United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
L. Maloney United States District Judge
a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act,
Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), 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 Ouellette, Davis, and Russell. The Court
will serve the complaint against Defendants Leach, Curley,
is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of
Corrections (MDOC) at the Lakeland Correctional Facility
(LCF) in Coldwater, Branch County, Michigan. The events about
which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues
LCF Doctor Troy Davis, LCF Physician's Assistant Margaret
A. Ouellette, MDOC Special Activities Coordinator David M.
Leach, MDOC Assistant Deputy Director John Curley, MDOC
Administrator Daphne M. Johnson, and MDOC Grievance Section
Manager Richard D. Russell. Each Defendant is sued in his or
her individual and official capacity.
claims center on his health care and his Buddhist faith. He
claims that the Defendants have refused to accommodate his
adherence to that faith with respect to his diet and his
Ouellette saw Plaintiff on January 6, 2016. Plaintiff claims
(1) denied treatment for sleep apnea with full knowledge of
the potential for serious physical injury or possible death
from oxygen deprivation;
(2) denied or discontinued treatment for a vitamin B-12
deficiency resulting from strict adherence to Plaintiff's
(3) refused to permit Plaintiff to purchase dietary
supplements to remedy the deficiency;
(4) refused to provide the PSA blood test to screen for
prostate cancer, insisting that Plaintiff undergo a digital
examination which violated his religious beliefs; and
(5) refused to submit a request to Corizon Healthcare for
treatments, at Plaintiff's expense, that conform to his
(Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.7-8.) Plaintiff claims Defendant
Ouellette was motivated, at least in part, by animus against
Plaintiff's Buddhist beliefs.
one year later, on January 15, 2017, Defendant Davis saw
Plaintiff. (Id., PageID.8.) Plaintiff informed
Defendant Davis that Plaintiff was a strict Buddhist. On
January 19, 2017, Defendant Davis put Plaintiff on call for a
blood draw to assess Plaintiff's vitamin B-12 level. On
February 1, 2017, Defendant Davis informed Plaintiff that his
vitamin B-12 level was normal. On March 29, 2017, Plaintiff
received a copy of the blood test that Plaintiff contends
showed that his vitamin B-12 level was not within the normal
range; rather, it was low.
alleges that he is required to purge and clarify his physical
temple of all impurities by anointing with sacramental oils.
(Id., PageID.9.) The oils must be free of alcohol
and animal byproducts. The MDOC policy directives do not
permit inmates to possess religious oils in their cells.
Plaintiff sought an accommodation so that he could use
sacramental oils that are non-flammable and non-toxic for
purging and clarification of his spiritual temple in his
cell. (March 23, 2015 Letter, ECF No. 1-1,
alleges that the request was denied for lack of authority by
LCF Warden Hoffner. (Compl., ECF No 1, PageID.9.)
Plaintiff's request sought permission to possess and use
the religious oils. MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.150 (Eff.
9/15/2015) directs the prisoner to submit a request to
possess religious property not previously authorized to the
warden. The warden does not have authority under the policy
directive to grant or deny the request. The warden simply
forwards it on to the CFA Special Activities Coordinator. The
CFA Special Activities Coordinator, in turn, forwards the
request on to the Deputy Director. The Deputy Director makes
the final decision. Thus, Warden Hoffner sent the request to
Defendant Leach. Defendant Leach submitted the request to
Defendant Curley. Defendant Curley denied the request because
the oils were toxic and because Plaintiff could meditate
without the oils using other items of religious property-mala
beads and a picture of the Buddha. (Memorandum, ECF No. 1-1,
PageID.52.) Defendant Leach communicated the denial to Warden
Hoffner and Plaintiff.
sought a declaratory ruling from MDOC Director Heidi
Washington under Michigan Adminstrative Rule 791.1115
regarding the vitamins and the oil. (Pet. for Declaratory
Ruling, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.69-71.) Director Washington
apparently designated Defendant Johnson to reply. By letter
dated September 2, 2016, Defendant Johnson informed Plaintiff
that Defendant Curley had resolved the oil request as
required by policy. (Sept. 2, 2016 Letter, ECF No. 1-1,
PageID.68.) She further informed Plaintiff that his request
regarding the vitamins had been forwarded to the Correctional
Facilities Administration for additional review.
(Id.) Plaintiff does not indicate whether he ever
received a response from CFA. Defendant Johnson told
Plaintiff he could interpret a failure to respond as a denial
of his request.
contends that Defendants Davis and Ouellette have been
deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in
violation of the Eighth Amendment, have violated his rights
under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons
Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2),
have violated his First Amendment free exercise rights, and
his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights.
claims that Defendants Leach and Curley have substantially
burdened his religion in violation of the First Amendment by
denying Plaintiff religious oils and refusing to permit him
to purchase vitamins free of alcohol and animal byproducts
from an outside vendor. Plaintiff argues that all defendants
have violated the RLUIPA by denying Plaintiff religious oils
and refusing to permit him to purchase vitamins free of
animal byproducts from an outside vendor.
Plaintiff contends the Defendants' conduct violates the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).
asks the Court to enter declaratory and injunctive relief
permitting him to purchase religious oils and vitamins and
ordering an EKG and stress test as well as the PSA blood
test. Plaintiff also asks the Court to award compensatory
damages of $50, 000.00 and punitive damages of $35, 000.00
against each Defendant.
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).
Plaintiff claims that Defendants have violated his rights
under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments as well as
RLUIPA and RFRA.
It is a
basic pleading essential that a plaintiff attribute factual
allegations to particular defendants. See Twombly,
550 U.S. at 544 (holding that, in order to state a claim, a
plaintiff must make sufficient allegations to give a
defendant fair notice of the claim). Where a person is named
as a defendant without an allegation of specific conduct, the
complaint is subject to dismissal, even under the liberal
construction afforded to pro se complaints. See
Frazier v. Michigan, 41 Fed.Appx. 762, 764 (6th Cir.
2002) (dismissing the plaintiff's claims where the
complaint did not allege with any degree of specificity which
of the named defendants were personally involved in or
responsible for each alleged violation of rights);
Griffin v. Montgomery, No. 00-3402, 2000 WL 1800569,
at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 30, 2000) (requiring allegations of
personal involvement against each defendant)); Rodriguez
v. Jabe, No. 90-1010, 1990 WL 82722, at *1 (6th Cir.
June 19, 1990) (“Plaintiff's claims against those
individuals are without a basis in law as the complaint is
totally devoid of allegations as to them which would suggest
their involvement in the events leading to his
injuries.”). Plaintiff fails to attribute any action or
inaction to Defendant Russell in the body of his complaint.
His allegations fall far short of the minimal pleading
standards under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 (requiring “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief”).
Defendant Russell is identified as the manager of the
grievance section of the MDOC, it appears likely that
Plaintiff is suing Russell for his role in responding to one
of Plaintiff's grievances. 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 Government-official defendant, through the
official's own individual actions, has violated the
Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.
Plaintiff has failed to allege that Defendant Russell did
anything more than respond to grievances; thus, Plaintiff has
failed to allege that Defendant Russell engaged in any active
unconstitutional behavior. Accordingly, he fails to state a
claim against him.
Deliberate indifference to serious medical need
Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of cruel and
unusual punishment against those convicted of crimes. U.S.
Const. amend. VIII. The Eighth Amendment obligates prison
authorities to provide medical care to incarcerated
individuals, as a failure to provide such care would be
inconsistent with contemporary standards of decency.
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 102, 103-04 (1976). The
Eighth Amendment is violated when a prison official is
deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of a
prisoner. Id. at 104-05; Comstock v.
McCrary, 273 F.3d 693, 702 (6th Cir. 2001).
for the deprivation of adequate medical care has an objective
and a subjective component. Farmer v. Brennan, 511
U.S. 825, 834 (1994). To satisfy the objective component, the
plaintiff must allege that the medical need at issue is
sufficiently serious. Id. In other words, the inmate
must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a
substantial risk of serious harm. Id. The objective
component of the adequate medical care test is satisfied
“[w]here the seriousness of a prisoner's need[ ]
for medical care is obvious even to a lay person.”
Blackmore v. Kalamazoo Cnty., 390 F.3d 890, 899 (6th
Cir. 2004). If the plaintiff's claim, however, is based
on “the prison's failure to treat a condition
adequately, or where the prisoner's affliction is
seemingly minor or non-obvious, ” Blackmore v.
Kalamazoo Cnty., 390 F.3d 890, 898 (6th Cir. 2004), the
plaintiff must “place verifying medical evidence in the
record to establish the detrimental effect of the delay in
medical treatment, ” Napier v. Madison Cnty.,
238 F.3d 739, 742 (6th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks
subjective component requires an inmate to show that prison
officials have “a sufficiently culpable state of mind
in denying medical care.” Brown v. Bargery,
207 F.3d 863, 867 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Farmer,
511 U.S. at 834). Deliberate indifference “entails
something more than mere negligence, ” Farmer,
511 U.S. at 835, but can be “satisfied by something
less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing
harm or with knowledge that harm will result.”
Id. Under Farmer, “the official must
both be ...