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Peterson v. County of Monroe

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

March 27, 2015

COUNTY OF MONROE, et al., Defendants.




Plaintiff Bradley T. Peterson, proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights case against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Compl. (Dkt. 1). The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge David R. Grand for all pretrial proceedings. See Order of Referral (Dkt. 6). The Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (Dkt. 20), recommending that Defendants’ motions to dismiss (Dkts. 10, 11) be granted, and that Plaintiff’s Complaint be dismissed. Plaintiff filed objections to the Magistrate Judge’s R&R (Dkt. 21). To date, Defendants have not filed a response. The Court reviews de novo any portion of the R&R to which specific objections are filed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). For the reasons discussed below, the Court accepts the recommendation contained in the R&R, grants Defendants’ motions to dismiss, and dismisses Plaintiff’s Complaint without prejudice.[1]


A. Plaintiff’s Objections

Plaintiff’s objections are difficult to understand, containing scattered statements of facts and vaguely stated legal conclusions. He first provides some factual background, Obj. at 2-4, and then discusses an earlier action he had filed before this Court, Peterson v. County of Monroe, et al., No. 12-cv-11460, in which Plaintiff alleged that Defendants Monroe County and Tim Lee (Defendants in the present action), Julie Massengill, and Ramona Tally subjected Plaintiff to physical abuse, both directly and indirectly, and then were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff’s medical needs resulting from the abuse. Id. at 5-6; see also Peterson, No. 12-cv-11460, Compl. (Dkt. 1). As noted by Plaintiff, that action was previously dismissed on a defense motion for summary judgment. See Peterson, No. 12-cv-11460, 3/28/2014 Op. & Order (Dkt. 56). Plaintiff then describes the current action, reciting assertions that Defendants failed to investigate Plaintiff’s former complaints that Defendants rewarded Michael Green for threatening Plaintiff with a loaded shotgun, in retaliation for Plaintiff’s earlier complaints against Defendants. Obj. at 7. Finally, Plaintiff addresses each of the grounds on which the Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal. Plaintiff first objects that the evidence showed that Defendants provided Green with favorable treatment in retaliation for Plaintiff’s earlier complaints against Defendants. Id. at 8. Plaintiff also adds that he is Native American and deserves the equal protection of the laws. Id. Plaintiff’s second objection appears to assert that, notwithstanding Defendants’ positions of authority and their obligation to protect citizens’ rights under the Constitution, Defendants have failed to investigate Plaintiff’s complaints with respect to the favorable treatment allegedly bestowed upon Green. Id. at 9.

B. Discussion

As the R&R recognized, a motion to dismiss tests a complaint’s legal sufficiency. “[C]ourts [are] to construe pleading[s] liberally within the standards of the notice-pleading regime mandated by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Minger v. Green, 239 F.3d 793, 799 (6th Cir. 2001). Courts must “not rely solely on labels, ” but “probe deeper and examine the substance of the complaint.” Id. However, the complaint must contain “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While a court must construe all factual allegations in the complaint as true, the same courtesy is not extended to bare legal conclusions, even where such conclusions are couched as factual allegations. Id. Moreover, the complaint’s factual allegations must give rise to a “plausible claim for relief.” Id. at 679. “[A]llegations of a complaint drafted by a pro se litigant are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers in the sense that a pro se complaint will be liberally construed in determining whether it fails to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991).

The R&R interpreted Plaintiff’s Complaint as alleging violations of the Equal Protection Clause. R&R at 5-6. Plaintiff’s Complaint is sixty pages long and is, as the Magistrate Judge noted, difficult to understand. Because Plaintiff does not take issue with the Magistrate Judge’s characterization of Plaintiff’s claim as arising under the Equal Protection Clause, the Court will evaluate Plaintiff’s claims under equal-protection standards. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits discrimination by the government that “‘burdens a fundamental right, targets a suspect class, or intentionally treats one differently than others similarly situated without any rational basis for the difference.’” Loesel v. City of Frankenmuth, 692 F.3d 452, 461 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Rondigo, L.L.C. v. Twp. of Richmond, 641 F.3d 673, 681-682 (6th Cir. 2011)).

1. First Objection

Plaintiff’s first objection is that the evidence showed that Green received favorable treatment from prison officials “out of hatred, discrimination, [and] prejudice” against Plaintiff, as a result of Plaintiff’s earlier lawsuit. Obj. at 8. Thus, Plaintiff appears to be claiming that prison officials treated Green differently than they treated Plaintiff, and that the difference in treatment was grounded in animus toward Plaintiff. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claim appears to be a “class-of-one” theory, where a plaintiff claims to “[have] been intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment.” Davis v. Prison Health Servs., 679 F.3d 433, 441 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The hallmark of a class-of-one claim is “the allegation of arbitrary or malicious treatment not based on membership in a disfavored class.” Id. (quoting Aldridge v. City of Memphis, 404 F. App’x 29, 42 (6th Cir. 2010)).

However, under the facts of this case, Plaintiff does not allege that he was singled out for adverse treatment by government officials; he alleges, instead that Green was singled out for preferential treatment because of the prison staff’s personal animus toward Plaintiff.[2] According to Plaintiff, this preferential treatment was in the form of “high-fives, slap[s] on [the] back, hand shakes [sic], [and] extra food and blankets.” Compl. at 3-4; Obj. at 8. The Court identifies three problems with Plaintiff’s class-of-one claim, each of which independently warrants dismissal.

First, Plaintiff’s allegations of the preferential treatment are vague and do not establish a plausible claim for relief. Plaintiff fails to develop his allegations that Green received extra food and blankets, and thus fails to identify “specific factual allegations of disparate treatment.” Raymond v. O’Connor, 526 F. App’x 526, 530 (6th Cir. 2013).

Second, Plaintiff does not demonstrate that the difference in treatment is of constitutional significance. It is axiomatic that “the Equal Protection Clause does not require identical treatment.” Glover v. Johnson, 198 F.3d 557, 562-563 (6th Cir. 1999) (recognizing that differences in the number of vocational programs available to male and female prison inmates and a limitation of full-time programs only to male inmates do not amount to an equal-protection claim). Not every disparity is one of “constitutional magnitude.” Id. Even taking as true that Green did receive extra food or blankets from ...

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