes Spreen, Defendants-A
Case Date:August 18, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 75

883 F.2d 75 (6th Cir. 1989)

Helen ROBINSON, Personal Representative of the Estate of William Robinson, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,


The TOWNSHIP OF WATERFORD, Waterford Township Police Department, William Stokes, Officer Bailey, Officer T. Tarpening, Peter Donlin, Walter Bedell, the County of Oakland, Oakland County Sheriff's Department, and Johannes Spreen, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 84-1579.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 18, 1989

Editorial Note:

This opinion appears in the Federal reporter in a table titled "Table of Decisions Without Reported Opinions". (See FI CTA6 Rule 28 and FI CTA6 IOP 206 regarding use of unpublished opinions)



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Before NATHANIEL R. JONES, MILBURN and BOGGS, Circuit Judges.

BOGGS, Circuit Judge.

This case involves an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against officials of Waterford Township and Oakland County for injuries arising from the arrest, imprisonment and subsequent death of William Robinson. Plaintiff-Appellant, Helen Robinson, as personal representative of her husband's estate, appeals various orders of the district court made during the course of the action granting summary judgment in favor of certain of the defendants before the case went to the jury. She also appeals the award of attorney fees granted certain of the defendants, various evidentiary rulings made during the course of the trial, and certain parts of the jury verdict as against the weight of the evidence. We reverse several of the district court's orders and remand to the district court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.


This case arises out of a tragic series of events which began over the Memorial Day week-end in 1980 at the Sears Department store in Pontiac Mall, located in Waterford Township, Oakland County, Michigan. William Robinson was a retired factory worker who suffered from Alzheimer's Disease, or Organic Brain Syndrome. He was forgetful and could not communicate easily. His urine and bowels were incontinent and he could not keep himself clean. As a result he exhibited a strong and noticeably offensive body odor. He frequently mumbled to himself and chewed on foreign objects. He spent most of his time wandering the streets and local shopping malls, particularly the Pontiac Mall. His strange behaviour and strong body odor attracted attention from shoppers, and did not make him popular with shopkeepers. Sometimes he would order coffee or food at a cafeteria and would not be able to pay for the purchase. The Waterford Township police were alerted on several occasions. Their usual response was to escort Mr. Robinson home, or to a local shelter such as the Pontiac Mission or the Salvation Army. On a few occasions, they merely transported him to the Waterford Township boundary and dropped him outside the city limits.

On Saturday, May 24, 1980, William Robinson wandered into the cafeteria inside the Sears store. According to the testimony of Gregory Palmer, a security guard at Sears, Mr. Robinson wandered into a restricted area of the store and was asked to leave. Later that day, he walked through the food service line at the Sears cafeteria, removing bread from sandwiches and putting it in his pockets. He got a cup of coffee and walked past the cashier without paying, although he asked several customers for money. He then sat down at a cafeteria table and poured sugar into his coffee and onto the table. At this point, the security guard, Mr. Palmer, requested that Mr. Robinson leave the store. When Mr. Robinson did not depart, Mr. Palmer called the Waterford Township Police.

Corporal Bailey of the Waterford Township Police Department dispatched Officer Timothy Tarpening with instructions to arrest Mr. Robinson. Bailey testified that he made the decision to arrest Mr. Robinson because of the problems they had had with him all week, and because the police had more important things to do over the holiday week-end than to transport Robinson back and forth. He admitted that he knew of no warrant for Robinson's arrest, and Robinson has done nothing in his presence. Bailey stated that he thought that Robinson would get adequate care at the County Jail.

Officer Tarpening did arrest Mr. Robinson, charging him with harassment under § 5.3 of Waterford Township Ordinance No. 87, which deals with various types of disorderly conduct. Mr. Robinson was taken to the Oakland County Jail. Shortly thereafter, Corporal Bailey sent a note to the judge to whom Robinson's case was assigned, asking him to sentence Robinson to the maximum 90-day sentence if he were found guilty. Mr. Robinson was arraigned before this judge on Tuesday, May 27, 1980, the day after Memorial Day. The record indicated that he did not understand why he was there or the nature of the charge against him. The judge set bond at $1,000.

Mrs. Robinson brought suit against the Township of Waterford, the Waterford Township Police Department, Chief of Police William Stokes, Officers Bailey and Tarpening, Waterford Township Prosecutors Peter Donlin and Walter Bedell, the County of Oakland, the Oakland County Sheriff's Department, and Sheriff Johannes Spreen (defendants). She accused the defendants of acts and conspiracies allegedly resulting in the false arrest and imprisonment of Mr. Robinson, and in the injuries from lack of medical treatment and hygiene while in jail. She further claimed that the defendants violated Mr. Robinson's rights by maliciously initiating and continuing a criminal prosecution in the absence of probable cause. She requested compensatory and punitive damages for Mr. Robinson's injuries under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The defendants filed, and the court granted, a series of pre-trial motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, from which Mrs. Robinson now appeals. Oakland County's motion to dismiss the claim against the County was granted on August 8, 1982. On December 23, 1982, the district court granted a motion for summary judgment on behalf of Peter Donlin and Walter Bedell on the basis of prosecutorial immunity. The court granted summary judgment to the Waterford Township Police Department and Police Chief William Stokes on April 11, 1983. The Waterford Township Disorderly Conduct Ordinance was held to be constitutional on September 21, 1983; and Waterford Township's motion for summary judgment was therefore granted on November 23, 1983.

The remaining defendants, namely Officers Bailey and Tarpening, the Oakland County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Spreen, defended in a jury trial held in December 1983. On December 22, 1983, the district court granted Sheriff Spreen's motion for a directed verdict on the conspiracy charges, but denied the motion as to the...

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