Johnson v. Vanderkooi, No. 156057

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtBernstein, J.
Citation502 Mich. 751,918 N.W.2d 785
Parties Denishio JOHNSON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Curtis VANDERKOOI, Elliott Bargas, and City of Grand Rapids, Defendants-Appellees. Keyon Harrison, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Curtis Vanderkooi and City of Grand Rapids, Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date30 July 2018
Docket Number No. 156058,No. 156057

502 Mich. 751
918 N.W.2d 785

Denishio JOHNSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Curtis VANDERKOOI, Elliott Bargas, and City of Grand Rapids, Defendants-Appellees.


Keyon Harrison, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Curtis Vanderkooi and City of Grand Rapids, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 156057
No. 156058

Supreme Court of Michigan.

Argued April 12, 2018
Decided July 30, 2018


918 N.W.2d 788

American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan, Detroit, (by Miriam J. Aukerman, Michael J. Steinberg, Kary L. Moss, Daniel S. Korobkin, Edward R. Becker, and Margaret Curtiss Hannon ) for Denishio Johnson and Keyon Harrison.

Elliot Gruszka, Assistant City Attorney, for the city of Grand Rapids.

BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH

Bernstein, J.

502 Mich. 757
918 N.W.2d 789

These consolidated cases arise from two separate incidents where plaintiffs were individually stopped and questioned by Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) officers. During these stops, plaintiffs’ photographs and fingerprints were taken in accordance with the GRPD’s "photograph and print" (P&P) procedures. Alleging that the P&Ps violated their constitutional rights, plaintiffs filed separate civil lawsuits in the Kent Circuit Court against the city of Grand Rapids (the City), as well as against the individual police officers involved. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of all defendants in both cases. Plaintiffs each appealed by right, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in separate opinions.1 Relevant to this appeal, both opinions affirmed summary disposition for the City on plaintiffs’ municipal-liability claims on the basis that a policy that does not direct or require police officers to take a specific action cannot give rise to municipal liability under 42 USC 1983.

We disagree with the Court of Appeals and hold that a policy or custom that authorizes, but does not require, police officers to engage in specific conduct may form the basis for municipal liability. Additionally, when an officer engages in the specifically authorized conduct, the policy or custom itself is the moving force behind an alleged constitutional injury arising from the officer’s actions. Accordingly, we reverse in part the judgments of the Court of Appeals, and we remand these cases to the Court of Appeals for further consideration.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The P&Ps giving rise to these lawsuits took place during two separate incidents. At the time of the

502 Mich. 758

incidents, each GRPD patrol officer was assigned as a part of their standard equipment a camera, a fingerprinting kit, and GRPD "print cards" for storing an individual’s copied fingerprints. Generally speaking, a P&P involved an officer’s use of this equipment to take a person’s photograph and fingerprints whenever an officer deemed the P&P necessary given the facts and circumstances. After a P&P was completed, the photographs were uploaded to a digital log. Completed print cards were collected and submitted to the Latent Print Unit. Latent print examiners then checked all the submitted fingerprints against the Kent County Correctional Facility database and the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. After being processed, the cards were filed and stored in a box according to their respective year.

The first incident giving rise to these lawsuits involved the field interrogation of plaintiff Denishio Johnson. On August 15, 2011, the GRPD received a tip that a young black male, later identified as Johnson, had been observed walking through an athletic club’s parking lot and peering into vehicles. Officer Elliott Bargas responded to the tip and initiated contact with Johnson. Johnson, who had no identification, told Bargas that he was 15 years old, that he lived nearby, and that he used the parking lot as a shortcut. Bargas was skeptical of Johnson’s story, and being aware of several prior thefts in and near

918 N.W.2d 790

the parking lot, he decided to perform a P&P to see if any witnesses or evidence would tie Johnson to those crimes. After Johnson’s mother arrived and verified his name and age, Johnson was released. At some point during this process, Captain Curtis VanderKooi arrived and approved Bargas’s actions. Johnson was never charged with a crime.

502 Mich. 759

The second event occurred on May 31, 2012, after VanderKooi observed Keyon Harrison, a young black male, walk up to another boy and hand him what VanderKooi believed was a large model train engine. Suspicious of the hand-off, VanderKooi followed Harrison to a park. After initiating contact, VanderKooi identified himself and questioned Harrison. Harrison, who had no identification, told VanderKooi that he had been returning the train engine, which he had used for a school project. VanderKooi, still suspicious, radioed in a request for another officer to come take Harrison’s photograph. Sergeant Stephen LaBrecque arrived a short time later and performed a P&P on Harrison, despite being asked to take only a photograph. Harrison was released after his story was confirmed, and he was never charged with a crime.

Johnson and Harrison subsequently filed separate lawsuits in the Kent Circuit Court, and the cases were assigned to the same judge. Plaintiffs argued, in part, that the officers and the City were liable pursuant to 42 USC 1983 for violating plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights when the officers performed P&Ps without probable cause, lawful authority, or lawful consent. Both plaintiffs also initially claimed that race was a factor in the officers’ decisions to perform P&Ps, though Johnson later dropped that claim.

In two separate opinions, the trial court granted summary disposition in favor of the City pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10)2 and in favor of the officers pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7), (10), and (I)(2). Plaintiffs individually appealed by right in the Court of Appeals. In two

502 Mich. 760

separate opinions relying on the same legal analysis, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgments regarding plaintiffs’ municipal-liability claims.3 Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the City could not be held liable because plaintiffs did not demonstrate that any of the alleged constitutional violations resulted from a municipal policy or a custom so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law. Johnson , 319 Mich.App. at 626-628, 903 N.W.2d 843. The Court of Appeals did not decide whether the P&Ps actually violated either plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Plaintiffs filed a joint application for leave to appeal in this Court, challenging the Court of Appeals’ ruling on the City’s liability under 42 USC 1983. They argued that the record demonstrated that the City had a policy or custom of performing P&Ps without probable cause during investigatory

918 N.W.2d 791

stops pursuant to Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1, 22, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed. 2d 889 (1968),4 which may be based on reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, and that execution of that policy or custom violated their Fourth Amendment rights. We scheduled oral argument on the application and instructed the parties to address "whether any alleged violation of

502 Mich. 761

the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights [was] the result of a policy or custom instituted or executed by the defendant City of Grand Rapids." Johnson v. VanderKooi , 501 Mich. 954, 954-955, 905 N.W.2d 233 (2018).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court reviews de novo a trial court’s decision on a motion for summary disposition. Maiden v. Rozwood , 461 Mich. 109, 118, 597 N.W.2d 817 (1999). A motion brought pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10) tests the factual sufficiency of a claim. Id . at 120, 597 N.W.2d 817. When reviewing such a motion, "a trial court considers affidavits, pleadings, depositions, admissions, and other evidence submitted by the parties ... in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Id . A genuine issue of material fact exists when the record "leave[s] open an issue upon which reasonable minds might differ." Shallal v. Catholic Social Servs of Wayne Co , 455 Mich. 604, 609, 566 N.W.2d 571 (1997) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

The issue presented is whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the alleged violations of plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights were caused by a policy or custom of the City. Plaintiffs’ cause of action arises from 42 USC 1983, which provides in pertinent part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or
...

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131 practice notes
  • Johnson v. Vanderkooi, No. 330536
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • November 21, 2019
    ...policies] violated plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures." Johnson v. VanderKooi , 502 Mich. 751, 781, 918 N.W.2d 785 (2018). We conclude, under current caselaw, that they did not and that plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights were not violated ......
  • Bauserman v. Unemployment Ins. Agency, No. 333181
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • December 5, 2019
    ...L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978) ]." Mays , 323 Mich. App. at 62, 916 N.W.2d 227 (quotation marks and citation omitted). In Johnson v. VanderKooi , 502 Mich. 751, 762, 918 N.W.2d 785 (2018), our Supreme Court clarified that for liability to be imposed under 42 USC 1983, a showing must be made that "(1)......
  • People v. Betts, Docket No. 148981
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 27, 2021
    ...violates federal constitutional ex post facto protections, this Court is not bound by that determination, see Johnson v. VanderKooi , 502 Mich. 751, 764 n. 6, 918 N.W.2d 785 (2018), and the Sixth Circuit's opinion did not assess an ex post facto challenge under our state constitutional law.......
  • Johnson v. VanderKooi, 160958
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 22, 2022
    ...to determine whether the P&Ps at issue violated plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. 502 Mich. 751 (2018). On remand, the Court of Appeals, Boonstra, P.J., and O'Brien and Letica, JJ., concluded that neither taking a person's fingerprints no......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
135 cases
  • Johnson v. Vanderkooi, No. 330536
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • November 21, 2019
    ...policies] violated plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures." Johnson v. VanderKooi , 502 Mich. 751, 781, 918 N.W.2d 785 (2018). We conclude, under current caselaw, that they did not and that plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights were not violated ......
  • Bauserman v. Unemployment Ins. Agency, No. 333181
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • December 5, 2019
    ...L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978) ]." Mays , 323 Mich. App. at 62, 916 N.W.2d 227 (quotation marks and citation omitted). In Johnson v. VanderKooi , 502 Mich. 751, 762, 918 N.W.2d 785 (2018), our Supreme Court clarified that for liability to be imposed under 42 USC 1983, a showing must be made that "(1)......
  • People v. Betts, Docket No. 148981
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 27, 2021
    ...violates federal constitutional ex post facto protections, this Court is not bound by that determination, see Johnson v. VanderKooi , 502 Mich. 751, 764 n. 6, 918 N.W.2d 785 (2018), and the Sixth Circuit's opinion did not assess an ex post facto challenge under our state constitutional law.......
  • Johnson v. VanderKooi, 160958
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 22, 2022
    ...to determine whether the P&Ps at issue violated plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. 502 Mich. 751 (2018). On remand, the Court of Appeals, Boonstra, P.J., and O'Brien and Letica, JJ., concluded that neither taking a person's fingerprints no......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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