Two Michigan Fire Departments Dismissed From Lawsuit

Two Michigan fire departments who were being sued in federal court over an incident that led to the arrest of a homeowner, have been dismissed from the lawsuit. The Mount Pleasant City Fire Department and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribal Fire Department have been dismissed from a suit brought by Rickie Lee Beilicki, Jr. back in 2023.

The facts as explained by Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris is as follows:

  • Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that his Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when Defendants investigated a potential fire hazard in and around his home.
  • Based on circumstances occurring during the investigation, Plaintiff was charged with assault and battery but those charges were dismissed.
  • Plaintiff alleges the charges constituted malicious prosecution and he avers that the prosecution was initiated against him.
  • Mount Pleasant argues that it is an entity that is not capable of being sued and even if it were, Plaintiff has failed to state a municipal liability claim upon which relief may be granted.
  • [M]unicipal police and fire departments are not proper defendants because they are subsumed within the municipal entity and cannot be sued under Section 1983.
  • Since Section 1983 does not allow a municipality to be vicariously liable for the acts of its employees, in order to hold a municipality liable, a plaintiff “must demonstrate that the alleged federal violation occurred because of a municipality policy or custom.”
  • Here, there is no suggestion of any municipal policy or custom that gave rise to the alleged constitutional violations.
  • Defendant Tribe contends that Plaintiff’s claim is barred because the Tribe enjoys sovereign immunity from all lawsuits, and that it has not waived its immunity.
  • Tribal sovereign immunity extends to tort actions and civil rights actions brought under Section 1983.
  • Congress has not abrogated immunity in this instance nor ahs the Tribe waived its immunity. Therefore, Defendant’s motion to dismiss should be granted.

US District Court Judge David M. Lawson adopted the magistrate’s recommendation and dismissed both fire departments from the lawsuit.

Here is a copy of the original complaint, the magistrate’s decision and Judge Lawson’s decision:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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