United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER OF SUMMARY DISMISSAL
PAGE HOOD CHIEF JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
prisoner Jeremy Wesley Clay (“Plaintiff”) has
filed a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983, and the Court has granted him leave to
proceed without prepayment of the filing fee pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges
that he is being equal protection, due process, and access to
the courts because the Shiawassee County Circuit Court has
precluded him from filing a state habeas action due to past
filing fee issues. He names two Shiawassee County Circuit
Court employees, Clerk Lauri L. Braid and Law Clerk Gregory
Lee-Howe Gietzen, as the defendants in this action. Plaintiff
seeks monetary damages. Having reviewed the complaint, the
Court concludes that it must be summarily dismissed for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and
on the basis of immunity. The Court also concludes that an
appeal from this decision cannot be taken in good faith.
has been granted in forma pauperis status. Under the
Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), the Court
is required to sua sponte dismiss an in forma
pauperis complaint before service if it determines that
the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief
against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(c); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The Court is
similarly required to dismiss a complaint seeking redress
against government entities, officers, and employees which it
finds to be frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief
from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(b). A complaint is frivolous if it lacks an
arguable basis in law or in fact. Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).
pro se civil rights complaint is to be construed
liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21
(1972). Nonetheless, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)
requires that a complaint set forth “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief, ” as well as “a demand for the relief
sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), (3). The purpose of this
rule is 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 the bare assertion of legal
conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rule 8
“demands more than an unadorned, the
defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
“A pleading that offers ‘labels and
conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.'”
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
“Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders
‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further
factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). “Factual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in
fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citations
and footnote omitted).
state a federal civil rights claim, a plaintiff must show
that: (1) the defendant is a person who acted under the color
of state or federal law, and (2) the defendant's conduct
deprived the plaintiff of a federal right, privilege, or
immunity. Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149,
155-57 (1978); Harris v. Circleville, 583 F.3d 356,
364 (6th Cir. 2009). Additionally, a plaintiff must allege
that the deprivation of his rights was intentional.
Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 348 (1986);
Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 333-36 (1986).
Mere negligence is not actionable under § 1983.
first alleges a violation of his equal protection rights.
Prisoners are entitled to equal protection under the law.
Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). The
linchpin of an equal protection claim is that the government
has intentionally treated people who are similarly situated
in a different manner. Village of Willowbrook v.
Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000); Ross v.
Duggan, 402 F.3d 575, 587-88 (6th Cir. 2004);
Bannum, Inc. v. City of Louisville, 958 F.2d 1354,
1359-60 (6th Cir. 1992). Plaintiff's claim that the
defendants have denied him equal protection lacks factual
support. Prisoners are not members of a protected class for
equal protection purposes, Hampton v. Hobbs, 106
F.3d 1281, 1286 (6th Cir. 1997), and Plaintiff fails to
indicate with any specificity how he has been treated
differently from others who are similarly situated.
Conclusory allegations of improper conduct are insufficient
to state a federal civil rights claim. Crawford-El v.
Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 588 (1998); Lanier v.
Bryant, 332 F.3d 999, 1007 (6th Cir. 2003); see also
Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948-49; Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 555-57. Plaintiff fails to state an equal protection claim
in his complaint.
next alleges a violation of his due process rights. To state
a procedural due process claim, a plaintiff must allege that
he has a definite liberty or property interest which has been
abridged without appropriate process. Experimental
Holdings, Inc. v. Farris, 503 F.3d 514, 519 (6th Cir.
2007); LRL Properties v. Portage Metro Housing
Authority, 55 F.3d 1097, 1108 (6th Cir.1995).
Substantive due process “prevents the government from
engaging in conduct that shocks the conscience . . . or
interferes with rights implicit in the concept of ordered
liberty.” United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S.
739, 746 (1987) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
To state such a claim, a plaintiff must allege that he has a
constitutionally protected interest of which he has been
deprived by arbitrary and capricious state action. MSI
Regency, Ltd. v. Jackson, No. 09-4473, 2011 WL 3555419,
*8 (6th Cir. Aug. 12, 2011). Plaintiff makes no such showing.
Rather, it appears that the defendants rejected his state
court filings based upon their perceived non-compliance with
state law. Even if erroneous, such action is neither
arbitrary nor capricious. Plaintiff fails to state a due
process claim in his complaint.
also alleges that he is being denied access to the courts.
Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts
which the states have an affirmative duty to protect.
Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821-25 (1977). A
prisoner's right of access to the courts is limited to
direct criminal appeals, habeas corpus applications, and
civil rights claims challenging the conditions of
confinement. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 355
(1996); Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378, 391
(6th Cir. 1999). To prevail on a §1983 claim concerning
the denial of access to the courts, a plaintiff must make
some showing of prejudice or actual injury as a result of the
challenged conduct. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351;
Harbin-Bey v. Rutter, 420 F.3d 571, 578 (6th Cir.
2005). Additionally, a plaintiff must allege that the
deprivation of his rights was the result of intentional
conduct. Sims v. Landrum, 170 Fed.Appx. 954, 957
(6th Cir. 2006); Wojnicz v. Davis, 80 Fed.Appx. 382,
384 (6th Cir. 2003). An allegation of negligence is
insufficient to state an access to the courts claim under
§ 1983. Collins v. City of Harker Hgts., 503
U.S. 115, 127-30 (1992). While Plaintiff meets the first
element (filing a state habeas action) and possibly the
second element (the rejection of non-frivolous action), he
does not meet the third element (intentional conduct). He
fails to set forth any facts in his complaint indicating that
the defendants' conduct in rejecting his state court
pleadings due to past filing fee deficiencies or late
payments is intentional in the constitutional sense. While he
alleges that they erred, such an allegation amounts to a
claim of mere negligence. Plaintiff fails to state an access
to the court claim in his complaint. He fails to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted under § 1983 in
complaint is also subject to dismissal on the basis of
immunity. First, the defendants are entitled to sovereign
immunity on Plaintiff's claims for damages against them
in their official capacities. The Eleventh Amendment bars
civil rights actions against a state and its agencies and
departments unless the state has waived its immunity and
consented to suit or Congress has abrogated that immunity.
Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S.
58, 66 (1989). The State of Michigan has not consented to be
sued for civil rights actions in federal court, Abick v.
Michigan, 803 F.2d 874, 877 (6th Cir. 1986), and
Congress did not abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity when it
enacted § 1983. Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332,
341 (1979). The Michigan Supreme Court and its lower courts
operate as arms of the state, and are thus entitled to the
same sovereign immunity as the State of Michigan. Pucci
v. Nineteenth Dist. Ct., 628 F.3d 752, 762-64 (6th Cir.
2010); Chambers v. Michigan, No. 10-12509, 2011 WL
940830, *3-4 (E.D. Mich. March 16, 2011); Young v.
District & Supreme Cts. of Mich., No. 2:10-CV-15144,
2011 WL 166331, *2 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 18, 2011) (citing cases);
Brown v. Michigan Dep't of Corr., et al., No.
2:10-CV-12649, 2010 WL 5056195, *2 (Dec. 6, 2010). Eleventh
Amendment immunity applies to state employees, i.e.,
the defendant judges and court employees, who are sued in
their official capacities. See Colvin v. Caruso, 605
F.3d 282, 289 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Cady v. Arenac
Co., 574 F.3d 334, 344 (6th Cir. 2009)). The defendants
are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity.
the defendants are entitled to absolute judicial immunity.
Judges and judicial employees are entitled to absolute
judicial immunity on claims for damages. See Mireles v
Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9-10 (1991) (per curiam) (judge
performing judicial functions is absolutely immune from suit
seeking monetary damages even if acting erroneously,
corruptly or in excess of jurisdiction); Lyle v.
Jackson, 49 Fed.Appx. 492, 494 (6th Cir. 2002) (two
court clerks who did not provide prisoner with copies of
previous filings and transcripts were entitled to
quasi-judicial immunity); Collyer v. Darling, 98
F.3d 211, 221 (6th Cir. 1996); Bush v. Rauch, 38
F.3d 842, 847 (6th Cir. 1994); Foster v. Walsh, 864
F.2d 416, 417 (6th Cir. 1988) (per curiam) (court clerk who
issued erroneous warrant on judge's order was immune from
suit); Yarbrough v. Garrett, 579 F.Supp.2d 856, 873
(E.D. Mich. 2008) (adopting magistrate judge's report).
Moreover, the 1996 amendments to § 1983 extended
absolute immunity for state judges to requests for injunctive
or equitable relief. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(“in any action brought against a judicial officer for
an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial
capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a
declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief is
unavailable”); see also Kipen v. Lawson, 57
Fed.Appx. 691 (6th Cir. 2003) (discussing federal judges'
immunity); Kircher v. City of Ypsilanti, et al., 458
F.Supp.2d 439, 446-47 (E.D. Mich. 2006); accord Asubuko
v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 304 (3d Cir. 2006); Hass v.
Wisconsin, et al., 109 Fed.Appx. 107, 113-14 (7th Cir.
2004); Bolin v. Story, 225 F.3d 1234, 1240-42 (11th
Cir. 2000). Plaintiff's allegations regarding his court
pleadings involve the performance of judicial and
quasi-judicial duties. The defendants are entitled to
absolute immunity as to such matters.
upon the foregoing discussion, Court concludes that Plaintiff
fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted in
his complaint and that the defendants are entitled to
Eleventh Amendment and judicial immunity. Accordingly, the
Court DISMISSES WITH PREJUDICE the complaint
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(b) and 1915A.
The Court further concludes that an appeal from this order