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Staffney v. Palmer

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

May 10, 2017

HAROLD STAFFNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CARMEN D. PALMER, Defendants.

          OPINION DENYING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS - THREE STRIKES

          Honorable Janet T. Neff Judge

         Plaintiff Harold Staffney, a prisoner incarcerated at Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, Michigan, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Because Plaintiff has filed at least three lawsuits that were dismissed as frivolous, malicious or for failure to state a claim, he is barred from proceeding in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The Court will order Plaintiff to pay the $400.00 civil action filing fee applicable to those not permitted to proceed in forma pauperis within twenty-eight (28) days of this opinion and accompanying order. If Plaintiff fails to do so, the Court will order that his action be dismissed without prejudice. Even if the case is dismissed, Plaintiff will be responsible for payment of the $400.00 filing fee in accordance with In re Alea, 286 F.3d 378, 380-81 (6th Cir. 2002).

         Discussion

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), which was enacted on April 26, 1996, amended the procedural rules governing a prisoner's request for the privilege of proceeding in forma pauperis. As the Sixth Circuit has stated, the PLRA was “aimed at the skyrocketing numbers of claims filed by prisoners - many of which are meritless - and the corresponding burden those filings have placed on the federal courts.” Hampton v. Hobbs, 106 F.3d 1281, 1286 (6th Cir. 1997). For that reason, Congress put into place economic incentives to prompt a prisoner to “stop and think” before filing a complaint. Id. For example, a prisoner is liable for the civil action filing fee, and if the prisoner qualifies to proceed in forma pauperis, the prisoner may pay the fee through partial payments as outlined in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b). The constitutionality of the fee requirements of the PLRA has been upheld by the Sixth Circuit. Id. at 1288.

         In addition, another provision reinforces the “stop and think” aspect of the PLRA by preventing a prisoner from proceeding in forma pauperis when the prisoner repeatedly files meritless lawsuits. Known as the “three-strikes” rule, the provision states:

In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under [the section governing proceedings in forma pauperis] if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.

28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The statutory restriction “[i]n no event, ” found in § 1915(g), is express and unequivocal. The statute does allow an exception for a prisoner who is “under imminent danger of serious physical injury.” The Sixth Circuit has upheld the constitutionality of the three-strikes rule against arguments that it violates equal protection, the right of access to the courts, and due process, and that it constitutes a bill of attainder and is ex post facto legislation. Wilson v. Yaklich, 148 F.3d 596, 604-06 (6th Cir. 1998); accord Pointer v. Wilkinson, 502 F.3d 369, 377 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Wilson, 148 F.3d at 604-06); Rodriguez v. Cook, 169 F.3d 1176, 1178-82 (9th Cir. 1999); Rivera v. Allin, 144 F.3d 719, 723-26 (11th Cir. 1998); Carson v. Johnson, 112 F.3d 818, 821-22 (5th Cir. 1997).

         Plaintiff has been an active litigant in the federal courts in Michigan. In more than three of Plaintiff's lawsuits, the Court entered dismissals that count as strikes. See Staffney v. Glynn, No. 1:94-cv-56 (W.D. Mich. Feb. 11, 1994) (complaint dismissed as frivolous); Staffney v. Benson, 4:96-cv-55 (W.D. Mich. March 12, 1996) (complaint dismissed as frivolous); Staffney v. Caruso et al., No. 2:95-cv-98 (W.D. Mich. Mar. 20, 1995) (complaint dismissed as frivolous); Staffney v. Allen et al., No. 1:97-cv-891 (W.D. Mich. Jun. 18, 1998) (complaint dismissed for failure to state a claim); Staffney v. Cohle et al., No. 2:16-cv-131 (W.D. Mich. Jun. 28, 2016) (complaint dismissed for failure to state a claim). Although several of the dismissals were entered before enactment of the PLRA on April 26, 1996, the dismissals nevertheless count as strikes. See Wilson, 148 F.3d at 604.

         The PLRA offers relief from the three-strikes rule where an inmate alleges “imminent danger of serious physical injury.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The Sixth Circuit set forth the following general requirements for a claim of imminent danger:

In order to allege sufficiently imminent danger, we have held that “the threat or prison condition must be real and proximate and the danger of serious physical injury must exist at the time the complaint is filed.” Rittner v. Kinder, 290 F. App'x 796, 797 (6th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Thus a prisoner's assertion that he or she faced danger in the past is insufficient to invoke the exception.” Id. at 797-98; see also [Taylor v. First Med. Mgmt., 508 F. App'x 488, 492 (6th Cir. 2012)] (“Allegations of past dangers are insufficient to invoke the exception.”); Percival v. Gerth, 443 F. App'x 944, 946 (6th Cir. 2011) (“Assertions of past danger will not satisfy the ‘imminent danger' exception.”); cf. [Pointer v. Wilkinson, 502 F.3d 369, 371 n.1 (6th Cir. 2007)] (implying that past danger is insufficient for the imminent-danger exception).
In addition to a temporal requirement, we have explained that the allegations must be sufficient to allow a court to draw reasonable inferences that the danger exists. To that end, “district courts may deny a prisoner leave to proceed pursuant to § 1915(g) when the prisoner's claims of imminent danger are conclusory or ridiculous, or are clearly baseless (i.e. are fantastic or delusional and rise to the level of irrational or wholly incredible).” Rittner, 290 F. App'x at 798 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Taylor, 508 F. App'x at 492 (“Allegations that are conclusory, ridiculous, or clearly baseless are also insufficient for purposes of the imminent-danger exception.”).

Vandiver v. Prison Health Services, Inc., 727 F.3d 580, 585 (6th Cir. 2013). A prisoner's claim of imminent danger is subject to the same notice pleading requirement as that which applies to prisoner complaints. Id. Consequently, a prisoner must allege facts in the complaint from which the Court could reasonably conclude that the prisoner was under an existing danger at the time he filed his complaint, but the prisoner need not affirmatively prove those allegations. Id.

         Plaintiff does not allege the words “imminent danger of serious physical injury;” but, his entire complaint is based on the premise that the conditions of his confinement at the Michigan Reformatory are unsafe. He contends that the facility is overcrowded; that his floor has no evacuation plan in the event of fire; that the ventilation is inadequate and the ventilation ducts are dirty; that the water is contaminated with lead, other toxic substances, or disease; that the water flow is inadequate; and that the prison has black mold, mildew, and mold-type fungi. Although Plaintiff does not identify any specific physical harm occurring to him from these conditions, he does note that he has a chronic heat illesss that manifests in “a slight problem inhaling and exhaling” when it is hot and humid; vision problems, and chronic fatigue. Although Plaintiff does identify health risks that flow from the conditions of which he complains, it does not appear that they are either presently causing him, or will imminently cause him, serious physical injury. Indeed, if the risk were so great as to rise to an imminent danger, one would expect these apparently long-standing conditions to have resulted in physical serious injury to at least one of the hundreds of inmates at the Michigan Reformatory already.

         In light of the foregoing, § 1915(g) prohibits Plaintiff from proceeding in forma pauperis in this action. Plaintiff has twenty-eight (28) days from the date of entry of this order to pay the entire civil action filing fee, which is $400.00. When Plaintiff pays his filing fee, the Court will screen his complaint as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c). If Plaintiff fails to pay the filing fee within the 28-day period, ...


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