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Jones v. Washington

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

June 2, 2017

LARRY DARNELL JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
HEIDI E. WASHINGTON, Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER CHIEF 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, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim against Defendants Washington, McGee, Trierweiler, Mackie, Ball, Thomas, Cusack, Wakefield, and Welton. The Court will serve the complaint against Defendant Johnson, but only with respect to Plaintiff's claim for the use of excessive force on May 13, 2016.

         Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff Larry Darnell Jones is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Oaks Correctional Facility (ECF). He is serving a 30 to 50 year sentence which began on November 5, 1985. (Time Review and Disposition, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.29.) The matters of which he complains, however, occurred over the last couple of years at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility (IBC) and Marquette Branch Prison (MBP) as well as ECF. Plaintiff sues MDOC Director Heidi Washington; MDOC Deputy Director Kenneth McKee; IBC Warden Tony Trierweiler; ECF Warden Thomas P. Mackie; ECF Deputy Warden Timothy J. Ball; ECF Resident Unit Manager Unknown Thomas; MDOC Inspectors N. Cusack, Unknown Wakefield, and Unknown Welton; and IBC Corrections Officer Unknown Johnson.

         Plaintiff's allegations are rambling, disjointed, repetitive, and conclusory. They are a far cry from the short and plain statement of the claim mandated by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Construed liberally, Plaintiff seeks to raise several claims: (1) an “excessive use of force” Eighth Amendment claim against Defendant Johnson for tightening Plaintiff's handcuffs too much on May 13, 2016; (2) a “failure to protect” Eighth Amendment claim for not keeping Plaintiff safe from Defendant Johnson; (3) a “failure to protect” Eighth Amendment claim for failing to protect Plaintiff from Security Threat Group (STG) members; (4) a First Amendment retaliation claim against several defendants who Plaintiff claims have taken adverse action against him (such as excessive use of force, failure to protect, prison transfers, and denying restoration of good-time credits) because Plaintiff filed grievances; (5) a First Amendment claim for the Defendants' various failures to properly investigate and process Plaintiff's many grievances; (6) a non-specific constitutional claim, perhaps grounded in the Due Process Clause, seeking to compel Defendants to restore good-time credits to Plaintiff. The relevant facts are set forth in the analysis of each claim.

         Discussion

         I. Failure to state a claim - standard of review

         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).

         II. Eighth Amendment - use of excessive force

         Plaintiff alleges that on May 13, 2016, Defendant Johnson injured Plaintiff's left and right wrist by purposefully putting the handcuffs on too tight while Defendant Johnson was escorting Plaintiff to a medical appointment. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.10.) Plaintiff remained in the handcuffs through the duration of the appointment and returned to his cell. Plaintiff told the doctor and the nurse that his handcuffs were too tight, but they did not take any action. When he complained later that day, a nurse provided Plaintiff some ointment for the cut on his wrist. Although Plaintiff requested x-rays a couple of weeks later, he was refused because the healthcare staff concluded x-rays were not medically indicated.

         The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of “cruel and unusual punishments” upon prisoners. U.S. Const. amend. VIII. But not every shove or restraint gives rise to a constitutional violation. Parrish v. Johnson, 800 F.2d 600, 604 (6th Cir. 1986). On occasion, “[t]he maintenance of prison security and discipline may require that inmates be subjected to physical contact actionable as assault under common law.” Combs, 315 F.3d at 556 (citing Pelfrey v. Chambers, 43 F.3d 1034, 1037 (6th Cir. 1995)). Prison officials nonetheless violate the Eighth Amendment when their “offending conduct reflects an unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted); Bailey v. Golladay, 421 Fed.Appx. 579, 582 (6th Cir. 2011).

         There is an objective component and a subjective component to an Eighth Amendment claim. Santiago v. Ringle, 734 F.3d 585, 590 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Comstock v. McCrary, 273 F.3d 693, 702 (6th Cir. 2001)). First, “[t]he subjective component focuses on the state of mind of the prison officials.” Williams, 631 F.3d at 383. We ask “whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992). Second, “[t]he objective component requires the pain inflicted to be ‘sufficiently serious.' ” Williams, 631 F.3d at 383 (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). This component requires a “contextual” investigation, one that is “responsive to ‘contemporary standards of decency.' ” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8, (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)). While the extent of a prisoner's injury may help determine the amount of force used by the prison official, it is not dispositive of whether an Eighth Amendment violation has occurred. Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37 (2010). “When prison officials maliciously and sadistically use force to cause harm, contemporary standards of decency always are violated . . . [w]hether or not significant injury is evident.” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9. “Otherwise, the Eighth Amendment would permit any physical punishment, no matter how diabolic or inhuman, inflicting less than some arbitrary quantity of injury.” Id. The Wilkins Court did not declare the extent of injury to be irrelevant:

This is not to say that the “absence of serious injury” is irrelevant to the Eighth Amendment inquiry. Id. at 7, 112 S.Ct. 995. “[T]he extent of injury suffered by an inmate is one factor that may suggest ‘whether the use of force could plausibly have been thought necessary' in a particular situation.” Ibid.(quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at 321, 106 S.Ct. 1078). The extent of injury may also provide some indication of the amount of force applied. As we stated in Hudson, not “every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action.” 503 U.S. at 9, 112 S.Ct. 995. “The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of ‘cruel and unusual' punishments necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind.” Ibid. (some internal quotation ...

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