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Griffin v. Condon

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

July 14, 2017

LOUIS CONDON, et al., Defendants.


          John Corbett O'Meara United States District Judge.

         Before the court is Defendants Condon, Downard, and McMurtrie's motion for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial, which has been fully briefed. For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion is denied.


         Plaintiff Randle Griffin filed this action against Defendants Louis Condon, Gary McMurtrie, and Joseph Doward, alleging that they violated his First Amendment rights while he was incarcerated at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, Michigan. In 2011, while at Gus Harrison, Plaintiff saw Defendant Condon assault another inmate, Jeffrey Bryant. The assault was investigated by Jessica Zimbleman, an investigator from the Michigan Legislative Corrections Ombudsman's office. In February 2011, Zimbleman interviewed prisoners at Gus Harrison, including Plaintiff, in an office next door to Condon's. See Vol. 1 TR. at 48-50.

         At the time, Plaintiff was a member of the Warden's Forum, which served to address concerns of the prison population. On March 2, 2011, Plaintiff attended a Warden's Forum meeting, which ran late. As a result, Plaintiff was late to his job as a recreational room porter. Plaintiff's start time was 2:30 p.m., but he did not begin his work until sometime after 3 p.m. See Vol. 2 TR at 10-13. Officers McMurtrie and Downard were present when Plaintiff began his work. Id. at 12-13. Plaintiff testified that his tardiness was an “excused absence” because he was at a Warden's Forum meeting.

         After Plaintiff finished his assignment, he went to Condon's office to speak to him about mail delivery. Subsequently, Condon called Plaintiff back into his office to let him know that the mail would be delivered as Plaintiff had suggested. In addition, Plaintiff testified that Condon told him that “my statement to the ombudsman was going to come back to bite me in the ass.” Id. at 16.

         Later that day, Plaintiff learned that fellow prisoner Larry Anthony overheard Condon, McMurtrie, and Downard agreeing to write false misconduct tickets to “get rid” of Plaintiff. Id. at 17-18, 126-28. Another prisoner, Terrance Davis, overheard the same conversation. Vol. 3 TR. at 16-17.

         On that same day (March 2, 2011), Downard issued a misconduct ticket against Plaintiff for failing to report to work. Vol. 2 TR. at 20-22. Plaintiff testified that he did not believe the ticket was justified, because he had come to work late as a result of the Warden's Forum meeting. Id.

         Plaintiff actually received the ticket the next day, March 3, 2011. When he attempted to report for work, McMurtrie said “you no longer work for us” and that Plaintiff was “laid in, ” meaning he had to stay in his cell until the ticket was resolved. Id. at 22-23. Plaintiff testified that while he was in his cell that day, “Officer Downard came past my cell, stopped at my door, and told me if I didn't like the ticket that was written on me, do something and they will beat my ass and put me in the hole until I healed up. And then he called me a rat real loud, you know, and then walked off.” Id. at 24-26.

         On March 4, 2011, Plaintiff received another ticket, written by McMurtrie. McMurtrie wrote a ticket that Plaintiff was “out of place” on March 3 because Plaintiff was not at work. However, McMurtrie had told Plaintiff not to report to work on March 3 because he was “laid in.” Id. at 27-28. Plaintiff explained the situation to the officer on duty, who contacted McMurtrie, resulting in the dismissal of the ticket.

         Plaintiff testified that as a result of the first misconduct ticket, he lost his job and other privileges and was removed from the Warden's Forum. At trial, the jury found that each of the Defendants violated Plaintiff's First Amendment rights and conspired to violate Plaintiff's First Amendment rights. The jury awarded Plaintiff a total of $12, 500, including punitive damages.


         I. Standard of Review

         Defendants seek judgment in their favor as a matter of law, or a new trial. In analyzing a motion for judgment as matter of law, the court does not “weigh the evidence, evaluate the credibility of witnesses, or substitute [its] judgment for that of the jury.” Preferred Properties, Inc. v. Indian River Estates, Inc., 276 F.3d 790, 799 (6th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). Instead, the court views “the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and decide[s] if it was sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact for the jury.” Id. (citation omitted). Granting a motion for judgment as a matter of law is appropriate ...

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