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Bennett v. Williams

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

May 23, 2017

HEIDI WILLIAMS, 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 for failure to state a claim.

         Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff Ronald Bennett, a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the Kinross Correctional Facility (KCF), filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants MDOC Director Heidi Williams, Corrections Officer Unknown Goodell, and Deputy Warden D. Dailey. Plaintiff alleges that he was transferred to KCF on April 21, 2016. Upon his arrival, Defendant Goodell told Plaintiff that his word processor was being confiscated because KCF did not allow “typewriters that take disks.” Defendant Goodell told Plaintiff that his word processor was never on the historical approval list, and Plaintiff responded that his word processor had been “grandfathered in” pursuant to Cain v. Department of Corrections, Ingham County Court No. 88-61119-AZ. Defendant Goodell told Plaintiff that the Cain suit no longer applied and that he was issuing Plaintiff a misconduct report for possession of contraband.

         On April 27, 2016, the class III misconduct report was reviewed with Plaintiff. On May 3, 2016, Plaintiff received a hearing on the misconduct with Prison Counselor J. Metro. Plaintiff presented a copy of the stipulation and order issued by the Cain court. Plaintiff stated that the word processor was sent to him while he was housed at the State Prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson in 1992. At that time, a 1988 court ordered stay was in effect on the implementation of the policy directive regarding prisoner word processors. Plaintiff also told Metro that his property receipts had mysteriously disappeared, but that he had four receipts from two different repair companies indicating that the word processor had been sent out for repair and returned to him. Metro refused to investigate Plaintiff's claims and found that his word processor had never been on the “historical approval list.” Plaintiff's word processor was found to be contraband and Plaintiff was told he could have it sent home or destroyed.

         Plaintiff filed an appeal, which was denied by Defendant Dailey, who stated that “proof positive of ownership has not been and could not be established by prisoner.” Defendant Dailey also concluded that the Cain case was irrelevant. On October 31, 2016, Plaintiff was called to the property room and Defendant Goodell asked him for the receipt for his word processor. Plaintiff presented his receipt, but Defendant Goodell told him that it did not contain the proper serial number. Plaintiff told Defendant Goodell “it must have been the receipt to the word processor that was mistakenly sent to him in 2008 by the company repairing his word processor.” Plaintiff claims that he returned the word processor that did not belong to him to the repair company, and they subsequently returned his own word processor to Plaintiff.

         On October 31, 2016, Plaintiff was reviewed on a class II misconduct ticket for possession of forged documents. On November 2, 2016, Plaintiff had a hearing before Hearing Officer Menard. Plaintiff explained that he had given Defendant Goodell the wrong receipt and that it was not forged. Menard offered Plaintiff the opportunity to waive the hearing and plead guilty, for which Plaintiff would only receive one day loss of privileges. Plaintiff agreed because he believed he was pleading guilty to a lesser offense.

         On November 3, 2016, Plaintiff received a copy of the hearing report for the charge of “possession of forged documents: forgery, ” which indicated that the receipt was handwritten and easily forged “as prisoner can obtain MDOC forms and write [their] own paperwork.” See E C F N o . 1-1, PageID.19. Plaintiff's subsequent appeal was denied on December 20, 2016. Plaintiff states that because the misconduct was a class II, he was not entitled to a hearing investigator.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants' conduct violated his procedural due process rights. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.


         I. Failure to state a claim

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement, ' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994). Plaintiff claims that his class III misconduct conviction and the subsequent loss of his word processor violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The elements of a procedural due process claim are: (1) a life, liberty, or property interest requiring protection under the Due Process Clause, and (2) a deprivation of that interest (3) without adequate process. Women's Med. Prof'l Corp. v. Baird, 438 F.3d 595, 611 (6th Cir. 2006).

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants' conduct violated due process and resulted in the improper deprivation of his word processor, despite the fact that he should have been allowed to keep it pursuant to the Cain case. Initially, the Court notes that it is clear that Plaintiff received due process of law. In all cases where a person stands to be deprived of his life, liberty or property, he is entitled to due process of law. This due process of law gives the person the opportunity to convince an unbiased decision maker that, for example, he has been wrongly or falsely accused or that the evidence against him is false. The Due Process Clause does not guarantee that the procedure will produce a correct decision. “It must be remembered that even if a state decision does deprive an individual of life, [liberty], or property, and even if that decision is erroneous, it does not necessarily follow that the decision violated that individual's right to due process.” Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 284, n.9 (1980). “[T]he deprivation by state action of a constitutionally protected interest in ‘life, liberty or property' is not in itself unconstitutional; what is unconstitutional is ...

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