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Snelling v. Smith

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

November 3, 2016

W.O. SMITH et al., Defendants.


          Janet T. Neff United States District Judge

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The Court conducted an initial review of Plaintiff's complaint under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996). Based on that review, the Court dismissed 33 of the 37 Defendants named in Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim. (Opinion and Order, ECF No. 11, 12.) The Court ordered the complaint to be served against the remaining four Defendants: Defendants Leitheim, Jensen, Conner, and Strambaugh. (Id.) In response to the Court's Opinion and Order, Plaintiff moved to amend his complaint. (ECF No. 13.) The Court permitted the amendment. (Order, ECF No. 14.) Plaintiff filed his amended complaint on September 29, 2016. (ECF No. 21.)

         The amended complaint is now before the Court for review under the PLRA. 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 the se standards, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim against Defendants Smith, Shiebner, Christiansen, Miniard, Lewis, Thurlby, Powell, Hammond, Lemke, Dunn, Downing, Watkins, Kotowicz, Martens, Hall, Howard, Bledsoe, Salina, Thomas, Doolittle, Zukon, Duitsman, Daugherty, Mote, Fornwalt, Drabek, Edwards, Conklin, Davis, Desroaches, Salinas, Vanamburg, Salame, Way, Simon, Wellman, Burns, Wilson, Merren, Helder, Horford, Nielsen, Fraulick, Floyd, Greene, Chellium, Scott, Corbett, Davids, D. Robinson, Morris, Russell, M. Robinson and Feliciono.[1] The Court will serve the amended complaint against Defendants Leitheim, Jensen, Conner, and Strambaugh.


         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is currently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Marquette Branch Prison (MBP). Prior to his detention at MBP, he was housed at the Ionia Correctional Facility (ICF). Prior to Plaintiff's detention at ICF, he was housed at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility (IBC). Plaintiff sues four Defendants from IBC: Deputy Warden J. Davids; Residential Unit Manager (unknown) Mote; and Grievance Coordinators D. Robinson and M. Robinson. Plaintiff also sues many Defendants who are MDOC employees at ICF: Warden W. O. Smith; Deputy Wardens (unknown) Shiebner and J. Christiansen; Resident Unit Manager G. Miniard; Assistant Residential Unit Supervisors L. Thurlby, H. Powell, and J. Fornwalt; Grievance Coordinator C. Lewis; Lieutenant D. Howard; Lieutenants (unknown) Drabek and Edwards; Sergeants (unknown) Leitheim, (unknown) Conklin, (unknown) Davis, (unknown) Desroaches, (unknown) Salinas, and (unknown) Bledsoe; Corrections Officers (unknown) Hammond, (unknown) Lemke, (unknown) Vanamburg, (unknown) Salame, P. Jensen, (unknown) Downing, (unknown) Conner, (unknown) Strambaugh, (unknown) Watkins, (unknown) Way, (unknown) Dunn, (unknown) Simon, (unknown) Wellman, (unknown) Burns, (unknown) Hall, (unknown) Wilson, (unknown) Merren, (unknown) Helder, (unknown) Horford, (unknown) Nielsen, (unknown) Fraulick, (unknown) Floyd, (unknown) Greene, (unknown) Chellium, (unknown) Scott, (unknown) Corbett, (unknown) Martens, and (unknown) Kotowicz; Registered Nurses (unknown) Thomas and (unknown) Doolittle; Librarian P. Zukon; Food Service Director (unknown) Daugherty; Hearing Investigator (unknown) Duitsman; and Hearing Officer S. Morris.

         Plaintiff also sues one Defendant from MBP: Librarian (unknown) Feliciono. Finally, Plaintiff sues MDOC Grievance Manager R. Russell. Each Defendant is sued in his or her official and personal capacity.

         Plaintiff's amended complaint purports to raise four claims: Count I, retaliation for for Plaintiff's protected conduct of filing civil suits against the MDOC; Count II, excessive force; Count III, exhaustion of administrative remedies misled obstructed by prison staff; and Count IV, cruel and unusual punishment. (Am. Comp., ECF No. 21, PageID.99-100.) Although those are the only numbered claims, Plaintiff also references First Amendment violations such as denial of access to the law library and religious services as well as due process violations. (Id.)

         The amended complaint contains only conclusory allegations of the elements of each claim without specifying the underlying factual detail or identifying what claims are raised against which Defendant. That deficiency is addressed to a certain extent on three pages of Plaintiff's amended complaint where he lists each Defendant by last name and includes a phrase, typically three to ten words, that explains each Defendant's “Personal Involvement.” (ECF No. 21, PageID.100-102.) By way of example, the personal involvement of the first six Defendants is described as follows:

W.O. Smith-In charge of Defendants made threats directly to plaintiff on 8-1-16 Shiebner-Deputy Warden brought complaints directly to for resolve violated rights J. Christiansen-was directly responsible for immediate const. violations repeatedly G. Miniard-was in acts with Christiansen directly involved in several acts v plaintiff C. Lewis-MAIN issue is refusal of “exhaustion of Adm remedies” as most G.C. fabricate L. Thurlby-several acts within seg. refusal to mail legal mail and const. violations

(Am. Compl., ECF No. 21, PageID.100.)

         Whether standing alone or combined with the conclusory allegations in the Statement of Claim, Plaintiff's cryptic “Personal Involvement” phrases do not provide sufficient detail to the Defendants to give notice of the claim each Defendant must defend against. See Section II, infra.

         The Court identified the same pleading deficiency in Plaintiff's initial complaint. Rather than correcting the problem in his amended complaint, Plaintiff simply employed the same insufficient allegations against dozens of new Defendants.

         When Plaintiff filed his initial complaint (ECF No. 1), he also filed a document entitled Memorandum of Support for Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 2). Plaintiff's Memorandum provides some additional detail to permit a more meaningful assessment of Plaintiff's claims. It was the detail provided in the Memorandum that permitted some of Plaintiff's claims to survive initial review under the PLRA. Although the initial complaint has been displaced by Plaintiff's amended complaint, [2] the Court will consider Plaintiff's Memorandum as part of the amended complaint as well. However, the Court will consider Plaintiff's Memorandum only with regard to the claims raised in the amended complaint against the Defendants identified in the amended complaint.[3]

         Plaintiff's amended complaint covers the period beginning in November of 2015 through his current placement at MBP in 2016. Plaintiff was detained at IBC at the beginning of the period. He contends that Warden Trierweiler and Defendants Davids and Mote increased Plaintiff's security level in retaliation for Plaintiff's lawsuits against IBC staff. That allegedly retaliatory action resulted in Plaintiff's transfer to ICF.[4]

         When Plaintiff arrived at ICF he claims he was subjected to inappropriate conditions of confinement, all in retaliation for the lawsuits and grievances he had filed. Specifically, Plaintiff contends he was placed in administrative segregation without hearing or justification; he was placed in a dirty cell; his property was withheld, broken or simply stolen; he was denied store privileges, shower privileges, yard privileges, laundry, clothing, bathroom facilities, a mattress, and appropriate food (he was denied meals, placed on food loaf, and provided different food than that given to prisoners at Level II); he was not permitted to send legal mail or access the law library; he was subjected to threats of violence; he was branded a snitch and put in jeopardy of harm from other prisoners; he was refused protective custody; denied medication; and denied access to religious services. Plaintiff contends that all of these “adverse actions” were in retaliation for his lawsuits and grievances against the Defendants or other MDOC personnel. Read liberally, Plaintiff's amended complaint also describes the “adverse actions” as cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

         Plaintiff also claims he was subjected to excessive force. Plaintiff notes that he was sprayed with a chemical agent without cause on April 27, 2016, by Defendant Leitheim. Plaintiff further claims that “staff” participated in the spraying and subsequent physical abuse, but he does not identify the staff members involved.

         Plaintiff complains that he was also subjected to excessive force on November 10, 2015, by Defendant Jensen. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Jensen, while removing Plaintiff's handcuffs through the food slot, forcefully ripped them off causing injury. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Downing was present, but he does not allege that Defendant Downing used excessive force.

         Plaintiff claims he suffered similar injuries on November 25, 2015. On that date, while removing Plaintiff's handcuffs through the food slot, Defendant Conner pulled Plaintiff's hands directly through the slot and Defendant Strambaugh forcefully bent Plaintiff's hands and wrists upward.

         Finally, Plaintiff claims that several Defendants fabricated misconduct charges against him, interfered with his use of the prison grievance system to exhaust his administrative remedies, and interfered with his access to the courts by preventing him ...

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