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Peterson v. Burris

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

February 6, 2017

ROCKY BURRIS, et al., Defendants.

          Elizabeth A. Stafford Magistrate Judge.


          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON United States District Judge.

         On July 31, 2014, Plaintiff Angel Peterson, a Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”) prisoner proceeding pro se filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Rocky Burris, Michigan State Industries, and Millicent Warren, alleging numerous violations of state and federal law arising out of the termination of her employment with the prison dental lab. On December 4, 2014 Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Peterson had failed to state claims upon which relief could be granted. See ECF No. 22. That motion was granted in part and denied in part on June 17, 2015. See ECF No. 42. Her claims for deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment and equal protection violations under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments survived that order, as did her state law claims.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on March 21, 2016. See ECF No. 72. In response, Plaintiff moved to amend her complaint. See ECF No. 79. On January 4, 2017 Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford issued her report and recommendation, recommending that Defendant's motion be granted, Plaintiff's request for leave to amend be denied, and Plaintiff's claims be dismissed with prejudice.


         In her original complaint Plaintiff Peterson alleges that, during her confinement by the MDOC, she held the lead position in the processing department of Michigan State Industries (“MSI”) Dental Lab for over a year. On January 2, 2012 she was allegedly demoted and reassigned to the Set-Up Department. Her immediate supervisor, Defendant Rocky Burris, informed her that she was being reassigned because she was “not getting along with anyone.” Plaintiff alleges that a fellow inmate, Vincincia, informed Plaintiff that she had made a personal request to Defendant Burris to have Plaintiff reassigned. Plaintiff alleges that Inmate Vincincia's complaints also led to the demotion and reassignment of a fellow inmate named Jones.


         Following her demotion, Plaintiff alleges that on January 9, 2012 Inmate Vincincia offered Plaintiff and fellow inmates parts that were stolen from the Prison's education department while Defendant Burris was out to lunch. After Peterson allegedly refused to accept the stolen equipment, Inmate Vincincia raised her hand as if to hit Peterson but did not actually hit Peterson. Peterson reported the incident to Burris when he returned. Instead of punishing the inmate, Peterson claims that Burris told her that “You get under people's skin.” Peterson claims that Burris did not punish the other inmate due to their “overfamiliarization”.

         Plaintiff alleges that in March of 2012 Defendant Burris wrote her the first of three improper counseling memos. The first memo reprimanded her for arguing with a coworker on a day that Burris had been out on sick leave: “In other words, Mr. Burris was not present when this alleged argument happened.” Indeed, Peterson claims that the argument never took place, and therefore she was improperly reprimanded. On May 30, 2012 Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding her demotion and pay reduction, arguing that a fellow inmate named Lemon was treated differently in that she was demoted but continued to receive the higher pay rate. Plaintiff also grieved the stolen equipment incident and her first counseling memo. Plaintiff's grievance was denied on June 14, 2012.

         While the grievance appeal was pending, on August 20, 2012 Peterson received another counseling memo for leaving a critical tool out. Although Peterson asserts that it was unintentional, she concedes that this second counseling memo was valid.

         On August 27, 2012, Peterson received a third counseling memo for having a “poor attitude.” During a particularly heavy rain, a hole in the MSI Dental Lab ceiling began leaking. According to Peterson “[t]he conditions were so poor that some of the electricity to the lighting was disconnected in order to prevent electrocution or any other accidents that could have occurred because of the extreme leaking.” Compl. 7. Despite the danger, Burris did not allow Peterson to move to another area. Instead, he permitted Peterson to move to a different seat within the same area. Peterson, however, “was reluctant to move . . . for two (2) reasons: 1) She was in possession of a critical tool . . . 2) The plaintiff's negative history with Mr. Burris . . . .” Compl. 7. As a result of Peterson's reluctance to move seats, Burris wrote the third and final counseling memo stating that Peterson had a “bad attitude.” Burris then terminated Peterson's employment.

         Peterson then filed additional grievances and appeals, all of which were rejected. She claims that despite exhausting all her administrative remedies, Defendants “have violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights by failing to address valid concerns that include but are not limited to Mr. Burris' ill will and retaliation against the plaintiff for questioning and reporting the deplorable work conditions, which ultimately resulted in the plaintiff being wrongfully terminated from employment in the MSI Dental Lab.” Compl. 9.


         On July 31, 2014, Peterson filed suit in this Court, raising six claims: (1) Deliberate Indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment; (2) Equal Protection in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; (3) Libel and Slander under Michigan law; (4) Religious Discrimination in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (“RLUIPA”); (5) Sexual Harassment in violation of federal and state law; and (6) Procedural Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment. On November 17, 2014, Peterson filed an “Amended Complaint” that added two Defendants to the litigation: Michigan State Industries and ...

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