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Flores v. Leece

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

October 17, 2017

DAVID ANTHONY FLORES, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN LEECE et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          HONORABLE PAUL L. MALONEY 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 against Defendants Leece, Horrocks, Laitinen, Viitala, Huss, and Napel for failure to state a claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated within the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at Ionia Correctional Facility (ICF) in Ionia, Ionia County, Michigan. The events about which he complains, however, occurred at the Marquette Branch Prison (MBP) in Marquette, Marquette County, Michigan. Plaintiff sues Corrections Officer Unknown Leece, Prison Counselor Becky Horrocks, Assistant Resident Unit Supervisor Michael T. Laitinen, Assistant Resident Unit Manager Darrin Viitala, Deputy Warden of Housing Erica Huss, and Warden Robert Napel.

         Plaintiff alleges that on Sunday, March 13, 2016, he was assaulted by Prisoner Robert Lee Brooks #294879. Plaintiff states that Prisoner Brooks used a weapon, which caused “superficial abrasions that needed medical attention” and left scarring on Plaintiff's body. Sometime after the assault, Defendant Leece came to Plaintiff's cell when it was time for yard and asked Plaintiff why he was wearing shower shoes. Plaintiff stated that he was not going to yard and only wanted to mail two items and return to his cell. Defendant Leece told Plaintiff that if he came out of his cell, he must go to yard, or he would receive a ticket for being out of place. Defendant Leece was aware of the fact that Plaintiff had been assaulted and had been returned from yard for his own protection. Plaintiff asked Defendant Leece if he would mail his items, but Defendant Leece refused. Plaintiff claims that this was his only opportunity to mail his items and that other officers have allowed him to mail items during yard time and return to his cell without going to yard. Plaintiff states that he is a “pre-op transgender” prisoner and that the scars he received have caused him to suffer emotional distress.

         Plaintiff states that Defendant Horrocks conducted an investigation into the assault and wanted Plaintiff to “lock up for protection.” Plaintiff refused protective custody because he did not believe that he should be punished for being assaulted. Plaintiff alleges that MBP is well known for locking up gay and transgender prisoners. Defendant Horrocks recommended that Plaintiff be placed in involuntary protective segregation. Defendant Laitinen went along with the recommendation.

         While Plaintiff was in segregation, he had an incident with his mattress, which was in poor condition. Defendant Laitinen expected Plaintiff to continue using the mattress, stating that Plaintiff should be grateful to have a “home away from home.” Plaintiff filed a grievance and Defendant Laitinen eventually told corrections officers to swap Plaintiff's mattress with another, less damaged mattress. Plaintiff put a plastic bag cover over the mattress because it was dirty, smelled liked stale / sour body odor, and the vinyl was ripped open.

         Plaintiff states that Defendant Viitala failed to promptly check into complaints and to cover-up staff misconduct in response to grievances. Plaintiff contends that Defendant Huss is supposed to ensure that housing units are in compliance with MDOC regulations, but that she allows the deputy warden's staffers to do as they please so long as they do not do it in front of her. Plaintiff overheard Defendant Huss tell another prisoner that her job is easy and merely a way to pay her bills. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Napel allows his subordinates to do as they please and fails to provide proper supervision. Plaintiff claims that Defendants' conduct has caused him permanent psychological scarring.

         Plaintiff seeks damages and equitable relief.

         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).

         Initially, the Court notes that Plaintiff fails to make specific factual allegations against Defendants Viitala, Huss, and Napel, other than his claim that they failed to conduct an investigation in response to his grievances or to properly supervise their subordinates. 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, Section 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. See Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999). A[A] plaintiff must plead that ...


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