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Powell v. Washington

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

February 28, 2017

HEIDI WASHINGTON et al., Defendants.


          Janet T. Neff 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 on grounds of immunity and for failure to state a claim.

         Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff Michael Leon Powell is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Oaks Correctional Facility (ECF) in Manistee, Michigan. The events of which he complains occurred at ECF and at the Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) in Kincheloe, Michigan, beginning on August 13, 2016, and continuing at least until January 18, 2017, the date he signed his complaint. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.20.)

         Plaintiff sues several MDOC officials: Director Heidi Washington; Deputy Director K. McKee; Assistant Mental Health Director Thomas Osier; and Hearings Officer Unknown Theut. Plaintiff sues several MDOC employees from URF: Warden Jeffrey Woods; Deputy Wardens Unknown Isard and Unknown Miller; Resident Unit Manager Unknown LaLounde; Psychologist Case Manager Unknown Chapman; and Area Resident Unit Supervisor Unknown Dunton. Plaintiff also sues several MDOC employees from ECF: Warden Thomas Mackie; Deputy Wardens Robert Sharp and Unknown Ball; Mental Health Unit Chief Brian Majercyzk; Psychologist Case Managers Carol Kenison and Unknown Mucha; Resident Unit Manager Unknown Thomas; Area Resident Unit Supervisor Larry Weaver; maintenance staff members Unknown Singleton and Unknown Bush; and Unit Officers Unknown Rademaker, Unknown Shelton, Unknown Carney, and Unknown Blow. Plaintiff adds a catch-all category of ECF, URF, and MDOC employees who are unknown but were present at the time Plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated. Each Defendant is sued in his or her individual and official capacity.

         All of Plaintiff's claims arise out of a misconduct ticket written against him by Sergeant W. Henderson on August 13, 2016, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at URF. Plaintiff attached the misconduct report to his complaint. (Attach. A, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.24.) The report charges Plaintiff with Fighting and Possession of a Weapon. (Id.) Sergeant Henderson described the violation as follows:

On the above date and time, I saw prisoner Powell 484234 doing a slashing motion with his right hand at prisoner Jackson 622337 prisoner Jackson was throwing closed fist punches to prisoner Powell's head and torso a 5 3/4 piece of sharpened steel was recovered. Prisoner Jackson recived [sic] 3 stab wounds. ID by MDOC ID card. (Id.)

         Plaintiff's misconduct hearing was conducted by Defendant Theut on August 22, 2016. Plaintiff attaches the hearing report to his complaint and refers the Court to the misconduct report. Because his allegations regarding the content of the report are belied by the report itself, careful examination of the report is warranted.

         The report identifies the charges as Fighting and Possession of a Weapon. (Attach. A, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.23.) The report indicates that the misconduct report and hearing investigation were read to and discussed with Plaintiff. (Id.) In the section of the report titled “Evidence/Statements in Addition to Misconduct Report” Defendant Theut wrote:

Prisoner is present for the hearing and the misconduct report is reviewed with a statement from prisoner Powell 1 page, a statement regarding the video 1 page, prisoner is informed that the he[a]ring officer has viewed the vi[d]eo, a memo 1 page, a statement from Sgt. Henderson 1 page, four pictures 4 pages, a contraband removal record 1 page, a misconduct 1 page, a refusal 1 page, and a screening [form] 1 page. Prisoner states he is guilty of fighting but not guilty of the possession of a weapon and did not stab him and he had it [presumably the stab wounds] before he came out and declines further statement. A not guilty plea is entered on his behalf. No further evidence is requested or is necessary. Prisoner is informed of the decision and told that a copy of the hearing report would be delivered to him.

(Id.) The report continues:

Findings: The video and video statement do support the charge and shows prisoner Powell making stabbing motions toward prisoner Jackson and are marked confidential so that the capabilities of the camera will not be known.
Reasons for Findings Pursuant to PD 03.03.105 Fighting: Physical confrontation between two or more persons including a swing and miss done in anger or with intent to injure ......
Possession of A Weapon: Unauthorized Possession of an item designed or intended to be used to cause or threaten physical injury to another person, unauthorized possession of a piece, strip, or chunk of any hard material which could be used as a weapon or in the creation of a weapon. Prisoner Powell had a physical confrontation with prisoner Jackson and was observed doing a slashing motion with his right hand several times at prisoner Jackson. Prisoner Jackson had puncture wounds on his body and nose. I find that prisoner Powell did intend to injure prisoner Jackson and I find that prisoner Powell was in possession of a weapon and did intend it to be used to cause or threaten physical injury to another person. I order prisoner Powell to pay the State of Michigan 2, 374.87 for the cost of prisoner Jackson's injuries. Prisoner Powell is not believed in his statement that he was not stabbing prisoner Jackson and he had these wounds before because he is observed on video making slashing motions with his right hand towards prisoner Jackson, the weapon was found 3 to 4 feet from prisoner Powell who started the altercation and prisoner Jackson had bleeding stab wounds on his body from this incident. The reporting officer is clear and consistent in his statements and found credib[l]e. Charges upheld. The weapon is to be turned over to the Michigan State Police pursuant to PD 04.07.112 JJ.

(Id.) Defendant Theut found Plaintiff guilty of Reporting Code 014, Fighting, and Reporting Code 029, Possession of a Weapon. See MDOC Policy Directive Attachment 03.03.105A. Defendant Theut imposed sanctions of 20 days of detention, 60 days' loss of privileges, and restitution in the amount of $2, 374.87. (Attach. A, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.23.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he was denied appropriate notice that he was being charged with a “stabbing another inmate” misconduct. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.5.) He claims he was not provided the opportunity to gather evidence and documents or produce witnesses to a “stabbing” misconduct. (Id.) He further claims that Defendant Theut found Plaintiff guilty of the charge of “Assault Resulting in Serious Physical Injury (003).” (Id.)

         As a result of the misconduct, Plaintiff was placed in segregation. He remained in segregation at URF until he was transferred to segregation at ECF on October 4, 2016. He was transferred back to URF on November 1, 2016. He stayed in temporary segregation there until completion of criminal proceedings relating to the possession of a weapon charge were complete. On November 15, 2016, Plaintiff was transferred back to segregation at ECF. He remains in segregation at that facility.

         Plaintiff alleges that he has psychological or psychiatric health problems and that the Defendants who played a role in classifying him to segregation and then keeping him there violated MDOC policy and were deliberately indifferent to his serious mental health needs. Plaintiff alleges that the conditions in segregation represented significant and atypical deprivations including no running water from 12:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. from October 4 through November 1, 2016; no working cell light from November 15 to December 20, 2016; no new bed linen or towels; inadequate paper supply; no education, psychological, or vocational programming; no phone access; no interaction with other inmates; confined to cell for 23 hours a day; and limited recreation, only one hour a day in a small caged area.

         Plaintiff contends that the deplorable conditions in segregation have resulted in suicidal thoughts, difficulty concentrating, agitation, depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, weight loss, and loss of appetite. Although Plaintiff alleges that he has serious mental health needs, he does not specifically identify them. He claims that the MDOC personnel have been deliberately indifferent to those needs, but his allegations reveal numerous instances over the six month period where he is talking to mental health professionals and he acknowledges he is receiving medications for his condition.

         Throughout his complaint, Plaintiff contends that he has been held in segregation improperly because Defendants are reading his misconduct to be more serious than it really is. Plaintiff contends that his October 4 transfer to segregation at ECF was retaliatory for filing grievances. He also contends that, when he was transferred back to segregation at ECF on November 15, it was retaliatory for filing grievances. Plaintiff claims that Defendants have violated MDOC policy directives in placing and keeping him in segregation.

         Plaintiff contends that all Defendants have violated Plaintiff's rights to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment by subjecting him to atypical and significant hardship in administrative segregation. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.19.)

         Plaintiff contends that Defendant Theut violated Plaintiff's right to due process by finding him guilty of misconduct, ordering him to pay restitution, serve 20 days' detention, and 60 days' loss of privileges, without 24 hour notice of the charges. (Id.)

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants Wood, Isard, Miller, LaLounde, and Dunton retaliated against Plaintiff for filing grievances, thereby violating the First Amendment, by transferring Plaintiff to long term segregation. (Id.)

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants Mackie, Sharp, Ball, Majercyzk, Kenison, Mucha, Thomas, Weaver, Singleton, Bush, Rademaker, and Shelton were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's need of life's minimal necessities and inflicted pain and suffering on Plaintiff in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id.)

         Finally, Plaintiff contends that Defendants Washington, Osier, McKee, Wood, Mackie, Isard, Miller, Dunton, LaLounde, Thomas, Chapman, Majerczyk, Kenison, Mucha, Weaver, Ball, and Sharp were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious psychiatric needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id.)

         Plaintiff asks the Court to award compensatory and punitive damages against each Defendant and to enjoin Defendants to provide Plaintiff a rehearing on the misconduct with appropriate notice, to classify Plaintiff to general population, and to provide psychological programming while Plaintiff remains in segregation.


         I. Judicial Immunity

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Theut is liable for his August 22, 2016, adjudication of Plaintiff's misconduct. The Sixth Circuit, recognizing that a Michigan hearings officer has adjudicatory functions spelled out by statute in the nature of an administrative law judge, has held that hearings officers are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from damages in relation to actions within the officer's authority. Shelly v. Johnson, 849 F.2d 228, 229 (6th Cir. 1988); Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 791.251-255. See also Williams v. McGinnis, Nos. 02-1336, 02-1837, 2003 WL 245352, at *2 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2003) (recognizing that Michigan's prison hearings officers are entitled to absolute immunity); Thompson v. Mich. Dep't of Corr., No. 01-1943, 2002 WL 22011, at *1 (6th Cir. Jan. 2, 2002) (same); Gribble v. Bass, No. 93-5413, 1993 WL 524022, at *2 (6th Cir. Dec. 16, 1993) (same). Plaintiff's action fails because Defendant Theut is absolutely immune from suit for damages under the circumstances of this case.

         Moreover, injunctive relief is not available under § 1983, because, under the 1996 amendments to that statute, injunctive relief “shall not be granted” in an action against “a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity . . . unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983; accord Savoie v. Martin, 673 F.3d 488, 496 (6th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff does not allege that a declaratory decree was violated or ...

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