Court Of Appeals Reversal Results In Tort Damages Against Police

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on October 13, 2015 that my pizza delivery client’s vehicle was improperly forfeited by Westland Police You can retrieve a copy of the original opinion of the opinion here: In re 2007 Ford Focus, ___NW2d___; 2015 Mich. App. LEXIS 1847 (Ct App, Oct. 8, 2015), in which the Court reaffirmed that simple possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle does not subject a vehicle to forfeiture. As the Court held:

  • Linda testified, and the trial court found credible, that she merely possessed and used a small amount of marijuana in the vehicle after receiving the drug as a tip for delivering a pizza. The trial court also found credible that Linda intended to drive to the house where she received the drug because she had to deliver a pizza; she did not intend to go there in order to obtain marijuana. Despite Linda’s testimony that she sometimes received marijuana as a tip from various customers, there was no evidence that she expected to receive it on this particular occasion, that this particular customer had given her marijuana before, or that she was motivated to go to the customer’s house by anything other than a delivery call. The evidence shows that, at least in her mind, the marijuana was an unexpected bonus. In other words, the record lacks evidence that Linda used the vehicle for the purpose of receiving or selling marijuana; such evidence is required for forfeiture under the statute. See MCL 333.7521(1)(d) (in order to be subject to forfeiture, the claimant must use or intend to use the vehicle “for the purpose of sale or receipt of” a controlled substance). Linda’s actions in this case constitute a mere violation of MCL 333.7403(2)(d) (possession) and MCL 333.7404(1) (use). The plain language of § 7521(1)(d)(iii) states that a vehicle “is not subject to forfeiture for” such violations.

While my case was on appeal, the City of Westland Police Department quickly auctioned the vehicle. This was stunning. They had no authority to do this, and their actions were strictly against the law. The police were supposed to provide time for an appeal to be filed and time for a motion for stay to be decided by the higher court. When I discovered that they had auctioned the vehicle during the automatic stay, I was livid but absolutely powerless to address the situation unless we won our appeal.

After the Court of Appeals remanded the case, I filed a motion for damages. The circuit court judge shared my dismay. He couldn’t believe that the police had ignored the court rules. He held that the vehicle was improperly auctioned off by the City of Westland Police Department. Following that hearing, we proceeded to a second hearing on damages. I argued that the vehicle was unlawfully converted by the City of Westland, entitling my client to treble damages, three times the car’s value. The circuit court agreed.

After further negotiation, the prosecutor conceded defeat, and the judge awarded $13,200.00 in damages.