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Hartsfield v. Stelma

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

November 16, 2016

NAPOLEON HARTSFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
LARRY STELMA et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         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.[1] 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 for failure to state a claim.

         Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff currently is on parole, but the events giving rise to his action occurred while he was a pre-trial detainee at the Kent Court Jail in May and June of 2015. In his pro se complaint, Plaintiff sues Kent County, Sheriff Larry Stelma, Deputy D. Signs, Sergeant (unknown) Frederick and Lieutenant (unknown) Kraai.

         Plaintiff alleges that while he was sitting at a table talking to another prisoner about filing a lawsuit against the jail concerning medical care, Defendant Signs told him, “go lock down, you can't talk to other inmates about the law and be (5) five at a table.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.5.) Signs locked Plaintiff in his cell for three days without writing a misconduct report, which prompted Plaintiff to write a grievance against him. On May 28, 2015, Signs locked Plaintiff in his cell because Plaintiff refused to follow the jail's policy of having inmates clean the windows. Plaintiff claims that Signs locked him in his cell nine separate time for three consecutive days because Plaintiff would not clean the jail. Plaintiff contends that requiring him to assist with cleaning the jail constituted involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment.

         Plaintiff claims that while he was sleeping in his cell on June 1, 2015, Defendant Signs kicked his cell door very hard and yelled to ask Plaintiff whether he wanted his medication. Plaintiff just looked up at Signs and went back to sleep. Signs allegedly called Plaintiff a “nigger” and stated that Plaintiff would be “timed in” for the rest of the day. (Id.) Plaintiff told Signs that he was going to grieve him. Later that day, Signs told Plaintiff over his cell intercom to “pack your shit Hartsfield cause if I do it you're not going to like it.” (Id. at 6.) Defendant Signs, who was holding a can of mace, and two other deputies opened Plaintiff's cell door and told him to come out. Plaintiff alleges, “There were no supervisors present, therefore giving Deputy D. Signs the mace allowed him to retaliate and to carry out his threats.” (Id.) Plaintiff was handcuffed and taken to the Disciplinary Restrictive Unit (DRU). After Plaintiff informed staff that he was contemplating suicide, he was placed in a suicide observation cell. Plaintiff alleges that the conditions in the suicide cell were very restrictive, e.g., “lights on 24 hours a day, no exercise out of cell or sun shine, no showers, no phone, no visits, no change of underwear, no law library . . . .” (Id. at 7.) The conditions were the same in the DRU cell where Plaintiff was placed for 10 days after his release from the observation cell.

         On June 2, 2015, Defendant Frederick held a hearing on a major rule violation charge that Defendant Signs had written against Plaintiff on June 1 for hindering, opposing or interfering with a staff member. Plaintiff claims that Frederick violated his due process rights by not providing Plaintiff with a copy of the rule violation or the findings of fact to support her finding of guilt. Plaintiff was sanctioned with 10 days of lock down. Defendant Kraai denied Plaintiff's appeal. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants Stelma and Kent County have a policy or custom of denying inmates written notice of rules violations and findings of fact.

         The following day, Plaintiff received his legal property that had been packed up by Defendant Signs. Plaintiff alleges that some of his legal property was missing, including 24 civil rights complaint forms that Plaintiff planned to use to file a lawsuit against medical staff at the jail. Plaintiff further alleges that, because Signs destroyed his legal papers, he could not represent himself in his criminal case and had to plead guilty to possession of drugs with intent to deliver instead of filing a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, as well as monetary damages.

         Discussion

         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); Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994).

         I. Cell Confinement and Conditions

          Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Signs locked him in his cell ten separate times for three consecutive days without charging him with a misconduct or otherwise providing him with due process. Plaintiff further claims that, after he informed staff that he was contemplating suicide, he was placed in a suicide observation cell with very restrictive conditions, e.g., “lights on 24 hours a day, no exercise out of cell or sun shine, no showers, no phone, no visits, no change of underwear, no law library . . . .” (Id. at 7.) The conditions were the same in the DRU cell where Plaintiff was held for 10 days after his release from the observation cell.

         “The Fourteenth Amendment protects an individual from deprivation of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” Bazetta v. McGinnis, 430 F.3d 795, 801 (6th Cir. 2005). To establish a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process violation, a plaintiff must show that one of these interests is at stake. Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005). Analysis of a procedural due process claim involves two steps: “[T]he first asks whether there exists a liberty or property interest which has been interfered with by the State; the second examines whether the procedures attendant upon that deprivation were constitutionally sufficient.” Ky. Dep't of Corr. v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 460 (1989). ...


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