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McGowan v. Young

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

March 15, 2018


          Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford


          DAVID M. LAWSON United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Anthony McGowan, a Michigan prisoner, filed a pro se complaint against prison supervisor Christopher Young, alleging that Young violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when Young refused to provide him with a means of climbing into the top bunk in his prison cell. McGowan alleged that he fell when trying to access the bunk, injuring himself. The Court referred this case to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford for pretrial management. Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion styled as a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. The plaintiff countered with a motion to amend his complaint. Judge Stafford evaluated the defendant's motion under the summary judgment rule, and filed a report on January 24, 2018 recommending that the defendant's motion be granted and the plaintiff's motion denied. The plaintiff filed timely objections, and the matter is before the Court for de novo review.


         On September 13, 2016, McGowan was transferred to the Michigan Department of Corrections's (MDOC) G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility (JCF) in Jackson, Michigan. At JCF, McGowan was placed in the housing unit supervised by MDOC employee Christopher Young, an Assistant Resident Unit Supervisor (ARUS).

         Upon arrival at JCF, McGowan was assigned to the top bunk of a bunk-bed. Since at least 2012, bunk-beds at JCF had not been equipped with ladders to assist prisoners getting into and out of the top bunk - an issue raised several times by prisoners at regular “Warden's Forum” meetings. Instead, JCF staff allowed prisoners to use chairs to help them into and out of top bunks, and at one meeting, JCF staff represented that they would look into installing braces to stabilize bunk frames. Neither McGowan nor Young were present at the meetings cited in the record, although the minutes apparently were shared with Assistant Resident Unit Supervisors.

         Young testified by affidavit that he had no concerns for McGowan's safety getting into and out of the top bunk to which he was assigned, as McGowan stood six feet tall and the top bunk is approximately four feet from the ground.

         On September 14, 2016, McGowan requested a chair or ladder to help him access his bunk. Young ordered 30 chairs, including one for McGowan, on September 15. Young denied McGowan's request to provide him with a chair in the interim, claiming that no chairs were available. McGowan filed two grievances with JCF, one on September 15 and one on September 20, both centered around Young's refusal to provide a temporary chair while waiting for the shipment of new chairs to arrive. Both of those grievances were rejected by JCF staff, the first because Young had already ordered new chairs, and the second because it was a duplicate of the first grievance. The chairs Young had ordered were delivered on September 27 and one was assigned to McGowan.

         The same day the chairs were delivered (September 27), McGowan, attempting to get into his bunk, fell to the ground, injuring his back. McGowan subsequently reported severe back, hip, and leg pain and began a physical therapy regimen, which provided limited relief. MDOC healthcare staff ordered that McGowan be reassigned to a bottom bunk and be allowed to continue physical therapy through 2017. Although physical therapy helped temporarily to alleviate his pain, McGowan continued to report significant lower back, leg, and hip pain. Physical therapists reported that as of April 13, 2017, McGowan was “compliant with [physical therapy], ” but his underlying condition did not improve.

         On May 18, 2017, the plaintiff filed his pro se complaint alleging a violation of his Eighth Amendment “right to a safe living environment, ” which he asserts via 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendant responded with a motion to dismiss the complaint or for summary judgment. The plaintiff countered with a motion to amend his complaint, seeking to add an equal protection claim and enhance his damages prayer.

         On January 24, 2018, the magistrate judge issued her report and recommendation that addressed the two pending motions. Applying the facts to the two-element test for Eighth Amendment violations, she concluded that the evidence did not show that Young was deliberately indifferent to McGowan's health or safety when he denied McGowan a chair to access his bunk. First, she found that Young's actions objectively did not amount to a deprivation of “a minimal civilized measure of life's necessities, ” taking into account McGowan's height relative to the bunk-bed and the absence of a health condition that limited McGowan's ability to access his bed. Second, she found no evidence of deliberate indifference by Young because he had acted on McGowan's request for a chair and was not personally aware of the discussions on bunk safety issues held at the Warden's Forum.

         Additionally, the magistrate judge concluded that Young successfully asserted qualified immunity. Distinguishing this case from Brown v. Bargery, 207 F.3d 863 (6th Cir. 2000), she found there is no precedent that clearly establishes that the particular conduct alleged here violates the Eighth Amendment.

         The magistrate judge also recommended that the plaintiff's request to amend his complaint ought to be denied. She raised a technical flaw because the plaintiff failed to attach a proposed amended complaint. And she determined that the amendment would be futile, because there were no facts in the motion or the record that implied that McGowan was treated differently from anyone else in the MDOC system.

         The plaintiff filed timely objections. The defendant did not file a response ...

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