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Espree v. Burt

United States District Court, Western District of Michigan, Southern Division

January 9, 2015

SHERRY L. BURT et al., Defendants.



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, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim against Defendants Burt, Winger, and the unknown Records Office Supervisor. The Court will serve the complaint against Defendant Mack.


I. Factual allegations

Plaintiff, Antonio Espree, presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Kinross Correctional Facility (KCF), though the actions about which he complains occurred while he was housed at the Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF). He sues the following MCF officials: Warden Sherry L. Burt; Resident Unit Manager Jeanine Winger; Classification Director (unknown) Mack; and the unknown Records Office Supervisor.

Plaintiff alleges that, in March 2014, he was housed in the Warden Honor Unit at MCF, which was a special housing unit established in February 2013 for prisoners who had displayed good institutional behavior. Prisoners who were approved for placement in the unit received a number of additional privileges, including extended late-night power, extended kitchen and day-room hours, organized games, extra microwaves, toasters and ironing boards, and extra movie nights. They also could choose the person with whom they shared a cell. (See Compl., docket #1, Page ID#14; Ex. H to Compl., docket #1-9, Page ID#57.)

Plaintiff worked as a clerk until March 20, 2014, when he was advised by Officer Jenkins that Defendant Mack had instructed Jenkins to reclassify Plaintiff, because he had not successfully passed the TABE test.[1] Plaintiff had worked as a clerk at other MDOC prisons without passing the test, and he claimed that the requirement violated MDOC policy directive 05.01.100. Officer Jenkins recommended that Plaintiff write to Defendant Burt, because Defendant Mack was imposing an inappropriate burden on Plaintiff. Plaintiff wrote Defendant Burt that day, complaining that he had been required to take the TABE test on two occasions, in order to be classified as a general clerk. He asserted that such testing was not required under the policy for inmates wishing to work in clerk positions. He also alleged that Defendant Mack had denied him a chance to review the materials or prepare for the test. Plaintiff filed a grievance against Defendant Mack on March 20, 2014, alleging that Mack had violated the prison policy.

On April 14, 2014, Plaintiff was called to Unit 3, where Defendant Winger reviewed Plaintiff’s grievance. Winger told Plaintiff that she had researched the policy directives and the Programs Classification Manual, and she had spoken to Deputy Warden Shane Jackson. Winger reported that she could not find any requirement that Plaintiff needed to be TABE-tested in order to work as a general clerk. Defendant Winger admitted that Defendant Mack had acted in violation of the policy. Winger told Plaintiff, “I am sorry and we are going to get this right[.”] (Compl., docket #1, Page ID#9). She asked Plaintiff if he wanted to work as a clerk in any specific area. She also asked Plaintiff about the other clerk positions he had held at prior prisons, and the name of his last supervisor. Plaintiff responded that he had worked as an Officer’s Clerk and Classification Director Clerk at the Newberry Correctional Facility. At the end of the interview, Defendant Winger found that Plaintiff’s grievance was meritorious and ruled that Plaintiff would not be required to take the TABE test for any clerk position other than as a tutor. She told Plaintiff, “I am going to get you a job as a clerk. . . . I am walking over to Defendant Mack[’s] office to speak with her after I process your Step I Response on my computer[.”] (Id.)

On April 24, 204, Defendant Winger called Plaintiff’s housing unit and spoke with Officer Thiel. Defendant Winger asked Thiel to call Plaintiff to the desk. When Plaintiff arrived, Winger asked Thiel to ask Plaintiff where he wanted to work as a clerk. Plaintiff responded, “I want[] any clerk position open, and d[o] not have a preference.” Defendant Winger then told Plaintiff that “he could go by Unit Officer Thiel.” (Id. at 10.) The following day, Winger approved a Security Classification Screen-Review for Plaintiff. The review scored Plaintiff’s confinement level at II and management level at I, and calculated his true security level at Level II.[2] The review showed that Plaintiff had no unfavorable conduct points and 18 favorable conduct points, resulting in a score of “0, ” which was the lowest (best) possible score he could have received. Winger’s review resulted in the same score Plaintiff received from his prior review on March 12, 2013.

On April 29, 2014, Officer Thiel ordered Plaintiff to pack up, because he was going to be transferred in the morning. Plaintiff was sent to KCF in the Upper Peninsula. Plaintiff alleges that the transfer prevents his family from visiting and prevents him from working with his lawyers on a challenge to his life sentence based on the fact that he was 16 at the time of the murder for which he was convicted.

Plaintiff claims that Defendants transferred him in retaliation for Plaintiff’s having filed a grievance on Classification Director Mack, in violation of MDOC policy and the First Amendment. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, together with compensatory and punitive damages.

II. Failure to state a claim

A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement, ’ . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]’ – that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). Because ยง 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under ...

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