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Bennett v. Wright

April 19, 2010

RONALD BENNETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
A.L. WRIGHT ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Gordon J. Quist

OPINION

This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, PUB. L. NO. 104-134, 110 STAT. 1321 (1996), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992). Applying these standards, Plaintiff's action will be dismissed because Defendants Wright and Stapleton are immune and the complaint otherwise fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

Discussion

I. Factual allegations

Plaintiff is incarcerated in the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility, but the events giving rise to his complaint occurred at the Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF). In his pro se complaint, Plaintiff sues LCF Corrections Officer Russ Wattles. He also sues Michigan Department of Corrections Hearing Officer A.L. Wright and Hearings Administrator Richard Stapleton.

Plaintiff's action concerns major misconduct convictions arising from an incident that occurred on February 18, 2009. Defendant Wattles brought major misconduct charges against Plaintiff for: (1) out of place, (2) theft and (3) disobeying a direct order. Wattles described the violation as follows:

On 2/18/2009 I observed Bennett 148380 walk into room G-114 and proceed to the staff coffee pot. Bennett started to pour a cup of coffee. I said to Bennett "stop that is staff coffee"[.] Bennett kept pouring until the cup was full. Bennett had no staff authorization to enter room G 114. Bennett was identified by his M.D.O.C, identification card and prior contact. (2/18/09 Major Misconduct Report, Ex. 1, docket #1.)

An administrative hearing was held on March 10, 2009. (See 3/10/09 Major Misconduct Hr'g Report, Ex. 2, docket #1.) Plaintiff pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintained that he had previous authority to take coffee from the bottom of the pot. Hearing Officer Wright found Plaintiff not guilty of the out of place charge because Plaintiff worked for Hearings Investigator Landrum and had his permission to be in room G-114. Wright, however, found Plaintiff guilty of the remaining two charges. He provided the following reasons for his decision:

Theft:

HO finds that Prisoner possessed a cup of coffee in his hand. The evidence shows that prisoner did not have the authorization of the owner, Krueger, Landrum, or Wattles, to possess the property. The evidence shows that prisoner poured the coffee from the coffee pot without authorization. Therefore, the charge of (037) Theft; Possession of Stolen Property is upheld.

Disobeying a Direct Order: HO finds that the greater impression of the evidence is that on 2/18/09 officer gave prisoner a reasonable order to stop pouring staff coffee. HO finds that Prisoner knew the order was given to him because prisoner admits that he heard the order. HO also finds that prisoner voluntarily failed to follow the order by continuing to pour after the order was given. Prisoner states that there was between 1/2 to 3/4 cups of coffee in the cup. (Id.) As a result of his convictions, Plaintiff was given ten days loss of privileges.

Plaintiff submitted a request for rehearing claiming that the hearing officer failed to make a determination on the record regarding the reporting officer's failure to provide a photograph of the cup of coffee. (See Request for Rehearing, Ex. 3, docket #1.) According to Plaintiff, a photograph would have supported his contention that he followed the officer's order and did not fill the cup. Plaintiff further claimed that the hearing officer's decision was not based upon substantial, competent and material evidence because the hearing officer refused to remand the matter to obtain a photograph of the coffee pot and to view the size of the spout. In addition, Plaintiff asserted that the hearing officer considered statements from Krueger and Landrum that were not on the record and he was not afforded the opportunity to question them regarding their statements. Defendant Stapleton denied Plaintiff's request for rehearing.

Plaintiff sought review of the misconduct convictions in the Wayne County Circuit Court, but the court dismissed his petition because Plaintiff did not reside in that county. Plaintiff appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, but he was unable to pay the initial partial filing fee and his case was dismissed. Plaintiff subsequently sought leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court. The supreme court denied his application on ...


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