United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS [9,
16, 17], GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
, AND DISMISSING THE CASE
HONORABLE STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III UNITED STATE DISTRICT JUDGE.
James Maben brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against Corrections Officer Troy Thelen in both his
individual and official capacities. Maben alleges that Thelen
retaliated against him for filing a grievance with the
Michigan Department of Corrections ("MDOC"). Compl.
3, ECF No. 1. Before the Court is Thelen's motion for
summary judgment and three other motions filed by Maben. The
Court will deny Maben's motions, grant Thelen's
motion, and dismiss the case.
October 19, 2015, Maben was incarcerated at the Central
Michigan Correctional Facility. According to Maben, while he
was being served lunch, he noticed that he was served less
than a full serving of food. Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1. He
asked the food service workers why he was given a small
portion. Id. at ¶ 6. Thelen then said to Maben,
"shut the f--k up if you want to eat." Id.
at ¶ 7. Thelen continued, "you acting like a little
b--h is not going to change anything." Id. at
¶ 9. Thelen then asked Maben for his identification and
told him that "if you're going to complain then
you're going to get a misconduct for it."
Id. at ¶ 10.
wrote Maben a misconduct ticket later that day for
"creating a disturbance." Misconduct Report, ECF No
13-2. A hearing was held three days later, on October 22,
2015, and Maben was found guilty of misconduct. Misconduct
Hr'g Report, ECF No. 13-2. As a sanction, Maben was
denied privileges for seven days. Id.
characterizes his inquiry about the food as a
"grievance" under the MDOC's policies;
Thelen's reaction constituted retaliation for filing the
grievance. Maben says he was "embarassed, demeaned, and
humiliated" by his encounter with Thelen and has
subsequently received short portions at meals because he
fears retaliation from Thelen. Compl. ¶ 11-12, ECF No.
1. Consequently, he claims that the encounter has left him
feeling that he can no longer comply with the prison's
grievance procedure. Id. ¶ 11.
judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). A fact is "material" for purposes of summary
judgment if proof of that fact would establish or refute an
essential element of the cause of action or defense.
Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir.
1984). A dispute over material facts is "genuine"
"if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must
view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in a light
most favorable to the nonmoving party. 60 Ivy St. Corp.
v. Alexander, 822 F.2d 1432, 1435 (6th Cir. 1987). The
Court must take care, in evaluating the motion, not to make
judgments on the quality of the evidence, because the purpose
of summary judgment is to determine whether a triable claim
exists. Doe v. Metro.Nashville Pub. Schs., 133 F.3d
384, 387 (6th Cir. 1998) ("[W]eigh[ing] the evidence . .
. is never appropriate at the summary judgment stage.").
raises three arguments in his motion for summary judgment.
First, he is immune from suit in his official capacity
pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment. Second, he is entitled to
qualified immunity in his personal capacity. And third, even
in the absence of any immunity, summary judgment is
appropriate because Maben has failed to establish a First
Amendment retaliation claim. The Court need only address the
general, "[a] retaliation claim essentially entails
three elements: (1) the plaintiff engaged in protected
conduct; (2) an adverse action was taken against the
plaintiff that would deter a person of ordinary firmness from
continuing to engage in that conduct; and (3) there is a
causal connection between elements one and two-that is, the
adverse action was motivated at least in part by the
plaintiff's protected conduct." Thaddeus-X v.
Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 394 (6th Cir. 1999). But
"First Amendment rights, like many other rights, are
circumscribed in the prison setting, " and "prison
regulations are allowed to infringe on prisoners' rights
as long as they are rationally related to a legitimate
penological concern." Id. at 390, 395.
"Therefore, if a prisoner violates a legitimate prison
regulation, he is not engaged in 'protected conduct,
' and cannot proceed beyond step one." Id.
when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Maben,
he cannot proceed beyond step one. In Maben's telling, he
politely asked why he was not given more food. Resp. 12, ECF
No. 14. According to Maben, Thelen then erupted and caused a
disturbance in the chow hall, but blamed the disruption on
Maben and wrote him a misconduct ticket. Id. Thelen
says Maben caused the disturbance. Thelen Aff., ECF No. 13-2.
But the dispute as to what really occurred was already
adjudicated by the MDOC in the course of its grievance
process. See Misconduct Hr'g Report, ECF No.
13-2. The Hearing Officer determined that Maben was in fact
disruptive and therefore upheld the misconduct report ...