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Coleman v. Bowerman

March 25, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. R. Allan Edgar


I. Facts

Plaintiff Andre Lee Coleman #173324, an inmate currently confined at the Marquette Branch Prison, filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Bertina Bowerman, who was employed as a prison guard at the Alger Maximum Correctional Facility (LMF) during the pertinent time period.

Plaintiff's complaint alleges that on August 3, 2007, while he was confined at LMF, Defendant searched his cell and improperly confiscated certain items. Defendant then falsified a misconduct charge against Plaintiff. Plaintiff claims that because Defendant's conduct occurred in the "temporal proximity" of interviews he had recently had with other prison staff regarding his grievances, that such conduct was retaliatory.

Plaintiff claims that Defendant's actions violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as equitable relief.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

Presently before the Court is the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), and/or Motion for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Plaintiff has filed a response and the matter is ready for decision. Because both sides have asked that the Court consider evidentiary materials beyond the pleadings, the standards applicable to summary judgment apply. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b).

Summary judgment is appropriate only if the moving party establishes that there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986). If the movant carries the burden of showing there is an absence of evidence to support a claim or defense, then the party opposing the motion must demonstrate by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Id. at 324-25. The nonmoving party cannot rest on its pleadings but must present "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). Thus, any direct evidence offered by the plaintiff in response to a summary judgment motion must be accepted as true. Muhammad v. Close, 379 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Adams v. Metiva, 31 F.3d 375, 382 (6th Cir. 1994)). However, a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's position will be insufficient. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52. Ultimately, the court must determine whether there is sufficient "evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Id. at 252. See also Leahy v. Trans Jones, Inc., 996 F.2d 136, 139 (6th Cir. 1993) (single affidavit, in presence of other evidence to the contrary, failed to present genuine issue of fact); cf. Moore, Owen, Thomas & Co. v. Coffey, 992 F.2d 1439, 1448 (6th Cir. 1993) (single affidavit concerning state of mind created factual issue).

B. Equal Protection

Defendant states that she is entitled to summary judgment of Plaintiff's equal protection claim because Plaintiff has failed to show that he was treated differently than similarly situated individuals. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that a state may not "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," which is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike. U.S. CONST., amend. XIV; City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). Plaintiff's allegations on this point are wholly conclusory. Plaintiff merely states that the August 11, 2007, misconduct ticket regarding the legal foot locker was dismissed at the hearing, and that this shows that he was discriminated against by Defendant. However, Plaintiff provides no specific factual allegations to support his contention that the misconduct was motivated by a discriminatory intent. Conclusory allegations of unconstitutional conduct without specific factual allegations fail to state a claim under § 1983. See Lillard v. Shelby County Bd. of Educ., 76 F.3d 716, 726 (6th Cir.1996) (citing Chapman v. City of Detroit, 808 F.2d 459, 465 (6th Cir. 1986)); Smith v. Rose, 760 F.2d 102, 106 (6th Cir.1985); Turnboe v. Stegall, No. 00-1182, 2000 WL 1679478, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 1, 2000). Therefore, Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's equal protection claim.

C. Retaliation

Defendant claims that she is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claims. Retaliation based upon a prisoner's exercise of his or her constitutional rights violates the Constitution. See Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 394 (6th Cir.1999) (en banc). In order to set forth a First Amendment retaliation claim, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) he was engaged in protected conduct; (2) an adverse action was taken against him that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from engaging in that conduct; and (3) the adverse action was motivated, at least in part, by the protected conduct. Thaddeus-X, 175 F.3d at 394. Moreover, Plaintiff must be able to prove that the exercise of the protected right was a substantial or motivating factor in the defendant's alleged retaliatory conduct. See Smith v. Campbell, 250 F.3d 1032, 1037 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Mount Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977)).

Plaintiff was transferred to LMF in July of 2007, and has filed at least 161 grievances during his incarceration at LMF. (Defendant's Exhibit A, Grievance Inquiry Printout.) Plaintiff wrote 5 grievances against LMF medical staff in late July and early August of 2007, asserting inadequate treatment. (Defendant's Exhibit B.) On August 2, 2007, Resident Unit Officer Denman wrote a major misconduct ticket on Plaintiff for storing personal property in the footlocker that was provided solely for excess legal material. (Defendant's Exhibit C.) Plaintiff then filed 4 grievances, asserting that Denman retaliated ...

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