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Smith v. Hall

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

April 3, 2018

Derrick Lee Smith, Plaintiff,
v.
Unknown Hall et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Robert J. Jonker, Chief United States District Judge.

         This is 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 against Defendants Palmer, Hall, Breedlove, Bonn, and Russell for failure to state a claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF) in Muskegon, Michigan. The events about which he complains, however, occurred at the Michigan Reformatory (RMI) in Ionia, Michigan. Plaintiff sues RMI Warden Carmen Palmer; RMI Corrections Officers Unknown Hall, Unknown Breedlove, and Unknown Bonn; and MDOC Grievance Section Manager Richard D. Russell. In Plaintiff's complaint and the grievances he attached to his complaint, Plaintiff alleges on August 18, 2017, right before lunch, Defendant Hall told Plaintiff he could use the JPay kiosk upon his return from lunch. When he returned and connected, however, Defendant Hall told him he was not to be on JPay. When Defendant protested, Defendant Hall informed him: “I love taking you black bastards to segregation.” (Aug. 23, 2017 Grievance, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.8.) Defendant Hall ordered Plaintiff to give her his ID and then ordered Plaintiff to return to his cell. Defendant Hall wrote a Class III misconduct ticket against Plaintiff for being out of place. Plaintiff lost privileges for five days as a result. Plaintiff claims Defendant Hall's words indicate racial discrimination. He argues that her actions violate the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

         The remaining Defendants are named because they allegedly “allowed” Defendant Hall's misconduct by their respective responses to Plaintiff's grievances and appeals regarding the matter.

         Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Defendants have violated Plaintiff's rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, removal of the misconduct ticket from Plaintiff's file, an injunction against transferring Plaintiff to a facility where Defendants are employed, and damages in the amount of $4, 000.00.

         II. Failure to state a claim

         A 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)).

         To 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). As noted above, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' conduct violated his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         Plaintiff fails to make specific factual allegations against Defendants Breedlove, Bonn, Palmer, and Russell, other than his claim that they failed to remedy Defendant Hall's alleged misconduct in response to his 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 Defendants Breedlove, Bonn, Palmer, and Russell engaged in any active unconstitutional behavior. Accordingly, he fails to state a claim against them.

         Plaintiff's allegations against Defendant Hall at least attribute actions to her beyond responding to grievances; but, he fails to state a claim against her as well. Plaintiff's principal complaint against Defendant Hall is her statement that she enjoys putting “black bastards” in segregation. There is nothing in Plaintiff's complaint that indicates that Defendant Hall put Plaintiff in segregation in connection with the events described in the complaint.

         The conduct described does not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. The Eighth Amendment imposes a constitutional limitation on the power of the states to punish those convicted of crimes. Punishment may not be “barbarous” nor may it contravene society's “evolving standards of decency.” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 345-46 (1981). The Amendment, therefore, prohibits conduct by prison officials that involves the “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” Ivey v. Wilson, 832 F.2d 950, 954 (6th Cir. 1987) (per curiam) (quoting Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346). The deprivation alleged must result in the denial of the “minimal civilized measure of life's necessities.” Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347; see also Wilson v. Yaklich, 148 F.3d 596, 600-01 (6th Cir. 1998). The Eighth Amendment is only concerned with “deprivations of essential food, medical care, or sanitation” or “other conditions intolerable for prison confinement.” Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 348 (citation omitted). Moreover, “[n]ot every unpleasant experience a prisoner might endure while incarcerated constitutes cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment.” Ivey, 832 F.2d at 954.

         The use of harassing or degrading language by a prison official, although unprofessional and deplorable, does not create intolerable prison confinement. See Ivey v. Wilson, 832 F.2d 950, 954-55 (6th Cir. 1987); see also Johnson v. Dellatifa, 357 F.3d 539, 546 (6th Cir. 2004) (harassment and verbal abuse do not constitute the type of infliction of pain that the Eighth Amendment prohibits); Violett v. Reynolds, No. 02-6366, 2003 WL 22097827, at *3 (6th Cir. Sept. 5, 2003) (verbal abuse and harassment do not constitute punishment that would support an Eighth Amendment claim); Thaddeus-X v. Langley, No. 96-1282, 1997 WL 205604, at *1 (6th Cir. Apr. 24, 1997) (verbal harassment is insufficient to state a claim); Murray v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, No. 95-5204, 1997 WL 34677, at *3 (6th Cir. Jan. 28, 1997) (“Although we do not condone the alleged statements, the Eighth Amendment does not afford us the power to correct every action, statement or attitude of a prison official with which we might disagree.”); Clark v. Turner, No. 96-3265, 1996 WL 721798, at *2 (6th Cir. Dec. 13, 1996) (“Verbal harassment and idle threats are generally not sufficient to constitute an invasion of an inmate's constitutional rights.”); Jones Bey v. Johnson, 248 F. App'x 675, 677-78 (6th Cir. 2007) (prison guard's use of racial slurs and other derogatory language against state prisoner did not rise to level of a violation of the Eighth Amendment) (citing Torres v. County of Oakland, 758 F.2d 147, 152 (6th Cir.1985)); Williams v. Gobles, No. 99-1701, 2000 WL 571936, at *1 (6th Cir. May 1, 2000) (occasional or sporadic use of racial slurs does not rise to a level of constitutional magnitude); Bell-Bey v. Mayer, No. 98-1425, 1999 WL 1021859, at *1 (6th Cir. Nov. 3, 1999) (same); Thaddeus-X v. Langley, No. 96-1282, ...


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