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Alexander v. Nurkala

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

January 10, 2017

UNKNOWN NURKALA, et al., Defendants.


          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, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim against Defendants Napel, Nurkala, Caron, Mohrman, Mohr, and Calzetta. The Court will serve the complaint against Defendants Huss, Govern, Viitala, and Leach with regard to Plaintiff's retaliation claims.


          I. Factual allegations

          Plaintiff Dandre Alexander, a state prisoner currently confined at the Macomb Correctional Facility, filed that pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Sergeant Unknown Nurkala, Warden Robert Napel, Deputy Warden Erica Huss, Grievance Coordinator Glen Caron, Assistant Resident Unit Supervisor Fred Govern, Resident Unit Manager Unknown Viitala, Assistant Resident Unit Supervisor Nicholas Calzetta, Hearing Officer Thomas O. Morhman, Hearing Investigator Unknown Mohr, and Corrections Officer Unknown Leach.

         Plaintiff alleges that in December of 2015, while he was confined at the Marquette Branch Prison (MBP), Defendant Leach subjected Plaintiff to various harassing conduct in retaliation for Plaintiff filing a grievance on one of Defendant Leach's co-workers. Plaintiff states that Defendant Leach tampered with his food on multiple occasions by crushing the contents of his snack bags and spitting in his tray. On December 15, 2015, Defendant Leach told Plaintiff that he was being subjected to harassment because he had written a grievance on Defendant Leach's co-worker, Gluesing. On one occasion, Defendant Leach stole Plaintiff's snack bag, stating “I hope you starve tonight nigger.” Defendant Leach also denied Plaintiff showers on multiple occasions.

         On December 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint with Defendant Napel. Plaintiff also notified Defendant Govern of Defendant Leach's retaliatory actions. Defendant Govern told Plaintiff that it was funny that he thought Defendant Govern would help him. Plaintiff had previously filed grievances on Defendant Govern. On December 17, 2015, Plaintiff notified Defendant Huss of Defendant Leach's threat to write a false misconduct on Plaintiff. Defendant Huss refused to investigate, stating that it was not her job to help him and that she knew Defendant Leach. On December 20, 2015, Plaintiff asked his neighbor Lorenzo Kilgore to generate a sworn declaration attesting that Defendant Leach had threatened to write a false misconduct ticket on Plaintiff. On December 21, 2015, Officer Smith escorted Plaintiff to the shower. While Plaintiff was away from his cell, Defendant Leach conducted a retaliatory cell search, messing up Plaintiff's cell, breaking his Sony ear buds, and taking Plaintiff's legal papers and grievances. On December 22, 2015, Defendant Leach threw a piece of paper meant for Plaintiff on the floor and stated, “Pick that shit up nigger!” On December 24, 2015, Defendant Leach wrote a false misconduct ticket on Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff claims that on December 30, 2015, Defendant Viitala told him that prison officials “all knew [Plaintiff] deserve everything bad that happens to [him].” Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Viitala was aware of Defendant Leach's retaliatory conduct, but failed to intervene. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Napel also failed to conduct an investigation into Plaintiff's grievances or to intervene on Plaintiff's behalf because of Plaintiff's prior complaints against him. Plaintiff states that Defendant Nurkala also knew of Plaintiff's situation, but failed to take any corrective action.

         Defendant Mohr conducted the investigation into the misconduct that had been written on Plaintiff by Defendant Leach and failed to obtain video footage of Defendant Leach tampering with Plaintiff's food and harassing Plaintiff. Defendant Mohr told Plaintiff that if he incriminated officers, no one would have his back if he were attacked by inmates. On January 6, 2016, Defendant Mohrman conducted a hearing on the misconduct and found Plaintiff guilty. See ECF No. 1-1, PageID.24. Plaintiff offers the affidavit of prisoner Joe W. Laird #454396, who attests that he overheard Defendant Mohrman during the hearing stating that he did not care what Plaintiff had to say and ordering Plaintiff to leave. See ECF No. 1-1, PageID.26. Plaintiff also offers the affidavit of prisoner Hersey #273259, who attests that he overheard Defendant Morhman talking to Defendant Calzetta. According to Hersey, Defendant Calzetta said that he was close friends with Defendant Leach and asked Defendant Mohrman to find Plaintiff guilty of the misconduct as a personal favor to Defendant Calzetta. Defendant Mohrman responded that he would sentence Plaintiff to 21 days loss of privileges if Defendant Calzetta bought him lunch for the next two days, and Defendant Calzetta agreed. See ECF No. 1-1, PageID.25.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Caron violated the grievance policy when he assigned Defendant Govern as a grievance respondent to a grievance that Plaintiff had written on Defendant Govern. In addition, Defendant Govern violated policy when he responded to the grievance.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as under state law. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

         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 § 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). Plaintiff claims that Defendant Leach retaliated against him in violation of the First Amendment. Retaliation based upon a prisoner's exercise of his or her constitutional rights violates the Constitution. See Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 394 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc). In order to set forth a First Amendment retaliation claim, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) he was engaged in protected conduct; (2) an adverse action was taken against him that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from engaging in that conduct; and (3) the adverse action was motivated, at least in part, by the protected conduct. Id. ...

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