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Goens v. Holcomb

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

February 2, 2018

JOHN HOLCOMB, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Devonte Goens filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on April 24, 2017, alleging that Defendant Captain John Holcomb violated his First Amendment right to be free from retaliation and his Fourteenth Amendment right to the due process of law.[1](Docket no. 1.) This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 10), to which Plaintiff has filed a response (docket no. 11). This action has been referred to the undersigned for all pretrial purposes. (Docket no. 7.) The Court has reviewed the pleadings, dispenses with oral argument on the motion pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f) and issues this Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).


         For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Defendant Holcomb's Motion for Summary Judgment (docket no. 10) be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART and that this matter be dismissed in in its entirety.

         II. REPORT

         A. Factual Background

         1. Plaintiff's Complaint

         Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan; however, the events giving rise to the Complaint allegedly occurred while he was incarcerated at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian, Michigan. (Docket no. 1 ¶ 1.) In the Complaint, Plaintiff generally contends that Defendant targeted him and retaliated against him for complaining about and reporting Defendant's conduct to Defendant's superiors by instructing other correctional officers to shake Plaintiff down and by filing false misconduct charges against Plaintiff. (Id.) While not explicitly stated, Plaintiff apparently lodged his complaints against Defendant at some point close in time to November 29, 2016, as Plaintiff was allegedly shaken down on November 29 and every day thereafter, sometimes multiple times per day, through December 4, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 10-17.) According to Plaintiff, each time he asked the officers why they were shaking him down, they replied that they were doing so at the instruction of Defendant. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he spoke with Defendant on December 2, 2016, in an attempt to resolve the issue, and Defendant told Plaintiff that if he wanted the harassment to stop, he should stop complaining to Defendant's superiors, and if Plaintiff didn't stop complaining, Defendant guaranteed that Plaintiff would have numerous false misconduct tickets written against him. (Docket no. 1 ¶ 15.) Plaintiff filed a grievance against Defendant that same day. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff alleges that he spoke with Defendant again on December 5, 2016, and begged Defendant to stop retaliating against him. (Id. ¶ 18.) Defendant allegedly told Plaintiff that he would have his officers stop retaliating when Plaintiff stopped complaining about him and snitching on him. (Id.) Plaintiff told Defendant that he would file another grievance against him, and Defendant responded that the grievance coordinator would never process a grievance against him because they were friends. (Id.) Plaintiff then filed another grievance against Defendant. (Id. ¶ 19.) On December 8, 2016, Plaintiff sent a kite to the grievance coordinator asking where the receipts and unique identifying numbers for his December 2 and December 5 grievances were. (Id. ¶ 20.) And on December 10, 2016, Plaintiff filed a grievance against the grievance coordinator for not processing his grievances. (Id. ¶ 21.) Defendant then wrote two misconduct reports against Plaintiff for destruction or misuse of property, possession of money, and gambling on December 19, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) The misconduct charges were subsequently dismissed.[2] (Id. ¶¶ 26.)

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution by filing false misconduct charges against Plaintiff in retaliation for Plaintiff's complaints to Defendant's superiors and for filing of grievances against Defendant. (Docket no. 1 ¶ 29.) He asserts that he is now afraid to file grievances and complaints for fear of being targeted with false misconduct charges that could result in the increase of his security level. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff also claims that Defendant's filing of false misconduct charges against Plaintiff violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. ¶ 31.) As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $50, 000. (Id. at 9.)

         2. Defendant's Motion

         Defendant sets forth a counter-statement of facts in his Motion for Summary Judgment, which he supports with a personal affidavit as well as affidavits and other documentation from two other Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) employees. (Docket no. 10 at 6-10.) In his statement of facts, Defendant asserts that he was on leave from September 16, 2016 through December 11, 2016, during which time he was completely away from the correctional facility and had no contact with prisoners or prison staff. (Id. at 7; docket no. 10-2 ¶¶ 3-4; docket no. 10-3 at 2, 4, 6-7.) Upon his return to work on December 12, 2016, Defendant worked on light duty in the Inspector's office until January 29, 2017, during which time he still had no contact with prisoners. (Id.; docket no. 10-2 ¶¶ 3, 5; docket no. 10-3 at 2, 7-8.) Defendant returned to full duty on January 29, 2017. (Id.; docket no. 10-3 at 8.)

         Defendant's responsibilities while on light duty included reviewing prisoners' telephone calls. (Docket no. 10 at 7; docket no. 10-2 ¶ 5.) While reviewing Plaintiff's phone calls, Defendant learned that Plaintiff had placed multiple calls to a phone number during which he discussed point spreads for professional basketball and football games; he deduced that Plaintiff used another prisoner's Prisoner Identification Number (PIN) to place a call to that number; and he learned that Plaintiff received a large sum of money into his prison account from individuals who were not on his approved visitor tracking list. (Id. at 7-8; docket no. 10-2 ¶¶ 7-8.) These facts and his training and experience led Defendant Holcomb to believe that Plaintiff was engaged in activities consistent with a gambling ring, and Defendant therefore, assertedly in good faith, wrote the aforementioned misconduct reports against Plaintiff on December 19, 2016. (Id. at 8; docket no. 10-2 ¶ 9.)

         B. ...

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