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Collins v. Unknown Del-Tour

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

January 4, 2018

Alvin Collins, #441263, Plaintiff,
Unknown Del-Tour, Defendant.




         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 Kinross Correctional Facility. His complaint arises out of conditions of his confinement at the Muskegon Correctional Facility. The defendant is Corrections Officer (unknown) Del-Tour. Plaintiff alleges that defendant retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment rights by filing four minor misconduct charges against him. Plaintiff sues defendant in his individual capacity and seeks an award of damages.[1]

         The matter is before the Court on defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion seeking dismissal of plaintiff's claims on the basis of qualified immunity. (ECF No. 31). Defendant's motion is the re-filing of an earlier motion that was dismissed without prejudice on March 1, 2017, for failure to comply with the requirements of W.D. Mich. LCivR 7.1(d). On March 9, 2017, the Court entered an order advising plaintiff that his response to defendant's earlier motion (ECF No. 22) would be considered as his response to this motion. (ECF No. 34, PageID.488). The order established March 24, 2017, as the deadline for plaintiff to file any supplement to his response to defendant's motion. (Id.). On March 23, 2017, plaintiff filed his supplemental brief. (ECF No. 43). For the reasons set forth herein, I recommend that defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion be granted and that a judgment be entered dismissing all plaintiff's claims against defendant with prejudice.

         A. Rule 12(b)(6)

         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. 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).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         Defendant argues that he is entitled to dismissal of plaintiff's claims for damages against him in his individual capacity 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 Fed.Appx. 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).

         A qualified immunity defense can be asserted at various stages of the litigation, including the summary judgment stage. See English v. Dyke, 23 F.3d 1086, 1089 (6th Cir. 1994). Here, defendant seeks dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).

         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 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); Mitchell v. Schlabach, 864 F.3d 416, 424 (6th Cir. 2017). 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 ...

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