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Basso v. State of Michigan Department of Corrections

April 29, 2010

ALBERT BASSO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE OF MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert Holmes Bell United States District Judge

HON. ROBERT HOLMES BELL

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on a second motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Patricia L. Caruso, James MacMeekin, and Jeff White. (Dkt. No. 42.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Background

Plaintiff Albert Basso is a former corrections officer who was injured in a prison riot at the Ojibway Correctional Facility ("OCF Facility") in April of 2006. Defendant Caruso is the Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections ("MDOC"), Defendant MacMeekin is the regional director for MDOC in charge of the OCF Facility, and Defendant White is the warden of the OCF Facility. Plaintiff alleges that, in 2005, Defendants decided to allow the OCF Facility to accept a higher security level of inmates than it was equipped to handle. Plaintiff alleges that he complained about the safety and security conditions at the facility as a result of the changes, and about certain improper workplace conduct on the part of Defendant White. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant White transferred him to a more dangerous shift in retaliation for his complaints about the safety conditions at the facility and about Defendant White. Plaintiff also alleges that some of the inmates that attacked him during the riot were ordered by Defendant White to do so.

On June 2, 2009, Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint asserting five counts of violation of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983: Count I, violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights to Due Process; Count II, violation of his right to equal protection under the Constitution; Count III, violation of his right to "make and enforce contracts" under § 1981; and Count V, retaliation in violation of his First Amendment rights. (Dkt. No. 48.) Plaintiff's original complaint asserted similar claims. In a previous opinion, the Court ruled on a motion to dismiss filed by Defendants as to Plaintiff's original complaint. (Dkt. No. 38.) The Court granted the motion with respect to Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process and First Amendment retaliation claims for failure to state a claim, but denied the motion to dismiss with respect to Plaintiff's other claims, and gave Plaintiff the opportunity to amend his complaint. (Id.) Defendants again move for dismissal of the claims in Count I (Fourteenth Amendment), Count III (§ 1981), and Count V (First Amendment) of the complaint on the basis of qualified immunity and/or for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1

II. Analysis

In an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must show that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Id. On a motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007). "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 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Id. A complaint must contain sufficient facts "to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "This plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

"Qualified immunity protects government officials performing discretionary functions unless their conduct violates a clearly established statutory or constitutional right of which a reasonable person in the official's position would have known." Silberstein v. City of Dayton, 440 F.3d 306, 311 (6th Cir. 2006). "'Once the qualified immunity defense is raised, the burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate that the officials are not entitled to qualified immunity.'" Maldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 375 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Silberstein, 440 F.3d at 311 (6th Cir. 2006)). In resolving a qualified immunity claim on a motion to dismiss, first the "court must decide whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged . . . make out a violation of a constitutional right." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. ---, 129 S.Ct. 808, 816 (2009). "[I]f the plaintiff has satisfied this first step, the court must decide whether the right at issue was 'clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct." Id. The defense of qualified immunity does not require a plaintiff to satisfy a heightened pleading standard. Goad v. Mitchell, 297 F.3d 497, 503 (6th Cir. 2002). However, "[u]nless the plaintiff's allegations state a claim of violation of clearly established law, a defendant pleading qualified immunity is entitled to dismissal before the commencement of discovery." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985).

A. Failure to State a Claim (Counts I, V)

1. Procedural Due Process (Count I)

In Count I of the amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants decided to admit inmates of a higher security level to the OCF Facility without providing a hearing to the corrections officers to discuss the changes, in violation of his right to due process. (Dkt. No. 48, 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 59.) Plaintiff alleges:

[T]he employee handbook and security unit agreement created a liberty interest in a safe workplace . . . as well as a property interest in a safe and secure workplace and/or employment with adequate staffing.

Furthermore, the upper command told employees . . . that their specific job location and shift would not be changed in or around early 2005. (Id. at ¶¶ 53-54.)

Plaintiff's procedural due process claim fails because, accepting all of the facts in the complaint as true, he has not alleged the deprivation of an interest that is protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As the Court indicated in its opinion on the first motion to dismiss, the conditions of Plaintiff's workplace are not property interests protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Alexander v. City of Toledo, No. 99-3875, 2000 WL 1871693, at *4 (6th Cir. Dec. 13, 2000) (unpublished) ("'Disputes over overtime, over work assignments, over ...


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