Friday, August 01, 2014

The Law Student, Stalking and the 4th Amendment

This post examines an opinion a U.S. District Court Judge recently issued in a civil case filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan:  Enjaian v. University of Michigan, 2014 WL 3662709 (2014).  As the judge explains, 
[p]laintiff Jesse R. Enjaian, pro se, filed the instant action alleging that Defendant RenĂ©e Schomp wrongfully reported criminal stalking behavior to the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Michigan Department of Public Safety. Based on Schomp's complaint, Enjaian claims police unreasonably searched his apartment and seized various items in violation of his rights under the 4th Amendment
Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra. 
The judge then explains that Enjaian is
a former student and classmate of Schomp's at the University of Michigan Law School. Enjaian alleges that on December 9, 2011, Schomp made a phone call to the University Department of Public Safety complaining about two email messages that Enjaian sent to the entire Law School. Following Schomp's phone call, university police obtained a search warrant to search Enjaian's apartment for evidence related to criminal stalking. Police seized a laptop, cell phone, MP3 player, and four external hard drives from Enjaian's apartment. Enjaian claims that the police held his property for 446 days before they returned it to him.

Enjaian further alleges that on March 27, 2012, Schomp emailed Defendant Sergeant Jose Dorta, a University of Michigan police officer, claiming Enjaian possessed a firearm and `intended to use it during an act of mass-homicide.’ Specifically, Enjaian states:

`Schomp wrote to Dorta and another employee that she “has considered where the best place in the Law School would be to hide in the event that Enjaian came to the School with a gun”’ and that a mutual friend told her he was `“so concerned about his girlfriend's safety with regard to Enjaian, that he came over to her dorm room right away carrying a baseball bat.”’. . .

Enjaian claims he did not learn of this email until March 2013. No criminal stalking or any other charge was filed against Enjaian, and the University Police returned his property more than a year later, near the end of February 2013.

On September 12, 2013, Enjaian filed the instant lawsuit, alleging that Sergeant Dorta and the University of Michigan violated his 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and that Schomp's `allegations’ constitute libel per se under Michigan law.
Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra. 
The three defendants (University of Michigan, Sergeant Dorta and Schomp) responded by filing motions to dismiss Enjaian’s suit under Rule12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which lets a judge dismiss a lawsuit if the plaintiff has failed to state a viable cause of action. As Wikipedia explains, the Rule 12(b)(6) motion is how lawsuits with
insufficient legal theories underlying their cause of action are dismissed from court. For example, assault requires intent, so if the plaintiff has failed to plead intent, the defense can seek dismissal by filing a 12(b)(6) motion. `While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).’  Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)
The judge took up each motion to dismiss, starting with Sergeant Dorta.  Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra.  He began his analysis of this motion by explaining that
Enjaian alleges that Sergeant Dorta, as a sergeant in the University of Michigan police department, `established policies and procedures’ and `made management decisions’ regarding the search of Enjaian's electronic devices. Enjaian claims Sergeant Dorta's actions violated his 4rth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Sergeant Dorta moves to dismiss Enjaian's claim, arguing qualified immunity protects him from suit.
Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra.
The judge began his analysis of Enjaian’s argument by explaining that the
`doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’ Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009). Because qualified immunity is an immunity from suit, the court must resolve an assertion of qualified immunity at the ‘earliest possible stage in the litigation.’ Id. 

In assessing a claim of qualified immunity, the court must assess whether: (1) `the facts a plaintiff has alleged . . . make out a violation of a constitutional right,’ and (2) `the right at issue was clearly established at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct.’ Id. The court may exercise its discretion in deciding which of these two prongs should be addressed first. Id. As the plaintiff, Enjaian `bears the burden of showing that defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity.’ Chappell v. City of Cleveland, 585 F.3d 901 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit 2009).
Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra. 
The judge then explained that Enjaian
has not met this burden. To begin with, it is unclear exactly what Enjaian is claiming. Much of his response to Defendants' motion to dismiss consists of block quotations from a variety of cases, without any attempt at developed argumentation. To the extent that Enjaian does discuss the facts of his case, he appears to argue that Sergeant Dorta used an invasive search methodology in attempting to crack a variety of passwords present on Enjaian's computer. 

It appears this cumbersome investigative methodology resulted in Enjaian's computer and other personal property -- including some that had no relevance to internet communications -- being retained by the investigators longer than he believes was reasonably necessary. However, the 4th Amendment does not protect against unreasonable delay in returning lawfully seized property to the owner. Fox v. Van Oosterum, 176 F.3d 342 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit 1999). Thus, whether Enjaian is able to allege a violation of his 4th Amendment rights turns on whether the search and seizure of that property was itself illegal. 
Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra.
He then analyzed whether Enjaian was able to do this:
Construed liberally, Enjaian's response argues that the affidavit supporting the search warrant did not establish a sufficient nexus between the computer equipment to be searched and the alleged stalking at issue. A review of the affidavit reveals that the affiant, Officer Bernard Mundt, stated, inter alia, that he received reports Enjaian had engaged in behavior and that he `feels’ [Enjaian] was `intentionally stalking Schomp.’ . . . Officer Mundt, however, is not a defendant in this lawsuit.

Enjaian asserts that `the U–M campus police at Ann Arbor is a very small department,’ and that Sergeant Dorta `established polices and procedures and has made management decisions for the search and seizure of computer evidence during criminal investigations.’ Beyond that, Enjaian does not explain how the supervisor, Dorta, as opposed to the affiant, Mundt, violated his constitutional rights in connection with the creation of what certainly is a very sparse, and likely insufficient, warrant affidavit. Nor does he specify which policies and procedures he disagrees with.

Because Enjaian has not alleged anything other than vague and conclusory assertions connecting Sergeant Dorta to the alleged constitutional violation, the court concludes Enjaian has failed to allege a violation of his constitutional rights. Enjaian's claim against Sergeant Dorta will be dismissed without prejudice.
Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra.  Since the dismissal was without prejudice, Enjaian could re-file his lawsuit, if he was able to address the issues the judge noted.  And if you are interested, you can find an application for a search warrant here, to find out how the affidavit is used, etc.
The judge then took up Enjaian’s claims against the University, explaining that he
seeks a judgment against the University of Michigan declaring that the search warrant issued to the University of Michigan Police Department was overbroad and in violation of the 4th Amendment. The University of Michigan moves to dismiss this claim, arguing that, as a Michigan state department, it is entitled to immunity from suit under the 11th Amendment.

The 11th Amendment provides, in relevant part: `The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State[.]’ U.S. Constitution, amendment XI.

`This immunity is far reaching. It bars all suits, whether for injunctive, declaratory or monetary relief, against the state and its departments, by citizens of another state, foreigners or its own citizens.’ Thiokol Corp. v. Dep't of Treasury, State of Mich., Revenue Div., 987 F.2d 376 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit 1993) (emphasis added).

Enjaian's complaint concedes that the University of Michigan is a state agency. . . . Although state officials may be sued in their official capacity for prospective injunctive or declaratory relief, see Thiokol Corp. v. Dep’t of Treasury supra,  no such official appears as a defendant in the instant lawsuit.  Enjaian's claim against the University of Michigan is barred by the 11th Amendment and will therefore be dismissed without prejudice.
Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra. 
Finally, the judge took up Schomp’s motion to dismiss, explaining that Enjaian
also alleges that Schomp's report to police constitutes libel per se under Michigan law. MichiganCompiled Laws § 600.2911.  However, because Enjaian's only federal claim has been dismissed, the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Enjaian's state-law claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). See also Musson Theatrical, Inc. v. Fed. Express Corp., 89 F.3d 1244 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit 1996) (`When all federal claims are dismissed before trial, the balance of considerations usually will point to dismissing the state law claims. . . .’).

Accordingly, Schomp's motion to dismiss will be granted. 
Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra. 
The ruling on Schomp’s motion went to a jurisdictional issue, unlike the rulings on Dorta’s and the University’s motions to dismiss.  Those Rule 12(b)(6) motions were directed at the substantive cause of action he sought to assert against both of those defendants, i.e., a violation of his 4th Amendment rights.  As Wikipedia explains, U.S. District Courts have jurisdiction to hear and decide civil suits that arise under the U.S. Constitution (including the 4th Amendment) and the laws and treaties of the United States.  It also has jurisdiction to hear lawsuits that do not involve federal and/or U.S. Constitutional law if those suits involve citizens of different state, which is known as the courts’ “diversity jurisdiction.”  
Enjaian’s claims against Dorta and the University were allegedly based on a violation of his 4th Amendment rights.  Since the 4th Amendment is part of the U.S. Constitution, the court would have had jurisdiction over those claims, if they had been viable federal law claims.  Enjaian’s claim against Dorta was a state claim allegedly arising under Michigan’s libel law.  A federal court can only hear cases that arise under state law if (i) the parties are from different states (which apparently was not true here) or (ii) the state law claims come under the court’s supplemental jurisdiction, which is created by 28 U.S. Code § 1367(a).  Supplemental jurisdiction is based on the premise that if a federal court has jurisdiction over Doe’s federal claim against Smith, it is reasonable to let the court hear and decide Doe’s state law claim against Smith as long as the state law claim arises out of the same set of facts. As Wikipedia notes, the rationale for this is efficiency, i.e., if the non-federal, non-diversity jurisdiction claims are based on the same set of facts, it makes sense to dispose of all them in a single, federal proceeding. 
Enjaian and Schomp apparently were not from different states, so the court had no basis for keeping the libel per se claim.  
The judge therefore dismissed the lawsuit. Enjaian v. University of Michigan, supra. 

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