United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
T. Neff, United States District Judge
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 (PLRA), 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 Harry, Kowalski, Smith, Cummings, Lane,
Watson, and Boykin. The Court will allow the action to
proceed against the unidentified mail room employees.
Scott Smith is an inmate at Earnest C. Brooks Correctional
Facility (“MSP”), a facility run by the Michigan
Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). Defendants
are: Warden Shirley Harry; Deputy Wardens Unknown Kowalski
and B. Smith; Resident Unit Managers (“RUMs”)
Unknown Cummings and Unknown Lane; Assistant Resident Unit
Supervisor (“ARUS”) Unknown Watson; Prisoner
Counselor Unknown Boykin; and unidentified individuals from
the MSP mail room.
alleges that the circumstances underlying his complaint began
on July 26, 2016, when staff at MSP conducted an
administrative hearing to determine the location of his legal
papers and why he was having difficulty obtaining them.
(Compl., ECF No. 1-3, PageID.25.) His legal papers consisted
of the court file from his 2013 criminal case. His mother had
made copies of the file and sent it to him in the mail so
that he could file a motion challenging his conviction. He
contends that unidentified mail room staff at MSP rejected
his papers because they were considered “too
voluminous.” (Id.) Mail room staff allegedly
relied upon an internal memorandum from 2008 for their
alleges that he received two notices of intent to conduct a
hearing (“NOIs”) regarding the rejection of his
mail, but no hearing took place until after his mail was
destroyed by unidentified mail room staff. Prisoner Counselor
Boykin allegedly postponed the hearing because ARUS Watson
was not available. By the time that Watson conducted the
hearing, Plaintiff's papers had already been destroyed.
Plaintiff complains that Warden Harry, Deputy Warden
Kowalski, Deputy Warden Smith, RUM Cummings, RUM Lane, and
ARUS Watson allegedly investigated the disappearance of
Plaintiff's papers in response to his grievances, but did
not correct the issue.
also complains that ARUS Lane failed to stop the destruction
of his papers before Plaintiff received an administrative
hearing, and then covered up the actions of mail room staff
after they destroyed Plaintiff's papers. In addition,
ARUS Watson allegedly “altered a government document
prepared pursuant to an Administrative Hearing after [the]
fact” to cover up the destruction of his papers by mail
room staff. (Id., PageID.28.) Plaintiff contends
that the destruction of his legal papers prevented him from
filing a timely federal petition for habeas corpus relief. He
was not able to file his petition until sixteen months after
his sentencing. He contends that his petition cannot succeed
unless the court decides that he is eligible for equitable
tolling. Plaintiff claims that he has been denied his rights
under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments as a result
of Defendants' conduct, including his right of access to
the courts. In addition, he contends that Defendants have
“violated their oaths of office under state law and the
Michigan constitution.” (Id., PageID.29.) As
relief, he seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Failure to state a claim
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)).
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).
Defendants Harry, Kowalski, Smith, and Cummings
alleges that Warden Harry, Deputy Wardens Kowalski and Smith,
RUMs Cummings and Lane, and ARUS Watson investigated
Plaintiff's grievances and failed to correct the actions
of other prison employees. These are his only allegations
against Defendants Harry, Kowalski, Smith and Cummings.
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. See
Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999).
“[A] plaintiff must plead that each ...