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Burke v. Lawrence

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

January 10, 2017

ELIJAH BURKE, Plaintiff,
v.
D. LAWRENCE, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney, 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. 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 Elijah Burke presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Lakeland Correctional Facility (LCF). He sues LCF Assistant Food Service Director D. Lawrence.

         In 2011, Plaintiff filed an action against Defendant Lawrence and three other defendants, alleging that the defendants conspired against him, deprived him of due process, removed him from his food-service job as retaliation for exercise of his First Amendment rights, and committed the state torts of intentional infliction of emotional distress and gross negligence. See Burke v. Lawrence et al., No. 1:11-cv-1044 (W.D. Mich.). The Court initially dismissed the action for failure to state a claim. The Sixth Circuit subsequently upheld the Court's dismissal of all claims except the retaliation claim. The Court thereafter dismissed all defendants except D. Lawrence, and the retaliation claim went to trial on January 12, 2015. The jury found for Defendant Lawrence on January 13, 2015, and the Court entered a judgment in Defendant Lawrence's favor on January 14, 2015.

         In the instant complaint, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Lawrence slandered him during his in-court testimony on January 13, 2015. For relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         Discussion

         I. 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); 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).

         Absolute witness immunity bars a claim that is based on a defendant testifying in a prior judicial proceeding. Spurlock v. Satterfield, 167 F.3d 995, 1001 (6th Cir. 1999) (“It is well-settled that witnesses are granted absolute immunity from suit for all testimony provided in judicial proceedings.”); accord Hinchman v. Moore, 312 F.3d 198, 205 (6th Cir. 2002). As a result, because Plaintiff seeks to challenge Lawrence's representations made in a federal court proceeding, his damages claim is barred by absolute witness immunity. Because Plaintiff's only claim is barred by absolute witness immunity, his complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         Conclusion

         Having conducted the review required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the Court determines that Plaintiff's action will be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b), and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c).

         The Court must next decide whether an appeal of this action would be in good faith within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3). See McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 611 (6th Cir. 1997). For the same reasons that the Court dismisses the action, the Court discerns no good-faith basis for an appeal. Should Plaintiff appeal this decision, the Court will assess the $505.00 appellate filing fee pursuant to § 1915(b)(1), see McGore, 114 F.3d at 610-11, unless Plaintiff is barred from proceeding in forma pauperis, e.g., by ...


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