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Rains v. Smith

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

July 17, 2017

WILLIE SMITH, Defendants.


          Honorable Robert J. Jonker, Judge

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 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 Smith, Andrews, Brahman, Sperry, Lewis, and Gerlach. The Court will serve the complaint against Defendants LeBarre, Huyge, Sikkema, Moody, and Dolittle.


         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff James Raheem Rains presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Ionia Correctional Facility (ICF). He sues the following ICF Defendants: Warden Willie Smith; Correctional Officers (unknown) Andrews, (unknown) Brahman, and (unknown) Sperry; Grievance Coordinator (unknown) Lewis; Health Care Manager (unknown) LeBarre; Doctor (unknown) Gerlach; Physician Assistant David Huyge; and Nurses (unknown) Sikkema, (unknown) Moody, and (unknown) Dolittle.

         On November 20, 2016, at about 8:20 a.m., Defendants Brahman and Andrews escorted Plaintiff back to his cell after his shower. Defendant Sperry, who apparently could not see the cell from his station, closed the door too soon, trapping Plaintiff with the closing door. As the door continued to press tighter, Plaintiff had difficulty breathing. Defendant Brahman pushed on the door to keep it from closing. Defendant Andrews waived her arms and yelled for Sperry to open the door. Sperry opened the door, but Plaintiff alleges that he was in pain and requested medical attention. “Andrews replied, ‘[I]t's not his fault he can[']t see, ' referring to C/O Sperry.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.9.)

         At 9:15 a.m., as Defendant Sikkema was passing his cell, Plaintiff tried to explain what had happened and asked for medical assistance. Defendant Sikkema ignored Plaintiff and walked by. Plaintiff submitted a medical kite the next day, complaining that the incident had injured his neck and back and that he was in pain. He received no response. For the next week, he daily attempted to stop medical personnel, including Defendants Dolittle, Sikkema and Moody. All Defendants ignored him. He filed a second medical kite on November 27, 2016, and he filed a grievance on that same date.

         Plaintiff was moved to a different cell on November 29, 2016, and he wrote another kite to health services that same day. On December 12, Plaintiff wrote a kite to Defendant Grievance Coordinator Lewis, again telling his story. He asked why he had not received a grievance response. When he heard nothing for a day, he wrote a second grievance on December 13, 2016, describing the incident and complaining that he had not received any medical attention. On December 20, having sent multiple kites and grievances and having received no response, Plaintiff wrote kites to Defendant Warden Smith and Health Care Manager LeBarre. Plaintiff still has not received medical care. He also has not received the “K.O.P.” medication he uses to treat his migraines. (Id.)

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants Andrews, Brahman, and Sperry are responsible for injuring him and for failing to get him immediate medical care on the first day. He asserts that Defendant Warden Smith is responsible both as the person in charge of prison operations and because he received a kite from Plaintiff. He argues that Defendant Doctor Gerlach is responsible for the health of all inmates, and he was or should have been informed of Plaintiff's need by way of his written kites requesting medical care. In addition, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Huyge is the Physician Assistant responsible for reviewing medical kites and signing the release for the KOP medication. Defendant Huyge also makes rounds in segregation, and Plaintiff informed him on numerous times of his problem. Finally, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Nurses Doolittle, Moody, and Sikkema passed out medicines every day and heard his complaints on multiple occasions. They also picked up his medical kites. Yet they never assessed him or provided him medical care.

         For relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, together with injunctive relief in the form of proper medical treatment and an MRI scan by an outside provider. He also seeks a temporary restraining order barring Defendants from retaliating against him, as he claims happens to other prisoners when they file lawsuits.

         II. 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); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). 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). A. Defendants Smith, Gerlach, and Lewis Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Smith is liable for his injuries because he failed to supervise his employees and failed to take action in response to Petitioner's kite. Similarly, Plaintiff broadly contends that Defendant Gerlach is responsible for the health of all inmates and that he should have known of Plaintiff's problems because of the kites Plaintiff wrote to health services, though he specifically alleges that Defendant Huyge, not Defendant Gerlach, reviewed prisoner kites to determine whether to see the prisoner. Plaintiff's only allegation against Defendant Lewis is that, as grievance coordinator, Lewis failed to respond to or process his grievances and failed to respond to his kites.

         Government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676; Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691(1978); Everson v. Leis, 556 F.3d 484, 495 (6th Cir. 2009). A claimed constitutional violation must be based upon active unconstitutional behavior. Grinter v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567, 575-76 (6th Cir. 2008); Greene v. Barber, 310 F.3d 889, 899 (6th Cir. 2002). The acts of one's subordinates are not enough, nor can supervisory liability be based upon the mere failure to act. Grinter, 532 F.3d at 576; Greene, 310 F.3d at 899; Summers v. Leis, 368 F.3d 881, 888 (6th Cir. 2004). Moreover, § 1983 liability may not be imposed simply because a supervisor denied an administrative grievance or failed to act based upon information contained in a grievance or prisoner complaint. See Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999). “[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the ...

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