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Douglas v. Muzzin

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

September 28, 2017

Leon Douglas, # 132125, Plaintiff,
Keara Muzzin, et al., Defendants.



         This is a civil rights action brought pro se by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is an inmate at the Thumb Correctional Facility. (ECF No. 43). This lawsuit arises out conditions of plaintiff's confinement in September and October 2012, at the Michigan Reformatory, and it stems from a dispute regarding a pair of orthopedic shoes that plaintiff says were prescribed to him as a medical accommodation. The defendants are Lieutenant Keara Muzzin, Roger Martin, and Resident Unit Manager Kerry Gobert.

         Plaintiff is asserting the following claims: (1) that Muzzin and Martin violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause by temporarily depriving him of the shoes; (2) that all defendants violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause because he did not receive a hearing on the removal of the shoes as contraband within the time limits specified by a Michigan Department of Corrections policy directive; (3) that defendant Martin violated his First Amendment rights by directing a corrections officer to issue a Class III misconduct charge against plaintiff for possession of contraband; and (4) that all defendants violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA). Plaintiff sues defendants in their individual and official capacities and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as punitive and compensatory damages.[1]

         The matter is now before the Court on defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Plaintiff has stated two claims that survive Rule 12(b)(6): 1) official capacity claims for compensatory damages under the ADA and RA; and 2) a personal capacity claim against Muzzin and Martin for deprivation of a medically prescribed pair of shoes. All other claims are subject to dismissal.

         Rule 12(b)(6) Standards

         Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes the dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), and Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). While this notice pleading standard does not require detailed factual allegations, it does require more than labels and the bare assertion of legal conclusions. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Generally, when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in plaintiff's favor. See Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008). “[C]ourts ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “To survive a motion to dismiss, [plaintiff] must allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Sch. Dist. v. Michigan Dep't of Educ., 615 F.3d 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by licensed attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

         In deciding motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court is generally limited to examination of the complaint. The Court may also take into account exhibits attached to the complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c).

         Qualified Immunity

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to dismissal of plaintiff's claims against them on the basis of qualified immunity. “Once [an] official[ ] raise[s] the qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff bears the burden to ‘demonstrate that the official [is] not entitled to qualified immunity.'” LeFever v. Ferguson, 645 F.App'x 438, 442 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Silberstein v. City of Dayton, 440 F.3d 306, 311 (6th Cir. 2006)); see Estate of Hill v. Miracle, 853 F.3d 306, 312 (6th Cir. 2017).

         “A government official sued under section 1983 is entitled to qualified immunity unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Carroll v. Carman, 135 S.Ct. 348, 350 (2014); see Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042, 2044 (2015); Lane v. Franks, 134 S.Ct. 2369, 2381 (2014). The first prong of qualified immunity analysis is whether the plaintiff has alleged facts showing that each defendant's conduct violated a constitutional or statutory right. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). The second prong is whether the right was “clearly established” at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Id. Trial courts are permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).

         In Brosseau v. Haugen, the Supreme Court examined the underlying purpose of the requirement that the law be clearly established:

Qualified immunity shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted. . . . Because the focus is on whether the officer had fair notice that her conduct was unlawful, reasonableness is judged against the backdrop of the law at the time of the conduct. If the law at the time did not clearly establish that the officer's conduct would violate the Constitution, the officer should not be subject to liability or, indeed, even the burdens of litigation.

543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004); see also Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S.Ct. 1873, 1867 (2017) (“If a reasonable officer might not have known for certain that the conduct was unlawful - then the officer is immune from liability.”) (quotation and citation omitted); Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (“The dispositive question is whether the violative nature of the particular conduct is clearly established.”) (citation and quotation omitted); City & County of San Francisco, Calif. v. Sheehan, 135 S.Ct. 1765, 1774 (2015) (“An officer cannot be said to have violated a clearly established right unless the right's contours were sufficiently definite that any reasonable official in his shoes would have understood that he was violating it, meaning that existing precedent placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.”) (citations and quotations omitted). Qualified immunity is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability. Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S.Ct. 2012, 2019 (2014).

         The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis “‘must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.'” Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. at 198 (quoting Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. at 201); see White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 552 (2017). Moreover, courts are “not to define clearly established law at a high level of generality, since doing so avoids the crucial question whether the official acted reasonably in the particular circumstances that he or she faced.” Plumhoff v. Rickard, 134 S.Ct. at 2023 (citations and quotations omitted); see White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. at 552. In order to be clearly established, existing precedent must have placed the unlawfulness of the official's conduct “beyond debate.” Plumhoff, 134 S.Ct. at 2023.

         “The burden of convincing a court that the law was clearly established ‘rests squarely with the plaintiff.'” Key v. Grayson, 179 F.3d 996, 1000 (6th Cir. 1999) (quoting Cope v. Heltsley, 128 F.3d 452, 459 (6th Cir. 1997)); see Estate of Hill v. Miracle, 853 F.3d at 312 (“[T]he ultimate burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that the defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity.”) (quotation and citation omitted). The burden ...

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