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Bailey v. Michigan Department of Corrections

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

January 26, 2017




         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, and Plaintiff will pay the initial partial filing fee when funds are available. 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 on immunity grounds and for failure to state a claim.

         Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff presently is incarcerated at the Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility (AMF). In his pro se complaint, Plaintiff sues the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC); Director Heidi Washington; Blue Cross Blue Shield; Corizon Health Services; the MDOC Hearings Division; Hearing Officers Thomas O. Mohrman and Unknown O'Brien; and unknown parties.[1]

         Plaintiff's complaint concerns the restitution that he was ordered to pay as a sanction for two separate Class I misconduct findings of guilt. The first incident occurred on November 2, 2013, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Carson City Correctional Facility in Carson City, Michigan. Plaintiff was involved in a fight involving at least two other inmates. He received “several lumps around his facial area.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.4.) The health services nurse thought Plaintiff's jaw was broken. Despite Plaintiff's assurance that he was fine and against Plaintiff's wishes, he was taken to Carson City Hospital and given an examination, IV drugs, and multiple CT scans. (Id.; hospital bill, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.26.) The scan confirmed Plaintiff's jaw was not broken and he was sent back to the facility.

         Plaintiff was charged with a Class I misconduct violation for fighting. Plaintiff was provided notice that there would be a hearing on the misconduct report. Defendant Hearing Officer Thomas O. Mohrman conducted the hearing on November 7, 2013. The misconduct report was read to Plaintiff. He pleaded not guilty. The other two prisoners pleaded guilty. Defendant Mohrman heard testimony from Plaintiff and MDOC personnel. Defendant Mohrman reviewed videos of the incident. Defendant Mohrman found Plaintiff guilty and imposed the following sanctions: 14 days of detention, 21 days loss of privileges, and restitution in the amount of $1, 778.53, one-third of Plaintiff's medical expenses. (Class I Misconduct Hr'g Report, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.28.)

         The second incident occurred on September 11, 2016, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at the St. Louis Correctional Facility in St. Louis, Michigan. Plaintiff hit another prisoner in the face with a broken broom handle. Defendant Hearing Officer Unknown O'Brien conducted a hearing on September 19, 2016. Plaintiff pleaded not guilty. Defendant O'Brien's report indicates that the misconduct report and the investigation report were read to Plaintiff. Defendant O'Brien watched the video and listened to Plaintiff's side of the story, but found Plaintiff guilty on both charges. Defendant O'Brien imposed sanctions of 20 days detention, 30 days loss of privileges, and $2, 399.00 in restitution for the hospital charges incurred in treating the other prisoner. (Class I Misconduct Hr'g Report, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.29-30.)

         Plaintiff alleges that the two restitution orders are recorded as a debt on his trust account. He is never permitted to accumulate more than $11.00 in his account. Any excess is taken from him in payment of his restitution debt. As a result he is denied the ability to enjoy the fruits of his prison labor by purchasing items to improve the quality of his life.

         Although Plaintiff acknowledges he was provided notice of the misconduct hearings, he contends that he was never provided notice that the MDOC would seek restitution from him. Moreover, Plaintiff argues that the MDOC is not actually out any money because the expenses of care are covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield or Corizon Health Services. Plaintiff's central contention, however, is that he has been deprived of his property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. He purports to bring these claims on his behalf and on behalf of the class of prisoners who are similarly situated. He seeks monetary damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.


         I. Class certification

         Plaintiff has entitled his complaint as a class action, which the Court construes as a request for class certification. For a case to proceed as a class action, the court must be satisfied on a number of grounds, including the adequacy of class representation. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a)(4). It is well established that pro se litigants are inappropriate representatives of the interests of others. See Garrison v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., 333 F. App'x 914, 919 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Oxendine v. Williams, 509 F.2d 1405, 1407 (4th Cir. 1975)); see also Dodson v. Wilkinson, 304 F. App'x 434, 438 (6th Cir. 2008); Ziegler v. Michigan, 59 F. App'x 622, 624 (6th Cir. 2003); Palasty v. Hawk, 15 F. App'x 197, 200 (6th Cir. 2001); Howard v. Dougan, No. 99-2232, 2000 WL 876770, at *1 (6th Cir. June 23, 2000). Because Plaintiff is an incarcerated pro se litigant, the Court finds that he is not an appropriate representative of a class. Therefore, the Court will deny Plaintiff's request for class certification.

         II. Immunity

         A. Judicial Immunity

         Plaintiff sues Hearing Officers Mohrman and O'Brien[2] for ordering him to pay restitution. Defendants are hearing officers whose duties are set forth at Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.251 through § 791.255. Hearing officers are required to be attorneys and are under the direction and supervision of a special hearing division in the Michigan Department of Corrections. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.251(e)(6). Their adjudicatory functions are set out in the statute, and their decisions must be in writing and must include findings of facts and, where appropriate, the sanction imposed. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.252(k). There are provisions for rehearings, see Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.254, as well as for judicial review in the Michigan courts, see Mich. Comp. Laws § 791.255(2). Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit has held that Michigan hearing officers are professionals in the nature of administrative law judges. See Shelly v. Johnson, 849 F.2d 228, 230 (6th Cir. 1988). As such, they are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from inmates' § 1983 suits for actions taken in their capacities as hearing officers. Id.; see also Barber v. Overton, 496 F.3d 449, 452 (6th Cir. 2007); Dixon v. Clem, 492 F.3d 665, 674 (6th Cir. 2007); cf. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554-55 (1967) (judicial immunity applies to actions under § 1983 to recover for alleged deprivation of civil rights). Because Defendant Mohrman and O'Brien are entitled to immunity, Plaintiff may not maintain an action against them for monetary damages.[3]

         B. Sovereign immunity

         Plaintiff may not maintain a § 1983 action against the Michigan Department of Corrections or its Hearings Division. Regardless of the form of relief requested, the states and their departments are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from suit in the federal courts, unless the state has waived immunity or Congress has expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-101 (1984); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978); O'Hara v. Wigginton, 24 F.3d 823, 826 (6th Cir. 1993). Congress has not expressly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity by statute, Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979), and the State of Michigan has not consented to civil rights suits in federal court. Abick v. Michigan, 803 F.2d 874, 877 (6th Cir. 1986). In numerous unpublished opinions, the Sixth Circuit has specifically held that the MDOC is absolutely immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. See, e.g., McCoy v. Michigan, 369 F. App'x 646, 653-54 (6th Cir. 2010); Turnboe v. Stegall, No. 00-1182, 2000 WL1679478, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 1, 2000). In addition, the State of Michigan (acting through the Michigan Department of Corrections and its ...

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